Sky News interviews Defence Minister Stephen Smith ahead of AUSMIN talks
8 November 2010
KIERAN GILBERT: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time. You're at Government House [Melbourne] ahead of these AUSMIN talks today and we understand there will be even closer defence ties at the end of this Summit. Are you concerned about the reaction that we might see from China, that the United States will have an even greater presence in Australia?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly we have an Alliance with the United States which is of long standing and that remains the bedrock of our defence, strategic and security arrangements. People should not get too far ahead of themselves. The United States is doing what we describe as a force posture review. They haven't completed that, and that's looking at all of the disposition of their forces throughout the world, not just throughout our region.
So we need them to complete and conclude that so-called force posture review. We of course cooperate very closely with them. We have joint facilities in Australia. They visit and have access to some of our ports and the like. We expect that in the future that will be enhanced, but in terms of the detail that won't be decided today.
We need to take it in an orderly fashion. But of course any enhanced engagement by the United States in our region is an unambiguously good thing for Australia and our region and we welcome that.
KIERAN GILBERT: We can hear the security presence in the air there, obviously very intense security with the Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State in Melbourne. In terms of the Chinese sensitivities though, will you be talking to your Chinese counterpart to try and placate him and ease any concern that they do have?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the first instance, obviously it's very important that Australia has a positive and productive relationship with China, not just on the economic front but also on defence and military cooperation front and we have enhanced that engagement in recent times.
More importantly in very many respects it is important and essential that the United States itself has a positive and productive relationship with China on the defence and military cooperation front. We encourage that.
As China grows economically it's also - as we see - they are enhancing their military capacity. We expect that and understand that as a country's economy grows so their military capacity will grow but that needs to be transparent and we've made that point to China and to the United States.
What we do with the United States is open, it's transparent, and that's appropriate. It's important that China in terms of its military and modernisation is also transparent and we've made that point both privately to China and also publicly.
KIERAN GILBERT: But are you concerned as some strategists are suggesting that we've got the military Alliance, the bedrock Alliance as you describe it, and then on the other hand this economic reliance on China and China buying our commodities?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we have a very strong economic relationship with China but we're not the only country that does. China and the United States have a very close economic relationship so there is in some respects an economic interdependence there.
The enhancement of trade, the growth of economic and social and people to people links is a very good thing because that increases understanding between two countries and two peoples. It increases the ties, and so we work very hard on our economic relationship with China.
But the United States and China also have a close economic relationship and that's a good thing but in all of these areas it's important to use the jargon or to use the phrase that we minimise risk, that we minimise the chance for miscalculation which means we have to do things which maximise understanding, which maximise certainty between countries and that's why we strongly encourage a good and positive productive relationship including defence and military cooperation between the United States and China just as we ourselves do that with China, recently engaging in some naval exercises with them.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister just quickly, I know you've got to go, one last question, on the Afghanistan draw down will today's talks lock in the draw down of our forces as part of the broader ISAF commitment?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we are committed to completing our mission in Uruzgan Province, which is a training mission. We think we can do that over the next two to four years. The international community has set 2014 as an aspiration for the transfer of security to the Afghan National Security Forces. So we'll be talking about the transition arrangements and it is conditions-based not timetable led.
The upcoming conference, the NATO ISAF Summit in Lisbon that the Prime Minister and I will attend, will be a very important feature on the international community calendar as we work through the detail of transitioning to Afghan responsibility.
So we're not talking in terms of a timetable, we're talking in terms of meeting our objective, meeting the conditions so that we can transfer security responsibility to Afghanistan. We think we can do that on a two to four year time table which matches the 2014 aspiration that President Karzai and the Afghan Government has but also the international community has, which was effectively the decision made at the Afghan Conference in Kabul in July-August.
KIERAN GILBERT: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, appreciate your time. Thanks a lot for that.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Kieran. Thanks very much.