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Asia Foreign Policy Update Forum Address - John McCarthy

H. E. Mr. John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to Japan

H. E. Mr. John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to Japan

QUESTION: Ambassador, I would like to ask you another difficult question, which I am provoked to do because you are indeed a real diplomat, and it concerns the Kurile Islands and it is a question not so much with the political issue of the Kurile Islands, but concerning Japan's energy situation. There has been a lot of talk over the last 10 years, and it is increasing in intensity, about the possibility of Japan importing from Russia over Sakhalin oil and gas by pipeline but the Kurile Islands issue is still the stumbling block. Would you care to comment on this?

AMBASSADOR: It is still a stumbling block but there are two aspects: in terms of what the Japanese are seeking from Russia there are two areas of real interest I think. First of all, what might be done to bring oil from Central Siberia which would reduce Japanese dependence for oil from the Middle East from 85 per cent to 65 per cent dependence. So, that is quite important and the Japanese are very interested in that.

In relation to Sakhalin, which is the area in the Far East of Russia, there is interest in what might be done by way of ongoing efforts in terms of importing oil and natural gas, but also what more might be done in the future, particularly in relation to natural gas from Sakhalin. The question of the Northern Territories - the Kurile Islands, as you rightly point out, has not yet been resolved and it has been an issue which has been a stumbling block.

But what our sense is, certainly since Koizumi's visit to Russia quite recently - a few weeks ago - but even before then, is that while there is no question of the Northern Territories issue being shelved by the Japanese there is some disposition to talk about the question of further energy supplies from Russia without automatic reference to the Northern Territories issue and that seems to be also the disposition of the Russians.

CHAIR: If we try to end promptly at 2 o'clock we will have time I think for one more question.

QUESTION: I ask you for your comments in regard to the foreign policy that concerns the Japanese, you indicated that the Japanese Government was very forward looking in relation to the US initiatives and I understood you to say in relation to the Middle East and the military action there, have they given any indication, can you tell us, of support for Australian action in relation to Iraq, the military action there?

AMBASSADOR: I think I can give you an unequivocal answer to that, firstly just to confirm, they were fully supported to an unusual degree, more than people would have expected, of United States action towards Iraq. They were one of the few countries that spoke up very very clearly in the Security Council in support of United States action. They have also expressed privately through me to the Government a view which suggested that they thought very positively about Australian policy both in terms of general political stance and the contribution of troops. I think the reasons for that are that there is a lot in common between what we were saying and doing and what the Japanese were saying and doing, but of course for constitutional reasons they were precluded from committing troops to that theatre.

But, their whole attitude, what they said, was clearly very very supportive of the role that Australia took.