TV Interview – William Geist, MSNBC, New York


William Geist, host: Joining us now is Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Foreign Minister Wong, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

Penny Wong, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Good to be with you

Geist: You spoke with the Chinese foreign minister and tried to leverage your connections there to get China to lean on Vladimir Putin to end the war that you called illegal. What was China’s reaction? Do you believe they are ready to intervene in this way?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, what I was saying, and hello to you all. What I meant was that China is a P5 nation, as a member of the — permanent member of the Security Council, has a special responsibility to uphold the Charter of the United Nations. And with all of us, what we want is for Russia to end its illegal and immoral invasion and end the war and end the bloodshed that we are witnessing.

Geist: And are the Chinese ready to take these measures? We saw the meeting between President Xi and President Putin last week. There were some implicit criticisms that they didn’t make – China didn’t offer material support for the war in Ukraine. Do you believe in your private conversations that the Chinese government is actually leaning on Putin to end the war?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, as you said, there have been public comments, implied comments, but we’d like to see more. And that’s what I said to State Councilor Wang Yi, that they are a great power, they have a special responsibility to support the United Nations Charter and to use their influence, their influence to end to this war, which we all want to see over.

Geist: And what – how would you describe that leverage, Minister of Foreign Affairs? What are they capable of doing? How much influence does President Xi have over Putin?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, as you know, China and Russia are engaged in what they have described as a partnership without limits. And that’s a pretty important thing to say, so we hope – Australia hopes, along with every other country in the world, that this war can be ended. And we will continue to urge, as I am sure others do, China and others to exert their influence.

Journalist: Minister Wong, US intelligence analysts see China’s target, one of China’s strategic objectives, as dominating the Pacific region, including Australia. Is that what you see from your point of view in Canberra? And what can Australia do to prevent this?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Look, that’s a really good question. And there is no doubt that there is a lot of competition in our region. There is no doubt that China is seeking to wield much greater strategic influence in the region and that the regional order is being reshaped. And what I often say to my friends in America and elsewhere is that we are in a time when the world order is being reshaped. We all have a role to play in this. But this reshaping is focused on our region, in the Indo-Pacific, which is why the attention the Biden administration is giving to the Indo-Pacific is welcome.

Sam Stein, journalist: This is Foreign Secretary Sam Stein. Basically, what this is about in terms of the war in Ukraine is leverage points over Russia. I mean, the initial premise was that the international sanctions regime would be put in place immediately. This would cripple the Russian economy, coupled with billions and billions in aid to Ukraine. And you could basically leverage Putin to reconsider his war. Obviously that didn’t happen. On the contrary, what we have seen this week is that he is going to enlist 300,000 people. It warns against nuclear attacks. So China is one leverage point you’re trying to play here, but are there others? Let’s say Beijing continues to buy cheap gas and fund the Russians. What other levers exist to make Putin back down?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I think it’s very important for the international community to keep putting pressure on Russia, to keep the sanctions regime going, to keep putting pressure on President Putin. And even if you’re referring to conscription and President Putin’s really irresponsible remarks, what I would say is that they also demonstrate a degree of desperation. The war did not go as he would have liked because of the reaction of the world and the bravery of the Ukrainian people.

Geist: Foreign Minister, on another topic, President Biden made it clear again in an interview on Sunday that the United States would defend Taiwan if China invaded that nation. What would it mean for your part of the world if there was a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and the United States intervened militarily?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I think the first point we should make is that Australia’s position is very clearly that we don’t want to see any unilateral change to the status quo. And we have always called for de-escalation and restraint. Like the United States, we recognize the One China Policy. We have diplomatic relations with Beijing. We have maintained people-to-people and economic ties with Taiwan. I think it’s important to remember that a conflict over Taiwan could be catastrophic and that the world should focus on preventing that conflict and ensuring that there is no unilateral change in the status quo.

Geist: And that’s obviously everybody’s first hope, as President Biden also said in that interview. But he said if that line was crossed by China, the United States would intervene militarily with its own soldiers, not tacitly or not in any other way to offer financial support, but would intervene with the military. What would Australia do in this case?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, as Foreign Secretary, I’ve been asked that question a few times, and I’m going to disappoint you by saying that I’m not going to get caught up in speculation, and I don’t think anyone in my position should be.

Geist: Fair enough. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, thank you very much for being with us this morning. We appreciate that.


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