Sky News First Edition – US IPAC Trip, Ukraine, Taiwan



Subjects: US IPAC Trip, Ukraine counter offensive and mass graves, Taiwan

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: As more bodies are retrieved from a mass grave outside of the town that has been reclaimed, let’s bring in the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Peter Khalil. You’ve just had a week of briefings in the United States. I want to delve into a bit of that in detail in a moment, but let’s start with this counter offensive in Ukraine that must have been dominating a lot of the attention there as well.

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Yeah, good day Kieran and a lot of the discussion we did have in Washington was obviously around the Indo-Pacific, but also around Ukraine. And the counter offensive has been remarkable in the success I suppose the effectiveness of Ukrainian forces are retaking big chunks of lost territory and pushing the Russians right back. What’s, as you noted, have been horrific, the discovery of, terrible, the horrors of that brutal of invasion and the impact on the Ukrainian people, these mass graves that have been found. And this is something that obviously those responsible need to be held to account for. How that occurs, obviously, there’s some options that have been put forward around a war crime crimes tribunal. But the accountability has to be there for these crimes. But Ukraine is at a point now, at a juncture if you like where the counter offensive is having such great tactical success, there are also concerns about the response by Vladimir Putin as dictators are want Kieran, when he’s put into a corner can lash out a like a wounded animal and there is great concern around what that would mean.

GILBERT: Well, President Biden did say at the weekend he urged Putin not to use tactical nuclear or chemical weapons, but that’s the real fear here, isn’t it? As he’s being humiliated?

KHALIL: That’s right and all of the world leaders, President Biden, European leaders, are doing everything possible to ensure they mitigate that risk. It’s a very strange dilemma, because the greater the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the greater, you know, the more pushback on Putin, more pressure he feels both internally and the greater the risk that he may take a wild decision to use chemical weapons or even worse tactical nuclear weapons. So, there’s been some very deep thinking about how to mitigate that risk amongst world leaders.

GILBERT: So, in terms of the counter offensive itself, no doubt you’ve looked at that closely too. We’ve seen they’ve reclaimed some territory, but the President, as I mentioned earlier in the program, he is determined to keep pushing and to push out the invasion. What’s the likelihood that we see ultimately, a Ukrainian victory there?

KHALIL: Well, it’s hard to predict these things Kieran, obviously the tactical victories have been critical, obviously, but there’s still obviously the South in Crimea. And whether there is a greater Southern offensive is yet to be seen. There was a sort of a offensive in the South as there was in other parts of the East, but that was almost a decoy for the spectacular successes in the centre of the country and further East. So, it’s hard to predict these results. What we do know is that it’s important that the international community continues to support Ukraine, notwithstanding the risks of Putin’s actions. Because this is a fight, that’s our fight as well. This is a fight against those who would seek to, those countries, state actors like Russia, would seek to attack the global rules-based order. And these attacks are happening not just with state actors like Russia, but non-state actors, extremist groups for example, who seek to diminish democracy around the world. And it is in that context of the broader contest if you like between authoritarian regimes and democracies around the world. And it’s important that we stand up for that global rules-based order and human rights and all the things that we hold dear. And it’s playing out right in front of us in Ukraine. So, it doesn’t matter, it’s on the other side of the world. It has a great impact on us and it also impacts obviously what occurs in the Indo-Pacific in our region.

GILBERT: Well, just on that. Why is it so important? And if we turn the attention to those talks you had in Washington last week, why is it so important to see an even higher level of coordination and integration between our intelligence and security agencies and those of the United States?

KHALIL: Well yeah, I conducted meetings during the course of the week with intelligence and security officials, the Director of National Intelligence, also White House officials, the National Security Council, the directors there. And what I found quite remarkable is the level of coordination and work together between Australia and the US is so substantive and so significant. We’ve always been very good allies and very good friends. But there has been a real acceleration of that over, particularly last period of time, even from when the point, I was back there in February, we’ve seen greater coordination. And you ask, why is it so important? It’s important because we are all working together, the allies, to ensure as best as we can, to ensure that we reduce the factors that may lead to conflict in the Indo-Pacific and part of that is making sure that we strengthen our capabilities. We strengthen our defence and security and intelligence capabilities to deter those who would seek to use conflict or to use aggression, in the same way that Putin had used it in Ukraine. And that’s a very important element of that, that deterrent element and that work is ongoing and it’s about making sure that we have a region that is stable, that is secure, that allows us to continue the prosperity that we’ve enjoyed for a generation. We’re clearly in very volatile times and the challenge is much harder now.

GILBERT: There’s been this notion of strategic ambiguity when it comes to Taiwan, that seems to be shifting quite a bit with what President Biden has said, he said it recently, but it then overnight, with 60 minutes, just a couple of hours ago. He said that if there were to be an invasion, that U.S. forces would defend the island. What’s your read on this? Is it a shift from the White House?

KHALIL: Well, it’s interesting the President’s comments are not too dissimilar, from comments that he made a couple of months ago now, with respect to Taiwan. What I can say is that from our perspective, I know our government has been very clear is that we urge restraint, we urge de-escalation in the region across the Taiwan straits, that any change in the status quo of Taiwan has to be through peaceful negotiations. No one wants conflict, Kieran. Part of what I was saying earlier about the coordination and our efforts working with allies in the region is to ensure that we reduce the factors that that may lead to miscalculation. For example, we want to make sure that there is no conflict in the region because it’s in no one’s interest, it’s not in China’s interest, it’s not in Australia’s, it’s not in any of the countries in the region interests to see that play out. So, we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we stabilise the situation and that is the path, it’s a difficult path, but that’s the path and the correct path that our government is taking.

GILBERT: Peter Khalil, Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Thank you, appreciate we’ll talk to you soon.

KHALIL: Thanks Kieran.