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AUS: Howard Interview Transcript

6 September 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP INTERVIEW WITH ALAN JONES û RADIO 2UE


JONES:

Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Alan.

JONES:

Your position, I presume, is that this massacre has got to stop?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, absolutely, the situation is now much worse than what it was on Saturday morning. There was hope on Saturday morning when the overwhelming vote for independence was announced that everybody, including the Indonesian Army, would get behind the result. But since then the situation has deteriorated very badly indeed. At the moment there's an informal session of the Security Council of the United Nations taking place in New York. And we are hopeful that there will be a United Nations initiative arising out of that or some subsequent meeting of the UN. It remains the case that unless the Indonesian authorities agree for the deployment of some peacekeeping force then it's just not legally possible forà

JONES:

This is û just to explain to our listeners û this is because of the May 5 agreement, is it, between Portugal, Indonesia and the United Nations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, East Timor is still, until the beginning of November, legally part of Indonesia. And if we try to send troops or any country tries to send troops or any group of countries without the permission of the Indonesian Government we're, in effect, invading Indonesia. Now, nobody's advocating that and people ought to remember that there are 15,000 Indonesian troops in East Timor - 15,000.

JONES:

How is that different, people are saying, from what happened in Kosovo?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, in Kosovo there was a resolution of the, a resolution of the United Nations and there were agreements between the world powers to go in, well, in fact, what they did was they used military force. But they had a well-organised military plan to do so. I think the other thing that you've got to remember is that there had been a peace accord hammered out at Daton in the United States between the various parties and to some degree what had occurred in Kosovo was a breach of that understanding.

JONES:

But there was an agreement, was there not, on May 5, between Portugal, Indonesia and the United Nations that Indonesia would be responsible for security in East Timor?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely, look, there is no doubt in the world that at the moment Indonesia is not fulfilling its obligations to maintain law and order. There can be no excuse for the Indonesian army turning a blind eye to what is occurring. The best will in the world cannot overlook or excuse the fact that since Saturday morning things have been allowed to get out of control. Now we have to provide an intelligent response. We are providing aircraft to assist the United Nations to reduce the number of their personnel in Dili and those people will be flown to Darwin.

JONES:

But can just interrupt you there Prime Minister. That may be what the pro-union, the interventionists in there, want. They most probably do want, the ones who argue for integration may want all these people out of East Timor. PRIME MINISTER:

No, well the people we are talking about taking out are people who are foreigners. They are UN staff including those Australians who would want to go.

JONES:

Well, see, we and you have a big role here, don't we? I mean Australia is one of the leading powers in this region. You are the Prime Minister of that leading power. Clinton, for example, may not have Congressional support in the wake of Kosovo to do too much at all, otherwise make noises. So perhaps the world is looking to Australia for a role to play. What are we insisting upon as an immediate response from Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the thing we keep pressing upon the Indonesians is to get control of the situation. They have the army, they have the police. It is their responsibility. Disappointingly, over the last 48 hours, they have not discharged their responsibilities and there is plenty of evidence of that. Now, we will try and persuade the United Nations to, in the first instance, perhaps send a mission which will put pressure on Indonesia. In the short term, the best thing is that some international shame and responsibility will oblige Indonesians to do something to get control of the situation, but if they do not do that, then the rest of the world has to contemplate what it does. Now, no country is likely to talk about sending troops into another country and I'm certainly not going to do that. My first responsibility is to the safety and security of Australians and we have plenty of evacuation plans available to ensure that if any Australians in the territory are in need of evacuation, they will be evacuated.

JONES:

Do we have an obligation to these poor coots that are being massacred? What did Habibie say when you raised those concerns with him? Was he in disagreement with you that some action was needed by a UN force?

PRIME MINISTER:

He told me very plainly that Indonesia would not agree to any peacekeepers coming into East Timor until after the formal vote for independence made by the Indonesian parliament early in November. I raised that matter with him and that position has been repeated by the Indonesian President and by the Indonesian foreign minister over the weekend.

JONES:

But General Wiranto is quoted today, Prime Minister, as saying that he has got no objections to à PRIME MINISTER:

I think you will find that that is in the context of peacekeepers coming in after a formal vote for independence has been taken.

JONES:

So are we toà

PRIME MINISTER:

[Inaudible] spoke to Mr Alatas, the Foreign Minister, last night and their position in relation to peacekeeping forces has been reiterated as recently as last night. Now, it is possible that that attitude will change and what we and the rest of the world has to do in a variety of ways over the next few hours is to try and persuade the Indonesians of the seriousness of the situation and how badly they will be condemned around the world if they don' t get control of the situation. And then if that is unsuccessful then we have to give thought to what other methods of pressure can be applied. Now, it is a tragic situation but it is not appropriate to respond in a knee-jerk fashion and to say we must do that or we must do that. We have to understand the consequences of this country or, indeed, other countries plunging into the internal affairs of another country, particularly when that other country may resist that intervention with its own military forces. You've got to remember that part of what is occurring at the present time is the playing out of internal political argument inside the Indonesian State. You've seen a transfer to democracy. You are going to very possibly see a big change of government when the new Parliament meets. You have a situation where the Indonesian Army resents very much or many elements of the Indonesian Army resented the decision taken by the Indonesian Government to have a ballot in East Timor and you're dealing with a nation of 211 million which is going through a transfer to democracy. So it is a very volatile situation and the best interests of Australia are served by understanding that volatility before it takes action.

JONES:

Right, given that the IMF have led a $70 billion rescue package of Indonesia after the Asian economic crisis and given that the world body, the family of nations contributes, that's not just money that's dug up out of the bin, contributes to all of that, are we not entitled to have the IMF say to Indonesia, listen, if you don't toe the line on this some of this money is going to have to be withheld?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Alan, that is an option. There are all sorts of options if Indonesia does not meet her obligations to maintain law and order, of course that's an option, of course it is.

JONES:

In the light of all of that, though, and the convoluted and bureaucratic way that the United Nations' functions, even if the UN agreed to send in some kind of peacekeeping force, are we to sit around and wait a month or more for that to happen? The United Nations have conceded themselves that it would take a month. I mean, it's too long to witness this sort of bloodshed and mayhem happening on our doorstop.

PRIME MINISTER:

Alan, I understand that. I ask you though to bear in mind that there are 15,000 Indonesian troops in East Timor û 15,000. And when you say we shouldn't wait around, I mean, what is the next step û an invasion?

JONES:

Well, I think the next step is to persuade Mr Habibie thatà

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly.

JONES:

àit's a two-way street.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly, exactly. You are absolutely right. What you try to do is to use all the diplomatic means available to you to try and persuade him. Now, so far that has not been successful but I believe that the tragic deterioration of the situation over the last 48 hours will produce around the world such an adverse reaction that the pressure on him will build dramaticallyà

JONES:

And it will be pressure to disarm the militia.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it will be pressure for the police and the military to restore law and order including, where necessary, disarming the militia, yes. And they should have done this, they should have done this...

JONES:

Long ago.

PRIME MINISTER:

àlong ago and this could have been avoided but it has not been done and it has got dramatically worse over the last 48 hours. Now, plainly we have to use every means at our disposal to bring pressure to bear. The threat of a possible United Nations mission, cumbersome and bureaucratic though that may sound, will matter. Dr Habibie is going to an international conference in Auckland next weekend and not only will I be there but President Clinton and all the other leaders of the APEC countries will be there. It will be impossible for this subject not to come up. So there are all sorts ofà

JONES:

Sure, the trouble is Prime Minister, the trouble is, Habibie's a bit of lame duck, isn't he? I mean, he's going to find internal pressure from Soekarnoputri and others arguing for integration so it's very difficult.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's absolutely right and this is one of û it's the internal politics of Indonesia that are complicating this. I mean, we are not dealing with an ordinary situation. It's a very different country from Australia and as well as we would like it to be otherwise we have to respond according to our understanding and our knowledge of how that country works.

JONES:

Just on persuasion, before you go, you've got another major foreign policy issue right here in front of you with the arrival of President Jiang tonight and, of course, China a little different from the way in which Australia runs things. Will you be raising questions about freedom denials or are you concerned on trade or will you be the go between for them to join the WTO? There seems to be a big push from America to want China as part of a regulated international trade body. Are you some kind of intermediary here to try and bring China and America together following the American mess in Belgrade of bombing of the Chinese Embassy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we certainly want China in the WTO. We have good relations with China, although we recognise that China's not a democracy and we are and we have our differences on issues like human rights but we have a dialogue with them on that. And we will certainly be pressing on the Chinese the value of closer relations with the United States as I pressed on the Americans when I was there in Washington. And we are in a position, not so much û I think a go between might be overstating it û but certainly we are well placed in our relations with the Chinese without having given away any of the values for which this country stands.

JONES:

And what about Taiwan, I mean, what is the Australian attitude, are we a one-China policy, does that mean that the threats that mainland China have recently issued to Taiwan are something that we'd support, comment on?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we don't support any threats of military force. We do have a one-China policy but we have also argued very strongly to both the Americans and the Chinese and also to the Taiwanese that people should cool it and there should not be any resort to force. And consistent with our policy that is the view that I'll put to the Chinese President.

JONES:

And two-way trade worth only, it's a lot I suppose, $10 billion, but only $10 billion for an enormous country like China, are you convinced that you can actually free things up a bit there for greater access?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, one of the ways, one of the ways we'd get greater access would be if we got China into the World Trade Organisation. And we have already cut a deal with the Chinese that will give us greater access including some of our agricultural products if and when China becomes a member of the World Trade Organisation.

JONES:

We saw with lamb, lamb business in America, the big boys don't always deal with the WTO regulations so you should do.

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course they don't and that's the advantage of size, if you're big and that's the advantage of size if you're not big, and we have to live with that reality.

JONES:

Okay, good to talk to you, thank you for your time.

[ends]


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