Interview with Sky News – Canberra – 17 November 2011



TOPICS: Force posture initiatives.

KIERAN GILBERT: The big announcement of this visit by the US President has been the increase in the military engagement starting with the company of 250 marines, next year increasing to a peak of 2500 by 2016/17. With us to discuss that we have the Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare. Jason Clare thanks for being here. The numbers aren’t enormous by American standards but very significant for Australia. How do you see this in terms of the alliance, where does it take it and how does it change it?

JASON CLARE: We all know we’re strong allies and good friends – as the President said last night we don’t always speak the same language but we understand each other and this is about expanding what we’re already doing.

You’re right, America has about 60,000 Marines and other personnel in South Korea and Japan so by those standards it’s quite small. But it is important in the work that we do together. We already do a lot of training together. Every two years we’ll have 14,000 marines and other US personnel training as part of Talisman Sabre. But this makes it more regular. It means that it’s every six months during the dry season in the north.

And for the Australian army which is now moving to operating amphibious craft with the Australian Navy and that means these big ships, bigger than our last aircraft carrier that can carry 1000 troops as well as 100 vehicles, they’re the sort of ships that are on the spot when there’s a humanitarian emergency and natural disaster in our region. We need to know how to use them, how to operate them. We haven’t done it at that scale before. The Americans have been doing it for decades and they’ll be very helpful in helping us skill up.

DAVID SPEERS: But this isn’t just about humanitarian and disaster relief operations, it’s about combat as well. I mean when we get to the question of why we’re doing this, we’re here from governments both sides, I think this is about the shifting strategic power in this region, let’s be blunt, is it about China?

JASON CLARE: It’s not just about China. It’s about all of Asia. It’s becoming – Asia’s becoming the economic centre of the universe. We talk about this being the Asian century. What we announced yesterday and what I suspect the President will say in his speech to Parliament today shows that he gets that too. He understands it. You know we are talking David about in the next decade the world – the biggest middle class the world’s ever seen on our doorstep, it means half a billion people ripped out of poverty in the region but it also means jobs. It means jobs for Australians and it means jobs for Americans. That’s why it’s in our interest. And the point I would make is that as the world changes, so it’s natural that America’s force posture will change.

DAVID SPEERS: But we have seen the Chinese being a bit more assertive, a bit more aggressive in their claims on territorial waters in the region, this has been seen as a response to that by the United States and the reaction from China that this announcement has been pretty negative. They’re saying this may not be in the interest of countries in the region. Are they wrong to be worried about this?

JASON CLARE: Well I guess what I would say to that is it should come as no surprise that Australia and the United States are allies. We’ve been at it now for 60 years, friends even longer and this is an expansion of what we already do. American – let’s be , it’s been America’s presence in our region that has underpinned the security of this part of the word now for at least 40 years and the point I would make is as Asia becomes more important, as it becomes more important to economic growth, so it’s important that America’s presence increases rather than reduces because that’s what will underpin all of the opportunities that we’re talking about from the growth of Asia.

KIERAN GILBERT: What about the other argument that’s being made, I suppose in the context of the uranium debate but more generally about the need to engage more with Deli and that’s what the United States had argued for, for Australia to build those links up as a counter balance to China.

JASON CLARE: Well I think the President made it very clear in answer to a question yesterday, it was a decision that the Prime Minister has made to take forward to the Labor Party’s National Conference because we think it is in the national interest of Australia. We need to work closely with all of the countries of our region. Work closely with China, work closely with India, because of the economic opportunities that it provides us with.

And I should make the point Kieran that not only are we increasing military exercises and training with the United States but at the same time we’re doing the same sort of thing with China. We had a very senior general from the Chinese PLA out here last week as part of a series of talks.

This year – no sorry last year – we held the first of the live fire exercises between our two navies and when the Prime Minister was in China early this year she invited the Chinese to have more ship visits from the Chinese Navy.

So this is all about working more closely together. You’ll see a lot more of that over the coming days of the East Asia Summit which for the first time the United States will be part and unlike APEC…

KIERAN GILBERT: So China’s got nothing to worry about?

JASON CLARE: Well unlike APEC we’re talking about growing the economy of the region. This is about making sure that we get the security right and that’s going to require China and the United States and the rest of us working closely together. If we get that bilateral relationship between China and the United States right, then all of us stand to gain from it; China, the United States and Australia.

DAVID SPEERS: The Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare, thank you for joining us.

JASON CLARE: Not at all. Thanks David, thanks Kieran.