Korea and Australia have strengthened their cooperative relations since the launch of new administrations in both countries in 2008. During his recent visit, Australia’s Senator Michael G. Forshaw expressed his keen interest in the security situation of the Korean Peninsula and a free trade agreement between Korea and Australia. 1. With this being your first visit, what are your impressions of Korea?
This is my first visit to Seoul. I have, of course, been very much interested in Korea for a long time. I am interested in Korean history, around the 20th century, the Korean War in which Australia participated, and the current situation of Korea’s politics, economy, and international relations, along with the exchange between Korea and Australia. This visit served as an occasion to see with my own eyes what I have learned so far. Meanwhile, a visit to the DMZ made me pay more attention to the unification of Korea. I expect that the same people living on both sides of the border will get together again someday. I hope for the day when we can come and go, north and south, freely by train or car.2 . After meeting with various government officials in Korea, do you believe that these contacts will open the door to more meaningful discussions?
absolutely do. I met with key Korean government officials in the areas of foreign affairs and security, including Minister of National Defense Kim Taeyoung, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Shin Kak-soo, and Vice Minister of Unification Hong Yang-ho, and also Korean National Assembly Members like Park Jin, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, and Hong Joon-pyo, to exchange opinions and information. In addition, I had a chance to meet with Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights to discuss the divided situation of Korea and human right issues in the North. Through these meetings, I became more confident that cooperative relations between Korea and Australia, although close enough already, would be deepened in the future. Ultimately, it will be helpful for our two countries to cooperate in playing a pivotal role in the G20’s efforts to resolve various international issues and to overcome the global economic crisis.3. The security of the Korean Peninsula is a regional issue as well as a global concern, which Australia is known to follow closely.
That is correct. Australia is very much interested in the current security situation on the Korean Peninsula. At the governmental level, Australia is seeking ways to contribute to Korea’s security via various channels, and wants to help your efforts to realize inter-Korean dialogue through such channels as the United Nations. There is concurrence that the North Korean nuclear issue should be settled through the Six-party Talks. Unfortunately, however, there are quite a few difficulties in this regard at the moment. I, myself, am trying to find an answer to this situation.
However, there is little else I can say except that we should be patient and continue to make efforts. In the meantime, November this year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Looking back, I would like to emphasize that it was not an easy process to unify East and West Germany, but progress was suddenly made possible. If North and South Korea are resolute in the efforts to unite, it could happen on the Korean Peninsula. You should not give up on these efforts, no matter how hard it may be. I hope that unification will be achieved so that North Koreans will be able to enjoy the various opportunities and freedom like the South Koreans do.4. Recently, Australia has sought to reinforce its relations with Asia, especial ly in regard to Korea, China and Japan. What is being emphasized in these efforts?
In terms of security, I think the three Northeast Asian countries, as well as Australia, share the same concern over global terrorism. There have been many threats, small and big, in Australia’s neighboring regions including Bali. think, therefore, various countries need to cooperate to cope with such a situation, not to mention the matters of Afghanistan and Iraq. I do not think a ten-hour distance by flight is that far. And this geopolitical distance will certainly be shortened in the future. So, I think Australia, Korea, China, and Japan should come together to deal with such issues as immigration, North Korean defectors, and refugees.
As for overseas aid, there are many areas for us to work together on. Natural disasters, like a tsunami or earthquake, are issues that transcend national boundaries. We should thus work together and cooperate closely with each other. Especially, we need to discuss a disaster management system. Regarding Asia’s foreign relations and exchange, the three Northeast Asian countries have always been Australia’s major partners in this regard. The role and importance of Korea, I think, will gradually increase. In this respect, I would like to highly evaluate the Korea Foundation’s invitation and various other activities.5. The governments of Korea and Australia have actively supported FTA arrangements. But what is the outlook for a Korea-Australia FTA?
I am not directly involved in FTA negotiations, but I know very well that both of the governments hope to conclude a FTA. Korea and Australia have already concluded FTAs with several other countries, and it is my understanding that they are satisfied with the results. The Australian government has long supported free trade and Australians also support efforts to eliminate protectionism. Korea’s automobiles and electronic goods, and Australia’s agricultural and livestock products and mineral resources will benefit from such a FTA. I am optimistic about the conclusion of a FTA between Korea and Australia. Of course, the two countries may have different positions about cars or agricultural products, but do not think there is a serious hurdle to the signing of an agreement. I believe those in charge of negotiations will be able to discuss the matters in detail and successfully reach agreement.6. In what direction are Korea-Australia relations headed?
Early this year, President Lee Myung-bak visited Australia and had discussions with Australian officials on security and various other issues, in addition to economic matters. And the Australian government is now, for instance, discussing the import of military equipment from Korea to build up its military strength. As for the economy, the two countries are expected to work more closely in terms of multilateral cooperation and bilateral cooperation. Both Korea and Australia are solidifying their roles in G20 and closely consulting with each other on relevant issues.
The same is true for measures to cope with the recent economic crisis, which requires international cooperation more desperately than any other areas. Korea and Australia can be said to be in similar positions, in terms of our economic size and capability. Our two countries will thus play an important role in strengthening cooperation and bringing together the socalled “big powers,” developing nations,
and poor countries, and at the same time, should take the lead in promoting regional cooperation among the countries in Asia- Pacific.