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Howard Conducts APEC Final Press Conference; Questioned About Leadership

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has held the final press conference following the APEC Forum in Sydney.

Howard took questions from the international media. He also responded to a local question about his leadership intentions. He said he would contest this year’s election as leader.

  • Listen to the press conference (18m)

Transcript of final APEC press conference, at the International Media Centre, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

MR O’LEARY: The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, is about to arrive. He will make an opening statement and then I will call out the names of the questioners. Thank you very much.

HOWARD: Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have just completed the APEC meeting in Sydney 2007. It has been an extremely successful meeting. By far the most important statement to come out of it was the Sydney Declaration on Climate Change, which embraced the need to achieve aspirational goals for the entire world in relation to greenhouse gas emissions and also endorsed specific goals regarding energy intensity and forest cover for the aggregate of the APEC countries. This is the first such agreement involving the major polluters, the United States, China and the Russian Federation and it is, therefore, a very important component along the hard march of mankind towards reaching a sensible, workable, international agreement to cover the period post-Kyoto, that is 2012 onwards.

What this agreement represents is a proper recognition of the fact that different economies have different needs, have different views and have different capacities, and that a tops-down, one-size-fits-all approach is simply not going to work.

I regard agreement on these things as being a highly significant development. At the end of this month, a meeting of major economies to be convened by President Bush in Washington will, I hope, take the process a little further and then there is the meeting under the auspices of the United Nations and hosted by Indonesia in Bali in December of this year, which will be a further process along the road to a post-2012 arrangement that might involve all countries. The meeting also issued a very strong statement calling on the nations of the world to get more serious about the Doha negotiations. They still represent the last, best hope for an aggregate multilateral trade agreement. Movement is needed in areas of agriculture and industrial products.

The spirit in which the APEC meeting was conducted was extremely positive. It is, for Australia, the premier international gathering by far. It represents the overwhelming bulk of Australia’s economic, political and strategic future. It is a gathering that fully engages most of Australia’s major trading partners, such as Japan, the United States, China, Korea and many other nations. It also links us in constant dialogue with the leaders of the major economies of the region. Eight out of 10 of Australia’s best trading partners are to be found, 60 to 70 per cent of Australia’s trade is to be found, in the APEC region. It is therefore of an enormous significance to this country and if ever a meeting underpins and reasserts the importance of globalisation in lifting millions of people out of poverty, it is the APEC meeting.

The next meeting of APEC will be held in Peru next year, and I wish the President of Peru, President Garcia, who was one of my guests in Sydney, very good fortune for the conduct of that meeting.

I take this opportunity of expressing again my thanks to those who organised the APEC meeting, the members of my taskforce, and the people in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who negotiated so hard in relation to the Sydney Declaration. My gratitude also goes out to the men and women of the New South Wales and Australian Federal Police for the security arrangements.

Can I say to the people of Sydney, I am sorry that you have been inconvenienced. It is not the fault of our visitors, it is not the fault of either the New South Wales Government or the Federal Government; rather, it is the fault of those people who would threaten to resort to violence in order to disrupt gatherings of this kind. You have been very patient, that is the people of

Sydney, and I warmly thank you for that. Are there any questions?

MR O’LEARY: Could we have the first question from Ms Tanaka from the NHK.

MS TANAKA: Prime Minister, could you tell us whether the recent development concerning the nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsular was discussed in the Leaders meeting and whether there was any consensus that came out of the meeting on this issue?

HOWARD: It was certainly discussed at the Leaders meeting. It was also discussed in the bilateral meeting that I had with the Japanese Prime Minister this morning and also in the trilateral dialogue, the breakfast I had with Mr Abe and President Bush yesterday morning. We are grateful for the progress thus far. We are grateful that North Korea so far has delivered on her part of the bargain. The next most important stage will be the requirement on North Korea to disable certain of her nuclear capacities in return for further support from the Republic of Korea. We all await that development. We hope it occurs, and we are very positive that the Six-Party Talks have provided the right environment. This does represent, so far, a significant diplomatic achievement, but there is still some ground to be traversed and we hope that North Korea sticks to her part of the bargain.

MS HAWTHORNE: Maria Hawthorne from the Australian Associated Press. Mr Howard, was that a second Sydney declaration we heard this afternoon when you told your fellow leaders that you looked forward to seeing them at future meetings? Is that a commitment to contest the next election and to stay for a full term? And another one, just in case you don’t answer that one: what has been your single favourite moment from this APEC?

HOWARD: I thought the cultural performance last night was stunning. I was very proud, as an Australian, of the quality of our artists. Within a very short period of time they were able to compress a highly professional presentation of such a variety. I felt really stoked that my country has such talented artists.

MR O’LEARY: Yan Cheng from the Shanghai Morning Post, please.

MS YAN CHENG: Mr Prime Minister. My question is, you had these trilateral security talks yesterday, so what are your expectations of cooperating with China on this issue? Thanks.

HOWARD: Well, the trilateral security dialogue is a natural coming together of three Pacific democracies – Australia, the United States and Japan. It is not directed at anybody, but it is natural that three countries that have been, in the case of Australia, democratic forever, and the United States for a very long time as well, and for Japan since the end of World War 2, it is natural that we should relate to each other through the prism of that common practice of democracy. That is not anti-Chinese. The trilateral security dialogue is in no way anti-Chinese. That is just a complete furphy.

We have established a strategic dialogue with China, that was announced by Mr Downer a short while ago, and I don’t find any concern on the part of China with the trilateral security dialogue we have with the Americans and the Japanese. It never gets raised with me.

I have had innumerable discussions with President Hu Jintao over the past couple of days, both in a formal sense and also an informal sense, and it is certainly not something that is troubling him in any way, nor should it, because it is not directed against China or the people of China. It is just a natural outcrop, if you like, of the things that we have in common with the Americans and the Japanese.

SPEAKER: Eugene Yap from Fuji television.

MR YAP: Eugene Yap from Fuji Television. We would like to ask a question about the climate change issues. The APEC economies have only achieved a regional aspirational goal. However, just now you said that this time you have achieved one significant target. How would you explain this when you were only able to achieve a regional aspirational goal, but it is a non-binding or punishable goal?

HOWARD: Well it was unrealistic to expect that out of this meeting you would have a commitment to binding targets and those who set that goal were either ignorant of what is achievable or were setting those goals for purely political reasons without any regard for the merits of what is involved.

Achieving an international agreement on a post-2012 arrangement is a very difficult task and it can only be achieved in stages. It can only be achieved if we recognise that developed and developing countries come at this issue from different standpoints. Everybody has got to be involved, but not everybody will make the same contribution. Not everybody will agree to exactly the same thing and what one has to do is to find the maximum that individual countries can agree to at the present time, take that, bank it, and then move on to something further in the future.

That is what I think this meeting achieved. It did represent, for the first time, the Americans and the Chinese having something to say about an aspirational goal. Now I think that is quite a step forward. For those people who are setting unrealistic bars for their own political reasons, it wasn’t enough, but you discount that because it is not a serious contribution to the debate and you say: well, that is a step forward; we still have a long way to go. We’ve got the meeting in Washington. We will see what further we can get out of that. Then we have the United Nations-sponsored meeting in Bali and we will see what further we can get out of that. And through a process, you build towards something that produces better outcomes and better results.

No one meeting, no one agreement, is going to fix this issue. Kyoto did not fix it. The Canadian Prime Minister made the comment about Kyoto that it was really an agreement that produced two groups of countries – those countries that did not have any targets to meet and those countries that have failed to meet the targets they were set.

MR O’LEARY: Phil Coorey from the Sydney Morning Herald.

MR COOREY: Phil Coorey from the Sydney Morning Herald. Mr Howard, I have a follow-up to Maria’s question. She asked you about the next election and your intention to contest it. Do you intend to contest it?

HOWARD: Yes, I do intend to contest it. I intend to contest it as leader and that issue was settled last year.

MR O’LEARY: Mr Yuzuru Takamo from Asahi Shimbun.

MR TAKAMO: I have heard that China was reluctant to accept the climate change issues at the beginning. How did you pursue them to accept this?

HOWARD: I don’t talk about those sorts of things. China has agreed. China is a fully active, positive member of APEC. China brings her own experience and her own circumstances to the table when it comes to climate change. I understand the Chinese position on climate change and the beauty of this meeting is that everybody understood each other’s positions. They are different because we are at different stages of development and our economies are differently composed. The important thing is we all agreed on a number of things, contrary to what some people predicted and expected, and perhaps, in some limited cases, even hoped for, and it was a very good outcome.

MR O’LEARY: David Crowe from the Australian Financial Review.

MR CROWE: David Crowe from the Australian Financial Review. Could you comment on how the outcome of this summit plays into the Bali meeting that is coming up? What is your hope out of that Bali meeting? Do you think that it should work as quickly as possible to set up a framework for post-2012?

HOWARD: I just believe, David, with these things that at each of these meetings you should try to take the process a step forward. You should try to get as much as you can realistically hope to get, given the nature of the meeting and the circumstances of the time. But it is silly to say, well, this next meeting has to do this or otherwise the world will come do an end. The next meeting will never achieve everything that we would like, but the world will not come to an end. If we keep building on the previous dispensation and we keep moving forward, then we are going to achieve something.

I must say that some months ago I may not have felt that we could get as far as we did yesterday, but we did. I do not want to overstate it, but it is a step forward. And to get as I said earlier, to get China, Russia, the United States, major polluters, agreeing on the need for an aspirational goal is a big step forward, and the particular ingredients that are related to APEC are also valuable. Now we still have a long way to go, but we should stop investing a particular agreement with some kind of sanctity, which none of these agreements ever have. I mean, Kyoto has been invested with some qualities that it has never deserved because it has not delivered and it never had the capacity to deliver the sorts of things that people believed it did or could.

MR O’LEARY: Tim Johnson from the International Herald Tribune.

MR MARK JOHNSON: Sir, President Hu twice said that Kyoto should form the basis of any future agreement – once this morning and once a couple of days ago to the Business Summit. Do you think that presents a problem and, secondly, do you think that this process will eventually end in concrete targets rather than just aspirational hopes?

HOWARD: I think in time it will, but that is a while off yet. I can understand the reluctance of the Chinese to commit themselves to specific binding targets, but that does not mean to say that at some time in the future that may not happen.

You really do have to build step by step with something like this. People say a lot about Kyoto. We did not sign Kyoto, for the very good reason that it was not in our interests to do so. But we are going to meet the target that Australia was given under the Kyoto arrangement, unlike many of the countries that are allegedly bound by the protocol. Now we had good reasons not to ratify the protocol because that would have imposed obligations on Australia that were not imposed on competitor countries and that could have damaged our industry and our competitive position, and that is the reason why we did not sign up. But, in a sense, the Kyoto process is now falling behind us, and we now have to find a new dispensation to govern arrangements after 2012. I still look for the framework under the United Nations of involving all countries, but the outcome of that could be very different from the original Kyoto manifestation.

MR O’LEARY: Gemma Daley from Bloomberg. I think this will have to be the last question.

MS DALEY: Prime Minister, Gemma Daley from Bloomberg. How concerned are you about China’s reaction to the trilateral, firstly, and, secondly, is this the most disputatious APEC you have been to?

HOWARD: Well I am not concerned about China’s reaction to the trilateral dialogue. I am still looking for it. I can hardly be concerned by it. I have not found it anywhere, I have not encountered it anywhere. I am being kept in the dark. People keep asking me – you keep asking me – about these reactions, and I am still searching to find it. I have not been able to find it because I think, deep down, the Chinese Government understands precisely what I have said, and that is that this trilateral security dialogue is a natural, positive expression of the relationship that exists between the three Pacific, the great Pacific democracies – that is Australia, Japan and the United States.

Is it the most disputatious? No, I do not think it is. It was quite harmonious and it achieved quite a lot. Certainly it has not been the most disputatious, no. Thank you.

MR O’LEARY: Thank you very much.

HOWARD: Thank you.

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