Remarks by the Vice President and Australian Prime Minister Turnbull at a Press Conference
PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL: Well, Vice President, it has been a great honor to welcome you to Australia. This is the earliest visit to Australia of any Vice President in a new administration. And your commitment to our alliance, your commitment to the region, the commitment of the Trump administration to the security and the stability, the maintenance of the rule of law in our region, in the Indo-Pacific is one that we welcome. We are delighted that you're here.
And it’s been great, too, we discussed earlier for Lucy and I to welcome you and Karen and your daughters with our family -- or many of them, two out of our three grandchildren. And as we observed earlier, your Karen was showing great ability in nursing Baby Alice. So that all augurs well.
So we've had a very productive discussion this morning. We have the strongest and the closest ties between our two nations at every level. And the Vice President’s visit is an opportunity for both our nations emphatically to reaffirm those ties and our deep commitment to the alliance.
The alliance is as important today as it was more than 60 years ago, indeed, as it has been for the 99 years that -- since Australian and American troops went into battle together. It will be 100 years from the Battle of Hamel in 2018.
And through all of that time, the people of the United States understand that they have no stronger, no more committed, no more loyal partner, ally than Australia -- in every major conflict for 99 years, we have stood side-by-side in freedom’s cause.
And this year is also the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, when American and Australian naval forces turned back the Japanese invaders, and then went on to turn them back again and again and keep Australia and our region free.
We have stood side-by-side in freedom’s cause through all those years, and today the brave men and women -- the Australian Defense Forces -- and their American allies and our partners are fighting together with the common goal of utterly destroying ISIS in the field in the Middle East. That is our commitment. In that theater of war and around the world, we are in absolute lockstep, totally united with a common purpose, and a resolute intent to destroy the threat of terrorism, and to destroy it in the field, and to combat it around the world -- whether at home or abroad. Our freedom depends on it. And we're committed to it.
And again, today, as 99 years ago, as 75 years ago, in all of those conflicts, we have stood side-by-side because we are united by values, a commitment to freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. Our two great nations -- we share so much. But above all, we share -- and, Mr. Vice President, you know you come here on the eve of ANZAC Day where we honor the sacrifice of thousands of Australians -- over 100,000 Australians who’ve paid the supreme sacrifice to keep us free, and they have done that again and again, side-by-side in mateship -- an Australian term, but well understood across the Pacific, in mateship -- a hundred years of mateship side-by-side with our American allies.
Mr. Vice President, we also stand with you and with President Trump in condemning the behavior, the criminal, abhorrent use of chemical weapons in Syria by President Assad’s regime. We welcomed and endorsed and supported the quick and calibrated and proportionate response of the United States in answer to that shocking crime.
And here in our region, we have spent a lot of time this morning talking about the threat from North Korea. This reckless and dangerous regime puts the peace, the stability, the prosperity of our region at risk. And we endorse and, indeed, have echoed and made directly the calls to China to step up, to take responsibility. Because China has a leverage, an ability to influence North Korea that far exceeds any others -- with their economy, the North Korean economy is entirely dependent on China. So as I’ve said earlier this week, the eyes of the world are on Beijing, and we seek leadership from China to join the leadership shown by the United States and Japan and Australia and other nations around the world committed to peace; call on China to make that stronger commitment to ensure that North Korea stops this reckless and dangerous conduct.
We are very, very heartened by your visit, Mr. Vice President. The United States’ commitment to our region has underpinned the prosperity of the last 40 years. We would not have seen the extraordinary lifting out of poverty of billions of people in our region had it not been for the peace and the stability, the Pax Americana, if you like, that has been delivered by that continuing American commitment.
And your presence so early in the administration, and of the Secretary of State, and of the Defense Secretary, and as you've confirmed on your visit, the commitment of President Trump to attend the East Asia Summit, all of this sends a strong commitment, a strong message that the United States is committed to our region, committed to the peace and stability upon which so much depends in every nation.
We've also discussed matters economic. The United States is by some considerable margin Australia’s largest source of foreign investment. And the United States is also the leading destination for Australian foreign investment. In 2015, Australian investment in the United States was worth $594 billion, representing almost double what it was in 2005; while the United States’ investment in Australia has almost tripled since then and now represents about $860 billion.
We have a very successful free trade agreement. Bilateral trade has grown from $41 billion to $70 billion since the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement entered into force in that year, 2005. And the U.S. is Australia’s second-largest trading partner.
We’ll continue this close cooperation on trade and investment. And we had a very good discussion, too, about President Trump’s commitment to reduce company tax and tax generally in the United States. We too recognize that reducing business taxes is vital to deliver stronger economic growth. Businesses that can retain more of their profits for investment will grow. They’ll hire more employees. Investment, employment are driven by lower business taxes. And we applaud the commitment of President Trump to that, and we're grateful for your update on those plans.
We will continue to work more closely together in every field. The relationship is a very deep -- it’s a very intimate one. It is carried by millions of Australians and Americans over a century and more. We have a shared destiny. We always have. We grow closer together, built on those ties, defense, common strategic goals, shared values, stronger economic relationship, and above all, those connections of family that extend across the Pacific. It’s a close relationship. It’s a family relationship. And our family gathering this morning underpin the nature of this very deep friendship, Mr. Vice President.
So I thank you very much for visiting Australia. We've had a very good meeting with the foreign minister this morning, following on her meetings with you in Washington. And you’ll meet more of our ministers today, including the deputy prime minister and the trade minister. We have a very deep commitment to growing and strengthening this relationship so important to our region, so important to our world, so important for the security and the prosperity, the opportunity of both our peoples.
Welcome, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Prime Minister Turnbull, thank you so much for those gracious words, for the hospitality you have shown me and my family upon our arrival in Australia today. The warm welcome that you and the Australian people have given us is something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
I am honored to be in Australia today to offer greetings from the President of the United States, President Donald Trump. And as I spoke to the President this morning, Mr. Prime Minister, he wanted me to offer his best wishes to you and his congratulations for your strong leadership of the Commonwealth.
Mr. Prime Minister, with the strong encouragement of your administration, only two days ago, as you mentioned, it was my privilege to announce that President Trump will attend the APEC Leaders Summit, the East Asia Summit, and the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Vietnam and the Philippines this November.
I trust that my visit here today -- on my very first trip to the Asia Pacific as Vice President of the United States -- and the President’s plans to travel to this region this fall, are a strong sign of our enduring commitment to the historic alliance between the people of the United States of America and the people of Australia.
As I told Prime Minister Turnbull today, Australia is, and always will be, one of America’s closest allies and truest friends.
We are partners in security, we are partners in prosperity, and together we are bound by our historic alliance. And under President Trump, I can assure you, that the United States is committed to strengthening our bond for the benefit of our people, and for the benefit of our world.
The relationship between our nations stretches back for generations, as the Prime Minister just said. From the Coral Sea to Kandahar, our friendship has been forged in the fires of sacrifice.
Very humbling for me to say that only three days from now, on April 25th, Australia will commemorate ANZAC Day, to honor those brave Australians and New Zealanders who gave their lives in defense of freedom, oftentimes shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans.
The sons and daughters of both our lands have fought together in every major conflict for the past 100 years. From World Wars One and Two, to Korea, to Vietnam, and most recently, in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, our grandparents, our parents, and now our children have served together and sacrificed together, and have defended our freedom and all that we hold dear. That represents the foundation of an unshakeable bond between America and Australia.
Even now our citizens serve together, in Afghanistan and in the fight against ISIS. And around the world, we are deepening our defense collaboration, and as Prime Minister Turnbull and I discussed today, we will continue to deepen our defense and security collaboration in the days ahead.
The historic United States-Australia alliance is more vital than ever to regional security and prosperity. In recent years, we have dramatically stepped up our intelligence sharing, increased our emphasis on shared cyber capabilities, and we have conducted and will continue to conduct joint military exercises to ensure our readiness, including the Talisman Saber later this year.
As the Prime Minister and I discussed, together, our nations will continue to uphold a rules-based system that is the foundation of peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific.
In the South China Sea and throughout the region, we will defend the fundamental freedoms of navigation and overflight, and ensure the unimpeded flow of lawful commerce, and promote peaceful diplomatic dialogue to address issues of regional and global concern.
And as the Prime Minister and I just reaffirmed, under President Trump’s leadership, and yours, the United States and Australia will continue to stand firm and stand strong to confront the most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security in the Asia Pacific, the regime in North Korea.
While all options are on the table, let me assure you, the United States will continue to work closely with Australia, our other allies in the region, and with China to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on the regime in Pyongyang until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Mr. Prime Minister, know that President Trump and I are truly grateful -- truly grateful -- to you for calling on China even this week to play an even more active and constructive role in addressing the North Korean threat.
The President and I have in his words great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. And I know you share that hope. But as President Trump made clear just a few days ago, if China is unable to deal with North Korea, the United States, and our allies, will.
The United States and Australia face this threat, and every other, together -- because we know that our security is the foundation of our prosperity. And today, Prime Minister Turnbull and I discussed ways for us to promote renewed prosperity for our people.
We are already building on a sturdy foundation. The U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement is a case study in success. And while we can still make additional progress, it’s a model for what a mutually beneficial trade agreement can be.
Today, the United States is far and away Australia’s largest economic partner -- not just in the region, but all across the world. Our economic relationship is worth a stunning $1.5 trillion, and our two-way investment has grown by 50 percent in just the last three years alone.
And we still have room to grow. Today, the Prime Minister and I discussed the need to break down barriers and encourage the kind of policies that will encourage even more trade and investment, more innovation and more opportunities for both our peoples.
We’re confident that, working together, we’ll build on our strong foundation in a way that will be beneficial to the people of America and the people of Australia.
Beyond our commercial partnership, the President and I are confident that this historic alliance between the United States and Australia will grow even stronger in the years ahead. Nowhere is our enduring commitment to each other and to our shared future more evident than in the topic that the Prime Minister just addressed so eloquently and so passionately -- the global fight against terror.
The people of the United States will never forget that Australia invoked our ANZUS Security Treaty for the first and only time following the September 11th terrorist attacks, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people, including 11 Australians. The support that Australia showed America in our darkest hour will never be forgotten.
Australia, like the United States, has not been spared. The four-lone wolf terror attacks over the past 31 months were all inspired by this global cancer.
The people of Australia can rest assured: Under President Trump’s leadership and under your capable leadership in Australia, we will not rest, we will not relent until, together, we drive this evil from the face of the Earth.
As I close, let me simply say it’s an honor to be here on behalf of President Donald Trump to say simply from our hearts that the historic alliance between the United States and Australia is inviolate. It’s immutable. And it’s a beacon that shines throughout the Asia Pacific and inspires the wider world.
Our shared history, our shared values bind us together, and as we look toward what lies ahead, it’s always heartening to stand beside a friend, and I do so today.
Prime Minister Turnbull, know that under President Donald Trump, the historic alliance between the United States and Australia will grow stronger, our people will grow closer, enhancing our security and our prosperity for generations to come.
And so we go forward with faith -- with faith in our historic alliance, faith in our shared values, and faith that the best days for America and for Australia are yet to come.
Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. It’s an honor to be with you.
PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL: Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for those eloquent words -- heartfelt, passionate, committed. Thank you so much.
Now, we have some questions.
Q Very well said, Mr. Prime Minister. This question is actually for both of you, if I may, does Australia have an increased role to play in helping moderate the North Korea threat? If so, what is that role? And could it, indeed, be a military one down the track?
PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL: Well, thank you. We work very closely with our ally -- our ally and our friends in the region. The global community is committed to the end of this reckless and dangerous conduct, and the challenge now is obviously for China because they have, as I’ve said, and this is not a political point, this is a statement of fact, China has the greatest leverage over North Korea. There is no question about that.
So I’ve made this point to Chinese leaders over a long period of time, in fact, before I was Prime Minister. It is self-evident that China has the opportunity and we say the responsibility to bring pressure to bear on North Korea to stop this reckless and dangerous trajectory upon which they are embarked.
Now we will work closely with the United States as we always do. At this stage, the support that we are providing at the level of diplomacy and public diplomacy -- both public and private diplomacy is of critical importance. And we share the -- we are quietly confident I would say that China will step up to this challenge and responsibility.
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: For more than a generation there has been a consensus in the world community for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. In the 1990s, it was a subject of negotiations and an agreed framework was arrived at. Six-Party Talks would follow sometime later. The last administration embraced a policy of strategic patience. All along the way the regime in North Korea answered the entreaties of the world community with broken promises and with continued pursuit -- headlong pursuit of their nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.
And as President Trump has made clear, and I’ve made clear as I’ve traveled on this behalf throughout the region, the era of strategic patience is over. Under the President’s leadership and working closely with our allies, with Prime Minister Turnbull, in my meetings with Prime Minister Abe, and with acting President Hwang in South Korea, and others, the United States is determined to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear working with all of our allies -- and China -- to ensure that we achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
Now all options are on the table, and the United States is prepared to do what’s necessary in conjunction with our allies to see to the security of this region and of our own people. But we are hopeful -- in fact, in President Trump’s words, we have great confidence that China, with the encouragement of the United States, of our allies, and we're grateful to say with the strong encouragement of the leadership here in Australia, that China will take advantage of the unique position and relationship that it has with North Korea to bring an end to their nuclear program and to their ballistic missile programs. We call on them to do that.
The President observed recently that China in a very real sense is the economic lifeline for North Korea. They've already taken steps, which we greatly welcome -- intervening in coal shipments and intervening in commercial travel. But we believe China can do more, and on behalf of the President, I’m just very grateful that even this week, Australia has taken steps to engage with China directly and encourage them to take even more steps to bring that economic and diplomatic pressure to bear.
But make no mistake about it, the United States of America is committed to seeing this way forward and achieve what’s eluded the world community for a generation. And that is to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Q Thank you. Prime Minister, I wanted to ask you about trade, and if there are specific steps the U.S. has asked you to take, or that you will be taking to improve bilateral trade after President Trump pulled out of TPP.
I’m also wondering what you see is the best way to improve regional trade after the collapse of that agreement.
And then, Mr. Vice President, I just wanted to follow on North Korea but ask specifically about some recent statements from the administration earlier this week there was some controversy regarding the timing of the armada that President Trump said that he’d send to the region. It’s led to mockery in North Korean and Chinese press and criticism from a South Korean presidential candidate who said that it potentially undermined your administration’s credibility. Is the lack of rhetorical clarity making your job with allies and partners like China harder?
And to that point, can I ask you explain the President’s recent statement that China is just now taking “some unusual moves” towards North Korea?
PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL: Well, thank you. And in terms of trade, we have obviously continuing discussions. But at this stage, the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement is working very, very well.
In terms of trade generally, Australia has been a great beneficiary of free trade and open markets.
Just let that helicopter pass.
We've been a great beneficiary of free trade and open markets. We strongly supported the TPP as being in our national interest. President Trump has discontinued America’s engagement in it. That is his right. Absolutely each nation must -- look, each nation is committed to protecting its economic interests, first and foremost. That's the duty each leader has to their own people.
So the United States government must make its own judgments on that. We look forward to more trade. President Trump is an international businessman. So he’s not -- he can hardly be described as somebody who is unused to the benefits of international trade and international commerce. He understands it very well.
But he obviously will decide, as the Vice President and I were discussing today, he will decide how agreements, new trade deals, whether and to what extent they work in America’s interest. That is the sovereign right, and, in fact, the solemn obligation of every nation and every leader. But at this stage, in terms of the bilateral relationship, it is proceeding very, very well. It’s proceeding apace, actually. And the economic engagement and the prosperity that flows from that has been demonstrated over the years since it came into force in 2005.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: First on trade, with great respect to the Prime Minister’s view and Australia’s view of TPP, the President has made it clear and America has taken steps -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a thing of the past for the United States.
As we move forward with the President’s philosophy of an America first foreign policy and trade policy, we’ll continue to pursue opportunities for expanded commerce, but do so on bilateral basis.
I trust that my travels throughout the Asia Pacific this week give evidence of the fact that this administration is committed to building both our security and economic relationships with countries all across this region.
We do believe that the bilateral agreement, trade agreement between the United States and Australia is a win-win for our countries. It is -- as I said earlier, we think it’s a model agreement for how to encourage investment and encourage trade between nations.
I think in the days ahead we initiated an economic dialogue that I and the deputy prime minister of Japan will be heading up to begin to explore the possibility of expanded economic relations with Japan. We had discussions about our free trade agreement while I was in South Korea. But I think you’ll continue to see President Trump engaging with nations across this region, but again on a bilateral basis.
With regard to the USS Carl Vinson and the carrier group, our expectation is that they will be in the Sea of Japan, in position in a matter of days -- before the end of this month. That decision was set into motion some time ago. And the one thing that nations -- most especially the regime in North Korea -- should make no mistake about is that the United States has the resources, the personnel, and the presence in this region of the world to see to our interests, and to see to the security of our those interests and our allies.
I think what the President was referring to with regard to China is encouraging news. In his summit at the Southern White House with President Xi, President Trump engaged President Xi in a candid and respectful discussion about China’s engagement with North Korea. And now the steps we're seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea are very welcome.
We do believe China can do more. And as I mentioned, we're very grateful for the clear message that Prime Minister Turnbull’s government and Australia are sending to the Chinese to do just that. But this is a time when I think you’ll continue to see the United States and our allies in the region work together to encourage China to take those steps necessary to bring about a peaceable solution to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
Q Thank you. My question -- the refugee deal last year. Mr. Vice President, in February, President Trump said of the refugees deal, “I will study this dumb deal” -- seemingly contradicting assurances given to Mr. Turnbull. In recent weeks we've seen officials (inaudible) can we infer that President Trump has given final approval to that deal proceeding? And if so, how many refugees will be resettled in the United States?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me make it clear the United States intends to honor the agreement, subject to the results of the vetting processes that now apply to all refugees considered for admission to the United States of America.
President Trump has made it clear that we’ll honor the agreement. It doesn't mean we admire the agreement. Frankly, looking back on the last administration, the President has never been shy about expressing frustration with other international agreements, most notably the so-called nuclear agreement with Iran. But rest assured, as I confirmed today with the Prime Minister, the United States of America will honor the agreement.
And actually we've initiated the process of fulfilling that agreement, subject to the results of the vetting processes that now apply to all refugees in the United States.
PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL: Thank you. And, Mr. Vice President, as I said to the President, we thank you for honoring the commitment made by the President’s predecessor. The commitment to honoring that deal is -- that agreement is very important, and it’s one that speaks whatever the reservations of the President are -- and we know what they are about the deal -- nonetheless, it speaks volumes for the commitment, the integrity of President Trump and your administration, sir, to honor that commitment as you have committed to and, indeed, as you are doing. So we thank you for that commitment. That’s -- it’s a very important commitment, and we thank you for restating that today.
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: I would just add, if I may, Mr. Prime Minister, that as this topic came up early in the administration, Prime Minister Turnbull made a case for the agreement with the President, and the decision to go forward I think can rightly be seen as a reflection of the enormous importance of the historic alliance between the United States and Australia.
And whatever reservations the President may have about the details of agreements reached by the prior administration, we’ll honor this agreement out of respect for that enormous and important alliance.
PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL: Thank you, sir.
Q Mr. Vice President, the administration is ramping up pressure on North Korea at the same time you seem to have ruled out talks. I’m wondering what you think the endgame is here. What makes you believe that the regime will give up the weapons systems and weapons that it has to ensure its -- are perhaps guarantee of its own survival?
And for the Prime Minister, did you get any clarity on the U.S. position with regards to the South China Sea? Do you think that there is a need for more freedom of navigation operations in the region? Would you consider more joint operations in the region? Thank you.
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: This is just a very serious time. And the President sent me to this region to engage with our allies to reaffirm the alliances that we enjoy, but also to make it very, very clear that the era of strategic partnership -- strategic patience is over; that the United States of America is determined to work with our allies and especially with China to achieve the objective of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
We believe that that can occur peaceably, largely owing to the new engagement of China. In this regard, I think the world is seeing President Trump’s leadership in high relief. He is in a very real sense -- like the Prime Minister of Australia -- he is a bottom-line person that likes to get to the point.
And in his meeting with President Xi, they had a very candid conversation about a broad range of issues. But on the issue of North Korea, the President made it very clear to President Xi that we were looking to China to step up and use that unique relationship that it has with North Korea to achieve an end to the nuclear ambitions and the ballistic missile ambitions of that regime.
And as I said, we're encouraged by the steps that China has taken thus far. That being said, we also wanted to make it clear that all options are on the table, and that the United States is prepared to work with our allies to ensure the security of our allies in the region, and ensure the security of the people of the United States of America.
Nuclear weapons in the hands of the regime in Pyongyang with a ballistic missile program and with the potential for intercontinental ballistic missiles represents a threat to the stability and security of this region, and potentially a threat to the continental United States. And continuing on the path the world has been on with North Korea over the last 25 years is just unacceptable.
But again, we continue to be hopeful and continue to have great confidence that we can finally after a generation achieve a peaceable solution. And I want to reiterate again the gratitude of the United States of America for the strong support that our ally here in Australia has provided to this effort; even this week, meeting with high-ranking officials from China urging them to do more to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on China is welcome. We truly believe that as our allies in the region and China bring that pressure to bear that there is a chance that we can achieve a historic objective of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula by peaceable means.
PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. And as we've described, we share that commitment. And we are absolutely united in our determination to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. That has been the goal, as the Vice President described, of the global community for many years. The time has come now to realize it.
You asked about the South China Sea, and I just repeat what we have said consistently for many years and that is this, that Australia has no territorial claims in the South China Sea. We are committed to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight. Any territorial dispute should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law. And we call on all parties to refrain from actions that would exacerbate tensions. And in particular, we call on all parties to refrain from militarizing any features in the South China Sea, any disputed features in particular in the South China Sea.
The critical thing to understand in our region, as we said at the outset -- both the Vice President and I observed -- is the prosperity of everybody in this region, in every nation has been underpinned by decades of peace and stability, supported by the strong commitment of the United States to this region.
The maintenance of peace and stability in this region has had as its sheet anchor the strong commitment of the United States. And that is why we so welcome the commitment of President Trump’s new administration shown by the visit here today and through the region over the last week of the Vice President.
This is a historic visit, and it underlines the importance of the American commitment to our region -- the sheet anchor, the foundation, the bedrock of the peace and the stability upon which the security and the prosperity of billions depend.
Thank you all very much, indeed.