U.S. Economic Engagement with the Asia Pacific


Remarks by Robert D. Hormats, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment

Bloomberg Hong Kong, China –  December 7, 2012


Thank you, James, for that very kind introduction.

I also want to express my thanks to Richard and the Chamber for organizing this terrific event with such a large number of influential people from the business community.

And of course I want to thank Bloomberg for providing this terrific venue. When I was at Goldman Sachs I spent a lot of time at Bloomberg and it was always interesting to go to Bloomberg, particularly early in the morning because they had the best cappuccino in New York (laughter). So you knew you were not only getting a good interview, but your day was made by having that infusion of caffeine from the ample number of Bloomberg coffee providers throughout a normal Bloomberg office, not to mention the various kinds of food you could munch on during the day. So thank you Bloomberg.

And I want to thank our superb Consul General Steve Young for his hospitality and his leadership in Hong Kong. Not only does he know the area well, but he’s been working for a long time on China, Asia, and various parts of the world, and his leadership and his vision and his sense of history and policy is really an enormous asset to the United States Government. And he is very heavily relied on in Washington for that judgment.

I’m really very honored to be here. Nearly a year and a half ago, you hosted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a similar event. The Chamber was the organizer of that, but it was important, I think, to all of us that it be done with, and by, the Chamber because the Chamber really does play a very important role in this community, and she of course was pleased to be able to deliver that speech.

And, therefore, we thought a year and a half later that it would be a good idea opportunity to think about and reflect upon what we have done in that period to follow up some of the statements and commitments and the policies that she articulated a year and a half ago here in Hong Kong. And she also, as you may know, reiterated a number of similar themes when she spoke recently in Singapore. And she emphasized when she did give her speech here in Hong Kong that the United States seeks to help create a global economic system that is, as she put it, “open, fair, free, transparent, and free.”

And in doing that, in aiming for those goals we recognize that the prosperity of the United States is inextricably linked to the prosperity and growth of this very dynamic Asia-Pacific region. We are working hard with our partners in the region to spur closer economic integration, to increase trade and investment, and to advance our major goal of greater shared prosperity. Our bilateral and multilateral economic and commercial relations have comprised a central pillar of our overall effort to rebalance our policies in the direction of Asia.

Today, I want to focus on what we have done over the last 18 months to enhance U.S. economic engagement with the Asia Pacific region and to identify some of the opportunities and challenges we face in the future.

And I’m very glad to have the opportunity to this here in Hong Kong. The United States historically has had an extremely strong business relationship and extremely strong commercial ties with Hong Kong. And the evidence of that is all of you here in this room who in many ways over years and decades a very close relationship with the American business community or are representatives, in fact, of the U.S. business community here in Hong Kong. And all of you, by your business practices and by your relationships with the United States, your role as representing American companies here in Hong Kong, are really key elements early on in the expansion of U.S. economic relations, trade relations, commercial relations with this region, and you will continue to be in the future.

So I can think of no better audience to discuss these issues with, and to have an opportunity for, after the speech, interaction through questions and answers and follow-up conversations because, at the very heart of our economic relationship with Asia, is the business community.

This is the dynamic force that is important because no policy is going to succeed unless it has the support – the enthusiastic support – and the follow up of the business community and unless it is developed, in conjunction with, and through the ideas provided by the business community. So you are very much a part of what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton signaled in a large number of speeches America’s foreign policy shift toward Asia, really beginning about four years ago by focusing more attention on the Asia Pacific region. And this really began at the start of the Obama Administration. This is a reflection of, and a response to, the dramatically changing nature of the global economy and of the enormous role Asia is playing in that dramatic change.

Economic history is being made in this region today, it has been made over the last decade, and it will continue to be made in the coming decades. Asian economies are not only growing rapidly, which they are, but they are also including more and more people in the creation of that growth and the benefits derived from that growth. And U.S. companies have been investing in, and trading with, Asian economies at an exponentially faster rate over the past decade.

This trip is actually my 10th visit to China during my tenure as Under Secretary of State. And in the past nine months alone, I’ve made six trips to the Asia Pacific region, covering 12 cities in seven countries, including two visits each to China and Vietnam, and a recent visit to Vladivostok for the APEC Heads of State meeting.

So the fact that I’m involved in this, and my colleagues are involved in this, given the number of trips we’ve taken, is an indication of the amount of emphasis and the amount of commitment that we have. But, of course, frequent flyer miles are not really the main indicator of the commitment (laughter) – although they demonstrate, I think, some measure of commitment flying all those trips back and forth.

But the real indicator of this is what we’ve done to enhance our economic engagement in the region, and I would like to spend some time describing what we’ve done and then go on to the kind of things that we anticipate doing over coming months and coming years.

A few highlights of what we have include:

(1) Seeking to forge more open economic ties, particularly through enhanced engagement with regional institutions such as ASEAN and APEC;

(2) Promoting a free system of commerce and investment and the exchange of ideas by pushing for lower tariffs, through trade expansion, and increased investment throughout the region, along with measures to protect intellectual property, and broader and deeper dialogues within regional institutions;

(3) Advancing a more transparent system with rules and with regulations that will promote higher standards, such as through the TPP and through other vehicles; and

(4) Supporting a fairer system, a system that respects “rules of the road” on trade and investment, particularly through extensive and constructive dialogues with emerging economies of the region in APEC, in ASEAN, and in other groups, engaging a wide number of countries in the region in a wide range of dialogues.

I would like to spend a few moments outlining what we’ve done in some detail with specific sets of countries that are particularly important in the U.S.-Asian economic relationship, and, of course, the place to start is China. Not only because I’ve just spent several days in China in various parts of the country in Hefei, Beijing, and Nanjing, now here in Hong Kong, but I also want to start because clearly the driving factor, but not the only driving factor, is China. One has to look, and I will in a moment, at ASEAN because it is another dynamic part of this region, but let me start with China.

Through the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, as well as other fora such as the JCCT, we’ve focused on building a cooperative economic partnership with China. The United States welcomes a strong, a prosperous, and a successful China that plays a key role in world affairs and adheres to international standards.
Key elements of the U.S. approach have been:

• First, to support and encourage the integration of China more fully into the global, rules-based economic and trading system,

• Second, to expand U.S. exporters’ access to the Chinese market,

• Third, to encourage continued Chinese investment in the United States and to ensure a level playing field for U.S. investors seeking to invest in China.

On this last point, it is worth noting that one indicator of the new ways in which we are engaging China on this very important investment issue is Ambassador Gary Locke’s first-ever Investment Forum, which was held in Beijing just a few days ago. I was privileged to be asked to deliver the keynote speech, and in that speech, I spelled out suggestions for promoting Chinese investment in the U.S. and also addressing some of the challenges that have to be overcome to improve our bilateral investment relationship.

At the same time, we continue to address issues directly affecting American businesses attempting to sell to, or operate in, China such as, for instance:

• the protection of intellectual property rights and trade secrets where we continue to seek significant improvements on the part of China,

• in addition, the expansion of market access in compliance with China’s WTO obligations, and

• third, to end what we see as unfair, market-distorting practices by some of Chinese state-owned or state-supported enterprises that give them an artificial competitive advantage vis-à-vis other companies, including American companies, in the American market and other markets around the world.

Despite these and other challenges, I believe that there are many possible areas for future U.S.-China collaboration in a number of sectors. We can see that China’s 12th Five Year Plan includes a number of measures that would benefit not only China but could also benefit the United States as well. And I think this is an important point to make – that when we look at China’s Five-Year Plan, there clearly are elements there that are designed to improve the Chinese economy, make China a more harmonious economy, make China a more balanced economy.

But if one looks more deeply at this, there are a number of things that China wants to do, a number of China’s priorities, that can increase opportunities for closer collaboration between our two countries, and particularly, between the American business community and Chinese companies and the Chinese government. And let me try to identify a few of these.

Many of Chinese priorities include, for instance, improving the healthcare system, developing cleaner energy, improving the overall environment (China has major environmental problems of course), addressing issues such as food security, expanding the service sector, and strengthening the role of small- and medium-sized enterprises. And these are also areas where we believe American companies can play a constructive role in working with China as it attempts to achieve these important objectives.

And to achieve many of its goals, including developing what China calls Strategic Emerging Industries (SEIs), China needs to purchase the best technologies world-wide and work with the most innovative global companies. Restrictions that limit purchases to indigenous technology and indigenous innovation can, in fact, jeopardize China’s ability to achieve these broad objectives in these Strategic Emerging Industries. More broadly, we must find ways to ensure that one side does not seek to accomplish its objectives at the expense of the other.

And as we do so, the bottom line is that while we will press for specific changes that benefit our economic interests, American economic interests, we will also look for broader areas of common interest with China where we can develop the interests of China and the United States together, and we believe there are a growing number of opportunities for doing that as well.

This is, I think, going to be a very important part of Chinese-American collaboration – to identify areas where we, as the Chinese call it, can engage in “win-win” solutions – solutions that enable China to achieve its goals but also enable the United States and China to work together on goals that benefit both of our economies. We see this as a hallmark of progress in the future if we can engineer the kinds of dialogues that we think we can in order to focus on these common mutually beneficial objectives.

I’d now like to turn to ASEAN.

Our engagement in the Asia Pacific region stretches well beyond China, and I think that, from an American point of view, has been demonstrated by very recent visits by the President and the Secretary of State. We are now focusing much of our attention on strengthening economic ties with ASEAN.

A great example of this deepening relationship has been with Indonesia where we have established a very robust commercial dialogue to help identify new and mutually beneficial business relations. And next year we anticipate even closer collaboration with Indonesia, because Indonesia will be host of APEC next year and that will give it a very important role in shaping trans-Pacific cooperation.

Last year, exports to the ASEAN countries together exceeded $76 billion, up 42 percent since 2009 – quite a strike increase. This makes ASEAN the sixth largest destination for U.S. exports after the EU, Canada, Mexico, China and Japan.

President Obama’s National Export Initiative – or NEI – has been a major factor in this effort because its goal is to double exports over a 5-year period, and we see ASEAN as an important recipient of large numbers of increased American exports. Our Ambassadors throughout Southeast Asia all are very focused on the National Export Initiative, as they explore a multitude of trade opportunities in the region.

We have also sought to forge more open ties with Southeast Asian nations through institutionalizing the U.S-ASEAN Leaders meeting and through our participation very recently in the East Asia Summit. As all of you saw, very recently, President Obama and Secretary Clinton both participated in these two important meetings just last month.

Under the U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement – or TIFA – the United States and ASEAN are working on new trade initiatives on digital connectivity, on healthcare, on services, on agribusiness, and on consumer goods.

We also held the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum last year in Siem Reap in Cambodia with the goal of expanding public-private sector cooperation on the U.S. side and working more closely with ASEAN member states and ASEAN companies. I was pleased to be a member of the U.S. delegation to this meeting, which focused in particular on the topic known as regional connectivity. This included connectivity in power, roads, rail infrastructure, and information technology, and also in expanding communications technology in the region.

And I was very glad to have had the opportunity at the forum to meet numerous Hong Kong-based U.S. business representatives, and of course Richard was a prominent member of that group as were others from Hong Kong, but I particularly want to thank Richard for his leadership and for his creativity and for coming to this event, which I think we both agreed was quite successful and we will hope to have it again with support from the chambers in the region.

During the U.S.-ASEAN Summit last month, President Obama and ASEAN leaders also launched what we called the “U.S.-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement” Initiative to promote economic cooperation between the United States and ASEAN. This initiative, which we called the “E3,” will focus on enhancing ASEAN members’ capacity for advancing cooperation in many areas that we think will further enhance trade.

In addition, an exciting new area for our outreach is in the energy sector. At the East Asian Summit, President Obama and his counterparts from Brunei and Indonesia announced the U.S.-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership. The Partnership will offer a framework for expanding energy and environmental cooperation to advance efforts to ensure affordable, secure, and cleaner energy throughout the region. We will foster active private sector involvement in the partnership, which will focus on the four key areas of renewable and clean energy, markets and interconnectivity, the emerging role of natural gas, and sustainable development.

And the U.S. Government will add support to the effort through utilizing various U.S. government agencies, including the Export-Import Bank, OPIC, and TDA, in order to promote the use of American technology, services, and equipment in the energy infrastructure area and also to provide financing for American companies that wish to become engaged in these projects.

In addition, through our Lower Mekong Initiative – a multilateral effort that includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma – we are working to foster integrated regional cooperation and capacity building in the areas of education, healthcare, and infrastructure connectivity.

We have also enthusiastically supported the creation of the Asian Development Bank’s $485 million ASEAN Infrastructure Fund – which should provide opportunities for many U.S. businesses to participate in ASEAN infrastructure projects in such areas as energy, transportation, information technology and communications technology.

There are enormous opportunities in the information area in particular as these are built up, these infrastructure projects are built up throughout the region, but in all of these sectors, there are opportunities, and we think American companies can take advantage of them, and we believe that the fund that has been established under the Asian Development Bank can be one way to enable them to do that.

Let me now turn to the very interesting new developments that have been occurring with respect to Burma.

As we enhance our engagement with ASEAN, the United States has actively supported reforms in Burma. A little over a year ago, Secretary Clinton made the first trip to that country by a Secretary of State since 1955. And just a few weeks ago, President Obama was the first-ever American President to visit that country.
The United States has worked steadily and consistently with that country’s leadership over the past year and a half to welcome it back in the international community. We have eased sanctions, we have supported trade missions, we have launched new relationships with President Thein Sein and his ministers, and we have entertained an enormous number of visits by senior officials to the United States – most recently the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Mines – both very important sectors for American investment and both very important sectors for that country’s future development.

As part of this effort, I had the opportunity to lead the highest level U.S. government economic mission to that country in the last three decades. This took place last July. And we have also engaged with government ministers in a variety of ways to develop not only our relationships at a government level but also to encourage them to engage more actively with civil society. And we ourselves have met with civil society in Burma to bring them into the dialogue, and we have engaged with our business community and the business community of Burma to try to further enhance opportunities for American companies and Burmese companies to work together.

So there are enormous opportunities here. The dialogue is just beginning. But it is well underway, and compared to what the relationship looked like a year and a half ago, things have changed quite dramatically. We were also joined on the mission that I mentioned by the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council’s first-ever trade mission to Burma, which enabled American businesses and other businesses from that region to get together and identify ways of collaborating with one another.

There is still much work to be done. And it is critically important that U.S. companies undertake the due diligence required in such a complex political and social environment before investing there. But together, the U.S. government and the U.S. business community can further engage President Thein Sein’s government, his ministers and his senior officials, and the private sector, and others in Burma in a way that promotes both U.S. economic interests in the region and the ongoing reform process in that country.

It also is important as we move through the region to recognize the efforts we have made to enhance our economic engagement with our strongest allies in this region. We have worked closely with Japan to strengthen institutions that foster networks that are open, inclusive, and support internationally accepted rules and norms. Japan has been a major partner for the United States in the WTO, and in ASEAN collaboration, and in APEC, and in other fora as we try to encourage other countries to play by global rules with respect to intellectual property, with respect to openness, and with respect to transparency. So we continue to see Japan not only as a major ally of the United States, but also as a major partner in shaping the rules of the global system that are consistent with our goals of greater openness, transparency, fairness, and a level playing field.

We have committed to cooperate also with Japan energy, including the development of clean and renewable energy sources, energy security, and the peaceful, safe, and secure uses of nuclear energy. In July of this year, we launched the highest-ever Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation to further strengthen this work. And this is at a very high level, and obviously given what’s happened in Japan, we pay a lot of attention to this dialogue and the Japanese do likewise.

And we have continued to deepen our bilateral trade and investment ties and to promote cooperation on innovation, entrepreneurship, supply chain security, the Internet economy, space, cyber, and science and technology, as well as women’s entrepreneurship, and economic empowerment.

We’ve also made significant progress with another key ally in the region, and that is South Korea. In particular, as you all know, we have reached agreement with Korea on a free trade agreement known as KORUS, which was a major objective for the Administration in Seoul and for our Administration in Washington.

Results since the FTA has entered into force, which was in March of this year, illustrate the benefits of promoting free trade in the Asia Pacific region. U.S. manufacturing and agricultural exports to the Republic of Korea have increased dramatically under this free trade agreement; for example, U.S. wheat exports to the ROK rose 65 percent from January to August compared to the same period last year.

This FTA also is supporting job-creating investment by Korean firms in the United States, such as a Korean auto parts manufacturing investment, which was quite substantial, in fact, $50 million in a facility in Alabama. And the successful U.S.-Korean FTA renews our determination to lower barriers to trade and enhance opportunities for investment throughout the Asia Pacific region.

And this brings me to the issue of the TPP.

With the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), we are making progress towards finalizing a far-reaching trade agreement that brings together some of the largest and fastest growing economies of the Pacific Rim. The TPP will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region. However, our goal is not simply to create more growth, as important as that is, it is also to foster better, more responsible, and more sustainable growth by also establishing strong protections for workers and for the environment. Better jobs with higher wages, safer working conditions – including for women, migrant workers and others often excluded or marginalized in many economies – will help build a sounder foundation for future prosperity and social harmony.

And the TPP features new cross-cutting issues not previously included in trade agreements, such as making the regulatory systems of TPP countries more transparent and more compatible. Canada and Mexico recently joined our original eight TPP negotiating partners and we also continue to consult with other countries in Asia that have expressed interest.

Our optimism on TPP is largely based on what we’ve seen to be the continued development of Asia Pacific economic cooperation in APEC and in other fora. We think this is part of a broader effort and we’re optimistic that it will achieve results. During the U.S. host year of APEC, for instance, where we think we made a great deal of progress, we focused on a wide range of issues which enhanced cooperation in the area of trade, and of course, as I mentioned, we’re looking to work with the Indonesians to continue this process.

It is worth noting in this process that Hong Kong played a major role and was a very strong partner for the United States in APEC. And I was pleased to be able at the APEC meeting in Vladivostok to honor a Hong Kong scientist for winning APEC’s “ASPIRE” prize for science at this meeting. So Hong Kong played a major role not only in the development of the meeting, but Hong Kong’s innovative capabilities – along with Hong Kong’s commitment to open trade and a rules-based system – has been a very important part of APEC. Among the economies of APEC, Hong Kong’s role is very substantial and very powerful, because it’s based on principles, it’s based on practice, it’s based on a commitment to the rule of law, and therefore, Hong Kong’s voice is a very robust one when it comes to trying to shape the rules of global trade in the region, particularly the utilization of APEC as a forum for discussing ways in which the rules and the practices of this region can evolve in a constructive way.

Working with our APEC partners, we believe we have significantly advanced the trade and investment liberalization this region, providing tangible improvements that have helped to facilitate business. APEC’s accomplishments in the past few years have included:

• lower tariffs on environmental goods and services,

• getting the private sector from APEC economies more engaged in the process of encouraging a regional trading system,

• promoting market-based, non-discriminatory innovation policies in the Asia Pacific, and

• encouraging greater participation by women in APEC economies.

These areas were particularly important, but one of the most important, I think, was the fact that we agreed in Vladivostok on a list of 54 environmental goods and services that we all committed to reduce tariffs on and make sure there was a lid of no more than 5 percent on these items by 2015. These goods included, for instance, technologies used for renewable and clean energy, for pollution control, hazardous waste treatment, and environmental monitoring and assessment.

In addition to lowering tariff barriers, we’ve also launched efforts at APEC to ensure that new emerging issues are addressed in a more robust way, particularly those that we think threaten this region. And I’ll just name three of them:

• One is the prevalence of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in the region. This is a growing problem. The United States imports 80 percent of the active ingredients of its pharmaceutical products from abroad and many of those come from East Asia. And therefore it is particularly important that our Food and Drug Administration work with counterparts throughout the region to make sure that there are safe supply lines for pharmaceutical products in all of our countries. It’s a health matter for virtually every country in this region that there be more cooperation in this area.

• A second area is trafficking of wildlife parts both into and within Asia. The killing of elephants, the killing of rhinos, the killing of other endangered species has become a huge problem not just for this region but for the world. The United States and other countries of this region have a responsibility to address this problem and are able to do it. And I think more cooperation between our countries can help to address this scourge, which accounts for between $7 and $10 billion of illegal trade. After illegal trade in arms and drugs, illegal trade in wildlife is the third largest area of illegal trade, and it is done by syndicated organized crime that is connected with drugs, and is connected with arms, and also with terrorist groups. So this is not just an issue of conservation, which of course it is, it’s an issue of protecting animals, protecting those people who protect animals, and also dealing with a widening area of organized crime.

• We’ve also worked together to increase cooperation with respect to avoiding restrictions on food exports. Food export restrictions have in the past distorted food trade, particularly during periods of shortage, and we agreed to try and avoid that within the context of APEC.

I also want to within the context of the wildlife issue to single out Hong Kong for its major efforts that it has made to stop illegal trade in ivory and rhino horns through very active seizures in this area.

As we look forward to 2013, we’re particularly eager, as I mentioned, to work with Indonesia. We see cooperation with Indonesia in a wide range of areas such as improving rights for women, addressing food security challenges, while also working on a wide range of environmental issues.

Looking ahead, let me just identify two or three areas where we think there are opportunities for real progress. One is we want to engage in a more robust way on the broader question of “Connectivity” across this region. Throughout the Asia Pacific, better connections on infrastructure, road, rail, telecoms, information technology, power, water, etc. is going to be key to Asian growth. And U.S. companies can play a very positive role in this area.

The U.S. Government – not only the State Department but also TDA, the Export-Import Bank, the Commerce Department, the Department of Energy and others – already have done collectively a great deal through cooperation in APEC, through ASEAN, and through the Lower Mekong Initiative. And ultimately, we want to extend this vision from the Pacific to India, to develop further India-Southeast Asian connectivity. We’re working with institutions such as the Asian Development Bank in order to do this.

An Indo-Pacific economic corridor linking the rapidly expanding economies of South and Southeast Asia would open new investment and trade opportunities, create jobs, promote peace and strengthen regional stability, and help lift millions in this region of people out of poverty. Connectivity means not just better physical infrastructure but also strengthening people-to-people ties and addressing behind-the-border regulatory barriers, and finding ways to make it cheaper, easier, and more effective for companies to do business between India and Southeast Asia.

Let me conclude by simply emphasizing a few of the points that I have raised a few moments ago. In all of the areas of economic engagement I’ve mentioned – whether key bilateral relationships or the emerging importance of multilateral institutions such as APEC – the bottom line is that this engagement can create jobs in the United States and in all of the partner countries engaged in this process.

This is not a “zero sum game” we’re involved in. It is a process by which through trade and investment, we can create more jobs in all the countries in this region.

It also will give us an opportunity to shape the future rules and norms of this – the most dynamic region in the world. We will need to continue to focus most of our energy – indeed, the large portion of our energy – on areas where we see common opportunities for progress, and there are many. One of them is energy. We think there’s a great opportunity for energy cooperation. We think there’s a great opportunity for strengthening commercial relations in this region. We think there are great opportunities for strengthening mutual investment relations in this region.

And at the center of this, as I said at the outset, is the business community. The business community has been the vanguard of this effort. And if all these efforts are to move ahead and succeed, it is going to be the business community which is going to have to be the most dynamic factor in this process. And I think, and I’m hopeful, that that will be the case. We as a government want to encourage continued cooperation with the business community, and we want to provide a maximum amount of support. One of my top priorities since taking this job has been to work closely with the business community because I know of its importance, and I know that our initiatives throughout Asia will not work without cooperation between our government and other governments and the private sector. This has been the case in the past, and it remains so today.

So I am very excited about the direction in which our engagement is heading in this very important region of the world and will do all I can to make sure it continues and to make sure it thrives.

Thanks very much.


One thought on “U.S. Economic Engagement with the Asia Pacific


    The Manus detention centre set up to facilitate Australia’s political solution aimed at stemming the flow of refugees, asylum seekers or boatpeople into Australia, under a Bi-lateral Agreement with the PNG government, is an illegal set up, for an illegal purpose. Australia and Papua New Guinea have breached international law and the PNG Constitution.

    In Australia the Labour Party led by their PM Gillard recently made a 180 degree bout turn on their Refugee Policy. They abandoned the Malaysian solution and embraced the Pacific Solution. For those who have ample political memory, the ALP actually initially went to the last Australian elections opposing Liberal-National Coalition Parties on their Pacific Solution initiative. It appears Julia Gillard and the ALP lied to the Australian people.

    Only several months ago Julia Gillard telephoned PNG Prime Minister O’Neill and asked him to facilitate the processing of boatpeople and refugees in PNG’s Manus Island as a return favour to her for granting ONeill premature political recognition of his (otherwise illegitimate) government when ONeill threw out an ill Prime Minister Somare still on legitimate official sick leave, convalescing in a Singapore hospital.

    ONeill could not refuse Gillard, as she had provided him the scarce element of legitimacy he needed to govern, even whilst the supreme Court was still deliberating on the question of whether there was a vacancy in the Office of Prime Minister on the 2nd of August 2011 or not.

    For Gillard what this signified was a shift in policy for processing of boat people and Refugees from Malaysia to Manus (in PNG ) and Nauru, a gamble she took against the Liberal-National Coalition attacks on her Immigration policy by adopting their own previous Howard-Downer strategy.

    Australia’s breach of International Law.

    In the past the NA led Somare government has opposed the processing of Refugees in PNG. There were very good legal and human rights reasons for this policy in PNG. This refusal was based on proper and sound legal advice. That it is unconstitutional and unlawful to have an asylum processing centre in PNG, like the one set up by the Australians in Manus, is beyond question.

    The Manus processing centre is a closed jail like centre where there is heavily armed security, and is out of bounds to the public and the media. It is a strictly controlled environment where the Refugees are not allowed to mingle with locals. They cannot leave the site. No locals are allowed in. It is a prison-like environment wherein detainees are not allowed access to normal creature comforts of normal life. There is a very strong fence that cannot be assailed and armed guards are posted everywhere. Australian Federal Police and Military maintain an overriding presence on the Manus facility.

    No one, including lawyers, are allowed access to any Refugee under the Bi-lateral arrangements between Australia and PNG. No media is allowed in, and the use of mobile phones and access to them is greatly restricted. The use of cameras and the internet are also restricted. The detainees are not allowed to speak of their conditions to the outside world. Contact with outside world is greatly restricted to those detained at the risk of them forfeiting their right to early processing. By bi-lateral Agreement those detained are purportedly made subject to Australian law only-not PNG law.

    The initial economic reasons why the Manus Island was first offered by the Manus Provincial government and the leaders of Manus have been largely ignored by Peter ONeill and Julia Gillard. The promise of extraordinary favour by Australia on Manus in the form of extraordinary economic largesse was the perfect bait for cargo-cult prone Manusians.

    The reality is most of the contractors and suppliers of food and consumables are companies out of Australia, so there is very little tangible economic benefit back to PNG or the Manusians for this exercise. The processing centre is run no different to the one the Somare government of PNG phased out.

    Both Australia and PNG are signatories to the UN Convention & Protocols Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention)1951 & 1967 Protocol (“Refugee Convention”) which clearly outlines that a signatory government like Australia cannot expel or transport refugees back to their country of origin or to a third location like Manus or Nauru, unless there is a guarantee that these countries will not persecute them, they would not be oppressed, and that their human rights will be protected (Articles 32 &33).

    Until PNG can give a guarantee that the human rights of the refugees will be guaranteed and protected, and until Australia can satisfy itself that the rights of the refugees will be protected and that they would not be oppressed in any way, Australia is obliged by the Refugee Convention not to expel or transport them at all, but to process them on Australian soil.

    Irrespective of whether a person’s status as a refugee has been determined (under the Convention) or not, the processing of boat people who enter Australia or apprehended by Australian authorities, must principally be done in Australia and on Australian soil, under the Convention, and can only be transported out under fairly limited circumstances. The legal onus is on Australia to satisfy itself objectively beyond any doubt the guarantee of the rights of the refugees as human beings where they are transported to.

    It is an international obligation of Australia under the Refugee Convention that the decision to transport them out of Australian legal jurisdiction can only be done if the Australian government can guarantee the physical safety, security, human rights, and speedy processing of their Applications to enter and remain in Australia as Refugees.

    Past experience shows clearly that Manus is an oppressive environment for the Refugees. Recent reports of banning of cameras and prohibition of lawyers and media access into the detention centre proves that nothing has changed.

    Manus processing centre is actually a jail for innocent people whose only crime has been to search for a better life for themselves, and in some cases, escape from death and persecution for their political or religious beliefs. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention states that no refugee can be penalized for illegal entry of a country’s territory if they are fleeing from persecution.

    Australia has breached international law in the first place in intentionally facilitating and writing up the bi-lateral Agreement that PNG signed which at the core of it deprives refugees, boatpeople and asylum seekers, their human rights under Articles 32 & 33 of the Refugee Convention. Australia knew that these people would not be granted their human rights. Australia knowingly designed the Manus detention centre with rules that keep both Lawyers and the media away.

    Australia also wrote the rules ( by drafting the bi-lateral Agreement) that deem the detention centre as part of Australia where Australian law applies, to deliberately circumvent the jurisdiction of the PNG Courts.

    All these are capricious and oppressive arrangements created by Australia to deliberately entrap the detainees in a legal and political vacuum so that it can do whatsoever it pleases to these human lives, away from the scrutiny of any media, and away from the scrutiny of the Australian courts and the Australian legal system. Most important of all Julia Gillard could tell the Liberal-National Coalition whatever she wants on the floor of the Australian Parliament and they would be none the wiser about it, just as long as the processing is taking place out of their sight.

    The Refugee Convention is very clear and specific about Refugees access to lawyers and the Courts. Article 16 of the Refugee Convention reads:

    1. A refugee shall have free access to the courts of law on the territory of all Contracting States.
    2. A refugee shall enjoy in the Contracting State…the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the courts, including legal assistance…
    3. A refugee shall be accorded in matters referred to in paragraph 2…the treatment granted to a national of the country of his habitual residence”

    In the case of the Manus Refugee Processing Centre, the Refugees are not granted access to lawyers or the courts of PNG. It is all very well for Julia Gillard to claim Australian Law applies in Manus to the processing of these people, but what good is that when under the bi-lateral arrangements PNG Immigration Department (stacked with Ausaid Advisors) cannot grant visas to Australian lawyers or Australian Media teams who want to travel to Manus and speak to the Refugees and highlight their present suffering.

    In any case, even if they were to be granted visas to travel, what good is that when an independent Australian armed Security Company (a captive service provider of the Federal Government) running the facility prohibits any outside access to the inmates?

    Lawyers from both Australia and PNG cannot access any inmate to meet and observe their condition or interview them. Without contact with refugees granting instructions to lawyers, it has been designed to prevent any scrutiny by both Australian and PNG Courts of what is actually going on in Manus concerning the lives of these refugees.

    The Manus processing centre has been deliberately set up to frustrate the rule of law and the clear dictates of international law which was designed to protect vulnerable people like these boatpeople who are at the mercy of a country that sees them as nothing but troublemakers, illegal immigrants, que jumpers etc.

    All these rules and oppressive arrangements have been well thought through and planned by Canberra, written into the bi-lateral Agreement that Gillard obtained ONeill to sign.

    Australia not only is in breach of international law and in particular Article 33 of the Refugee Convention in exporting refugees to a detention centre that deprives refugees of their rights, but Australia is the worst offender in deliberately designing these people’s misery. Hitler designed gas chambers for the Jewish Refugees in WWII. Today we see Australia has designed detention Centres in the Pacific and on Australian soil to the oppression deprivation of refugees.

    For a long time the Australian government has been looking to curb or discourage boat people flooding its shores by deliberately employing cruel and inhuman treatment of asylum seekers, boat people or refugees. Australia’s record in refugee treatment is not pretty. In some cases children and babies have been held in captivity and jail like conditions in Asutralia for years without any ounce of recognition or consideration for their humanity. Families have been rendered asunder, and in some cases lives have been destroyed. Many people held in captivity in jail like conditions in Australia have been left with permanent psychological scarring. Others have gone on hunger strike, committed suicide, or even sown up their lips to demonstrate that they are a people without a voice discarded as garbage by the Australian Federal Government and its leadership.

    Over Christmas in 2011, we watched in horror as the remains of a boat carrying over 300 men women and children, smashed mercilessly against the rocks on Christmas Island, were gathered up piece by piece and limb by limb by the Australian Navy.

    The Australian Navy, Coast Guard and its surveillance system picked up the boat many hours before they struck tragedy. They knew the heavily laden boat was headed for the rocks in bad weather. Yet, they stood by and allowed these people to sail directly to their death. It is not beyond contemplation that the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister of Australia at that time may have been made aware of the impending tragedy, and may have chosen to turn a blind eye.

    This is not the first time Australia has deliberately allowed boat people to drown. This policy of watching and waiting and turning a blind eye to people in peril at sea does not sit well with the Australian Navy, who has made it known to the politicians that they have sworn an oath as seamen and women to save lives of other seafarers. The manner in which the politicians in Canberra appear to expect the Navy to break a time honoured code of ethics of seafarers does not sit well with the higher ranks of the Australian Navy. Some servicemen and women have suffered psychologically as a result, having watched and stood by while innocent men women and children whose only crime was to come to Australia, daring to dream of happiness and to seek a better life and a better future, being haplessly plunged to their certain deaths.

    The Refugee Convention is very clear that it is not a crime for human beings, people of one country to leave their country and go seek a better life in another country if they suffer persecution in the original country on grounds of race, religion or political belief. As a matter of fact it is a fundamental human right to live in peace in a safe and secure environment, and the Convention provides for and gives effect to this right and the sacred sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of every person.

    Australia has over the years done everything under the sun to persecute, desecrate and demonize asylum seekers, refugees and boat people. Yet when it comes down to it, Australia is a country of boat people. White Australia is a country of boat people and their descendants. What gives Julia Gillard and her Cabinet any more right to Australia than those latterly arrivals on Aborigines soil?

    It is only a matter of timing, but that is all. White Australia has no more legal, ethical or moral high ground to claim Terra Australis than these latterly arrivals.

    This behoves Australia to adopt a position, a moral and legal position that is concomitant with a full understanding and appreciation of the full surrounding circumstances causing plight of people around the globe; and in this sense Australia’s own hegemonic part in the invasion of other countries and causing demographic, political, religious and economic instability in certain parts.

    Australian Leaders equally fail to see the full benefits of a healthy Immigration Policy that treats people with dignity. Their Immigration policy is ridden by every political jockey as if to ensure the next load of boat people do not get in at all was a virtue worthy of the highest political goal score and inverse personal credibility, be it government or opposition. The fact that Australia does not have an open quota system, prescribed open criteria, and aggressive selective migration policy, allows for some people to capitalize on it to set up money making operations to do boat runs with people who would otherwise be decent and skilled human beings in any society. Australia’s own policy failure is just as culpable for lives lost at sea and the abuses of human rights, as those who are blamed for economic gain in transportation.

    The front page right hand column of The Australian some months ago (prior to the Manus Agreement with PNG) said the Australian Government internal studies reveal that it will need 800,000 new skilled workers in 5 years’ time! It expressed grave concerns for the Australian economy that it cannot be in a position to meet this demand. How poetically paradoxical was this page as it had right across the top in bold was the headline “Labor floats Nauru solution”.

    Now, even if every able bodied Australian female, and every hot blooded beer swirling meat pie eating fly swatting footy crazy Aussie male, started fornicating non-stop for the next 6 months, they still will not produce the 800,000 skilled workers needed in 5 years’ time to meet the demand forecasted.

    That is one reason why, Australian Migration Policy as closed discriminatory and insular as it is, driven by a psyche of isolation and out-dated phobias, need to be stood on its head and overhauled to meet the challenges of the next century, or Australia will surely suffer being left behind as a land of red necks and human rights bigots.

    Manus Detention Centre & Bi-Lateral Arrangements are illegal.

    Clearly the Manus solution in Papua New Guinea is illegal and unconstitutional under international law as well as under PNG law.

    Among other reasons, it is illegal because:

    1. It deprives the liberty of people to be held in Jail like lock ups. Under the PNG Constitution (Section 37) , a person cannot be deprived of his liberty unless he is convicted of a crime, or the Police charged him with a crime, and the courts in the meantime refuse bail. Where a person is suspected of a committing an offence, he can be held for a short time for Police interview. Aside from that, there is no other basis in law in PNG to hold a person captive. Any asylum seeker so held can sue the PNG Government for damages for false imprisonment and for breach of his rights under Section 37 of the Constitution. The Manus Refugee processing centre is therefore an establishment set up for an unlawful purpose. The Bi-lateral Agreements signed by Australia and PNG to effect an unlawful purpose are void from the beginning. The holding of refugees on Manus at this moment is unlawful.

    2. PNG is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, it is obliged to protect and process refugees speedily, and where necessary allow the Refugees access to Lawyers and the courts to have their claims heard and settled speedily (Article 16 of the Refugee Convention). The manner in which the Manus Centre is set up with High Security perimeter is very clearly designed to deny the basic human rights of the Refugees guaranteed by the Refugee Convention.

    3. The denial of human rights entailing the Manus processing Centre, locking up of men, women and children who have not broken any law in PNG, is harsh, oppressive and inhuman, which is a breach of Section 41 of the Constitution of Papua New Guinea. This is so especially when these people do not know when they will be processed and they are held in abeyance for months and years at a time, sometimes separated from their families. It is also oppressive when they have no access to lawyers or courts, especially Australian courts applying Australian Law in respect of their Applications to remain in Australia. PNG Courts cannot apply Australian Law. An aggrieved refugee in Manus is automatically denied access to Australian lawyers and Australian Courts to have his case reviewed. Denial of proper Jurisdiction and facilities is denial of natural justice, a form of oppression that is Unconstitutional under PNG law.

    4. Australia will have breached its obligations under the Refugee Convention by transporting these Refugees to Manus. Australia has an obligation to receive refugees, grant asylum and resettle them. Australia has an obligation to facilitate safe travels of Refugees to safe destinations. Australia also has an obligation at law to process the Refugees speedily on Australian soil. The very fact that the Manus centre is not unlike a maximum security jail, and the fact that the people do not have access to welfare services, lawyers, Journalists, access to Australian Lawyers and Courts, with their human rights unlikely to be protected, should oblige Australia not to send these people in the first place to Manus. It now seems PNG has aided and abetted in Australia’s breach of the Refugee Convention, and has become an Accessory after the fact.

    Australia proudly sends its soldiers to other countries to fight and bring democracy to these countries, now it must stand up and show what a model democracy it is. Julia Gillard and her Cabinet must not make excuses for their generation of Australians and co-opt compliant leaders like Peter O’Neill, and blackmail the people of PNG with aid, to condone and carry on breach of International law and PNG law designed to protect, guaranty and secure the dignity and sanctity of all human life.

    Papua New Guinea must keep its nose clean and cease being party to Australia’s inhuman, discriminatory, oppressive and illegal activities. The O’Neill government must not stoop to continue such illegal and unlawful conduct. The people of PNG and their dignity must not be allowed to be tarnished by Australia’s own policy failures and inability to treat other people humanely.

    Australia is very backward in human rights laws and protection of lives of asylum seekers. They do not have a codified bill of rights as we in PNG do in our Constitution. The Australian government wants to make Manus and Nauru as oppressive as possible to deter further asylum seekers, even if it is against the law. This is the very crux of oppression and illegality that Peter ONeill has signed PNG up for.

    Breach of Human Rights & Constitution.

    Human Rights Breached by the Manus Detention Centre under Papua New Guinea Constitution include:

    a) Freedom from inhumane treatment.
    b) Right to protection of the law.
    c) Right not to be held in custody unless charged with an offence known at law.
    d) Right to be heard quickly, and by a fair and impartial tribunal.
    e) Right to respect for the inherent dignity of a person.
    f) Freedom from harsh, oppressive and unwarranted treatment.

    Peter ONeill may feel obliged to keep doing favours for Julia Gillard for the political recognition granted to his illegitimate regime in August 2011, but this is not a matter for politics and political favors. The Independent State of Papua New Guinea and indeed the office of Prime Minister is not Peter ONeill’s personal business enterprise. The Office is set up under the Constitution as a public office and it must be run in accordance with the laws of this country. Infact it was not a private decision for pliable Peter alone to make personally by directing the Foreign Minister Pato to facilitate Peter and Julia’s wishes and most ardent desires, as he did.

    This is a matter of law, and NEC and Parliament should have been the appropriate body to look at and debate the full ramifications of this decision.

    The issue of a sovereign country like PNG deciding to cede part of its sovereignty over a territory like Manus detention centre to Australian Jurisdiction is a very serious matter. Ceding one’s sovereignty and ones judicial jurisdiction, and building a prison to imprison persons who have not broken any law in PNG, are very serious matters clearly for the Parliament to debate.

    What Peter ONeill has done so far is clearly illegal, and is a gross abuse of public office.

    Any aggrieved party can, and must, as a matter of public interest, challenge this by way of a Supreme Court Reference for the Courts to give their opinion on the Constitutional and international law ramifications ( as outlined) of the Manus Detention Centre.

    The PNG Opposition should knock this on the head, and call on Australian Leaders to respect human lives and treat their inherent person with dignity, not like some pile of garbage to be transported all over the Pacific ocean and discarded in some remote disused military facility.

    Our Constitution recognizes the whole person in any human being. It recognizes the sacred sanctity of human lives in their physical as well as their spiritual environs and the wellbeing of the integral person. That is why international law providing for Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Conventions such as the Refugee Convention have been imported by the Constitution to be part of the domestic laws of Papua New Guinea, enforceable by our courts.

    By our Constitution and by international law, the Manus Detention Centre and the Bi-lateral Agreement enabling it are illegal.

    If Australia wants to be a model democracy and a great nation one day, Australian leaders must first show the world that they have joined the rest of humanity, and have become a people of dignity and decency in their Refugee and Immigration policies, respecting and living within the rule of law, not trying to get around it. That would be a good starting point for a nation of early boatpeople.

    As for Peter ONeill, he must close down the Detention Centre or leave the State open to legal suit by the Refugees for damages running to the tens of Millions of Kina.

    It is a fact that both the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Attorney General were not involved in vetting the Manus arrangements. The State Solicitor never gave legal clearance for PNG to enter into this bi-lateral Agreement with Australia.

    As a matter of fact, Peter ONeill has been signing Agreement after Agreement with Australia since August 2011, without line Department scrutiny and proper legal clearances from the State Solicitor. There is a danger that many other Agreements equally rushed for ONeill’s signature in the last 12 months by Australia may be also be outside our laws.


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