Topics: Albanese no-show at NATO; China cyber-attacks; Australia-US relations;

07:15AM AEST
10 July 2024


David Lipson:  Senator Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister. He joined me a short time ago. Senator Birmingham, thanks for being with us. Australia is in Washington with Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. Now as Russia forges closer ties with China. Is there potential, do you think, for a joint response in the future between NATO partners and Pacific partners on things like cyber-attacks and disinformation?


Simon Birmingham: David, this is a great opportunity. The third occasion where Indo-Pacific leaders have been invited to the NATO leaders’ summit. Now, it’s disappointing that Anthony Albanese has chosen not to go when the leaders of Japan, South Korea and New Zealand are there, because it’s crucial that we do try to forge stronger ties and Australia should be there not just to attend, but with a plan for how we make NATO a more central partner in our regional security and in the peace we want for our region in the world. And that should be us asking NATO to develop its own Indo-Pacific strategy and seeking to formalise the ties between the so-called Indo-Pacific, four nations and NATO so that we aren’t just invited each year, but we’re embedded as part of these critical security talks.


David Lipson: On those issues of cyber-attacks, disinformation. The Australian Signals Directorate yesterday called out APT40, which is a group linked to Beijing’s Ministry of State Security, over cyber espionage. Now, do you think that kind of naming shaming approach is enough when we’re talking about the targeting of government systems, Australian government systems?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s crucial that we are open about the problems. And you think about all that’s happened tragically in the world over the last year, the continued war in Ukraine from Russia, the use by Iran of terrorist proxies to such devastating consequences in the Middle East, and the way in which North Korea continues to step up its support of Russia and of course, China supporting financially Russia and with technology and the types of disruptions we’re seeing in South China Sea, as well as these types of cyber-attacks. And that’s why we put in place in the sanctions regime the ability for sanctions to be used in response to cyber warfare and attacks. And the government should be thinking about those types of actions where individuals responsible can be identified.


David Lipson: Now, if NATO was to have a bigger footprint, if you like, in the Indo-Pacific, as you are advocating, could that inflame tensions with China? Because China is already saying that this sort of cooperation is expanding the mandate of NATO and stoking confrontation.


Simon Birmingham: Well, NATO members within their own territories have managed to preserve peace throughout the last 75 years, and they’ve done so by working with each other to create deterrence from conflict. And that’s precisely what we want for our region, a deterrence framework that ensures peace for the Indo-Pacific region. And what we should be asking China very clearly to do and seeking as many countries as possible to do so, is for China to desist and stop the type of confrontational military activities that we see against the Philippines and elsewhere in the region that run the risk of miscalculation and conflict. And that’s why having not just NATO countries, but of course, Southeast Asian countries and other partners all engaged clearly on upholding principles, upholding international rules, but also creating strong defence deterrence is crucial to preserving the peace in our region.


David Lipson: Now, there is some talk in Washington about future proofing NATO in the event of a Trump presidency. But there’s also quiet discussion about the competency of Joe Biden going forward. Do you think that he is a capable president for the next four years?


Simon Birmingham: David, NATO and the world need a strong United States, and it would be counterproductive for me or any Australian leader, to offer that type of assessment on a potential US presidential candidate. We have to work as a country with whoever the US people elect, and we have to respect their democratic systems and processes as we expect them to respect ours. But we do need a strong America, one in which their leadership is engaged in international fora to pursue exactly the type of aims I’ve just been talking about. Strong levels of engagement through strong levels of deterrence to give the best chance of maintaining peace and prosperity in our region and around the world.


David Lipson: Simon Birmingham, thanks for being with us.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, David. My pleasure.