Australia has pledged to increase defence cooperation with the US in the South China Sea – but stopped short of making any specific new commitment on freedom of navigation operations after the AUSMIN talks in the US between the two countries Foreign and Defence Ministers.
Australia made it clear it had is own policy on China and had “no intention of injuring its relationship” with Beijing. Australia would act in its own interests.
The two allies have also decided to set up a working group to push back at false information across the Indo-Pacific region, warning that “state-sponsored malicious disinformation and interference in democratic processes are significant and evolving threats”.
While the joint statement expressed “deep concern” over a range of actions taken by China – including a “campaign of repression of Uyghurs” and undermining of freedoms in Hong Kong – Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said Australia had “no intention of injuring” its important relationship with Beijing, The Guardian reports.
The joint statement read in full:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper hosted Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds on July 28 in Washington for the 30th Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN 2020).
During their discussions, the Secretaries and Ministers built on Prime Minister Morrison’s historic official visit to Washington in September 2019, which demonstrated what President Trump has called the “long, cherished, and unwavering friendship between the United States and Australia.” More than a century since we first fought side-by-side, 80 years after the United States and Australia established diplomatic relations, and 68 years since the formation of our Alliance, our shared commitment to freedom and democracy remains unbreakable.
The Secretaries and Ministers discussed the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and resolved to strengthen cooperation to support our collective recovery and foster a post-COVID-19 world where all countries prosper as sovereign States.
Secretaries and Ministers noted the need to strengthen global efforts to prevent and mitigate future health crises and pandemics and reaffirmed their commitment to bilateral health security cooperation, with a focus on the Indo-Pacific, in line with the release of the AUSMIN Global Health Security Statement. They noted the World Health Assembly resolution on identifying the zoonotic origin of the virus and evaluating the World Health Organization-coordinated international health response, and reaffirmed their commitment to facilitating timely and broad deployment of affordable, safe, and effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, including to support a response in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Secretaries and Ministers reaffirmed that the Indo-Pacific is the focus of the Alliance and that the United States and Australia are working side-by-side, including with ASEAN, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Five Eyes partners, to strengthen our networked structure of alliances and partnerships to maintain a region that is secure, prosperous, inclusive, and rules-based. They also reaffirmed that women’s security and meaningful economic and political participation in line with the Women, Peace, and Security agenda and women’s economic empowerment is key to achieving these goals.
The United States and Australia reaffirmed their commitment to a stable, secure open, and prosperous Pacific, and recognized the immediate and ongoing impact of COVID-19 on economies in the region. The two sides recognized Australia’s Partnerships for Recovery as setting out a framework for supporting the region’s recovery and welcomed the U.S. government’s commitment of over $118 million in funding to support the COVID-19 response in the Pacific Islands.
The United States and Australia recognized the important role of the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Community (SPC) in helping mitigate the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. They committed to supporting the Forum’s Pacific Humanitarian Pathway for COVID-19, including funding for the UN World Food Programme Pacific Humanitarian Air Service to operationalize the Pathway (Australia has contributed AUD$3 million, and the United States has committed to contributing US$5 million). They underlined their support for the SPC’s regional work on health and economic impacts, which will be important for the region’s economic recovery.
The Secretaries and Ministers also committed to working to support the Pacific’s economic stability and recovery, including through advice and budget support for Pacific Island countries and high-quality infrastructure investment, such as under the Papua New Guinea Electrification Partnership and the proposed undersea cable for Palau that will connect to the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation-supported trans-Pacific cable. Working with the United States, the Government of Palau, and other partners including Japan, Australia has already invested in the marine survey and branching unit that will allow the Palau cable to come to fruition.
The Secretaries and Ministers noted that the pandemic has reduced States’ resilience to shocks and created incentives for some actors to pursue strategic gains in ways that undermine the rules-based international order and regional stability.
The United States and Australia expressed deep concern about the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government’s efforts to undermine the “One Country, Two Systems” framework and to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms in violation of its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. In particular, the principals expressed deep concern at the imposition of sweeping and vague “national security” legislation on Hong Kong that has imperiled the rule of law and undermined the rights to freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and to peaceful assembly. The Secretaries and Ministers noted that both the United States and Australia are taking steps to suspend their respective extradition treaties with Hong Kong as a result of the PRC’s actions and announced mechanisms to admit Hong Kong residents to our countries. They also reiterated their support for the people of Hong Kong to be able to elect Legislative Council representatives via a genuinely free and fair election, which is credible and peaceful, on September 6.
The United States and Australia expressed deep concern over the PRC’s campaign of repression of Uyghurs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, forced labor, pervasive surveillance, restrictions on freedom of religion, and reports of forced abortions and involuntary birth control.
The Secretaries and Ministers re-affirmed Taiwan’s important role in the Indo-Pacific region as well as their intent to maintain strong unofficial ties with Taiwan and to support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations where statehood is not a prerequisite. Where statehood is a prerequisite for membership, both sides support Taiwan’s meaningful participation as an observer or guest. The United States and Australia highlighted that recent events only strengthened their resolve to support Taiwan. They reiterated that any resolution of cross-Strait differences should be peaceful and according to the will of the people on both sides, without resorting to threats or coercion. They also committed to enhancing donor coordination with Taiwan, with a focus on development assistance to Pacific Island countries.
The Secretaries and Ministers expressed serious concerns over recent coercive and destabilizing actions across the Indo-Pacific. In line with the 2016 decision of the Arbitral Tribunal, they affirmed that Beijing’s maritime claims are not valid under international law. Specifically, they affirmed that the PRC cannot assert maritime claims in the South China Sea based on the “nine-dash line,” “historic rights,” or entire South China Sea island groups, which are incompatible with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They noted that the 2016 Arbitral Award is final and binding on both parties and emphasized that all claims in the South China Sea must be made and resolved in accordance with international law. They also expressed their support for the rights of claimants to lawfully exploit offshore resources, including in relation to long-standing oil and gas projects as well as fisheries in the South China Sea, free from harassment and coercion. They welcomed the recent ASEAN Leaders statement that a South China Sea Code of Conduct should be consistent with UNCLOS, and emphasized that any Code should not prejudice the rights or interests of States under international law or undermine existing regional architecture, and should strengthen the commitment of parties not to engage in actions that complicate or escalate disputes, notably militarization of disputed features.
The United States and Australia reaffirmed the significant role of the United Nations and other key international organizations, especially specialized agencies and standards-setting bodies, in delivering outcomes vital to our shared security, interests, values, and prosperity. They pledged to deepen cooperation to promote consistent and fair processes for elections of qualified, meritorious candidates for leadership positions in these bodies and to pursue meaningful reforms to ensure international organizations are accountable to Member States and free from undue influence.
They affirmed that state-sponsored malicious disinformation and interference in democratic processes are significant and evolving threats, with both countries recently joining a cross-regional statement pledging to combat the “infodemic” that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. They plan to continue to counter these threats vigorously, including through collaboration with international partners, and through a new working group between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of State, which will monitor and respond to disinformation efforts.
The United States and Australia share the view that malicious behavior in cyberspace can undermine the national security and economic prosperity of States. The principals expressed deep concern that the targeting of intellectual property and sensitive business information, including information relating to the development of vaccines and treatments for pandemic response, presents an increasing threat to the global economy, and they committed to holding malicious actors accountable.
Both sides reaffirmed that allowing high-risk vendors that are subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government to supply 5G network equipment or build telecommunications cables creates unacceptable risks to national security, critical infrastructure, and privacy. The principals noted the role of 5G network security best practices, such as the Prague Proposals, and expressed their intent to work with like-minded partners to develop end-to-end technical solutions for 5G that use trusted vendors. Acknowledging that 5G is only the starting point, the two nations also reaffirm their commitment to lifting the security of critical and emerging technologies that will be vital to our nations’ prosperity.
The Secretaries and Ministers called on the PRC to be transparent and to negotiate in good faith with the United States and Russia on limitations on nuclear weapons as well as measures to reduce risk and build confidence. They recalled obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament.
The Secretaries and Ministers affirmed their support for U.S.-DPRK denuclearization negotiations and their commitment to fully implement sanctions against North Korea to counter the threat to security and regional stability posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The United States and Australia reaffirmed their commitment to cooperation on counterterrorism. Both sides are proud of the achievements under the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (Da’esh) and in the Indo-Pacific region. They committed to continue to work together with Indo-Pacific partner countries to mitigate any impacts of COVID-19 on exacerbating the regional terrorist threat environment and to support regional counter-terrorism partner countries in addressing these threats, including any potential movement of foreign terrorist fighters within the region.
The United States and Australia reaffirmed their commitment to Trilateral dialogues with Japan and Quad consultations with Japan and India. The Secretaries and Ministers look forward to further ministerial meetings in these fora. They reaffirmed their strong support for ASEAN, ASEAN-led regional architecture, and ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, and applauded Vietnam, as current ASEAN Chair, for its leadership of ASEAN in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. They underscored the role of the East Asia Summit as the region’s premier leaders-led forum for addressing political and security challenges. They welcomed and acknowledged the role of APEC, as the premier economic forum in the region, in strengthening the region’s resilience to future economic shocks and addressing health-related threats, particularly infectious diseases, to trade and investment in the region.
The United States and Australia plan to continue to mobilize private sector investment throughout the Indo-Pacific to deliver high-quality, resilient infrastructure and natural resource projects in partner countries that adhere to international standards and best practices on the rule of law, sovereignty, and free-market principles. The United States and Australia updated their development cooperation Memorandum of Understanding, committing to build the stability, prosperity, and resilience of the Indo-Pacific. The United States and Australia also committed to uphold robust standards for development and infrastructure assistance and to avoid burdening recipients with unsustainable debt. They called on all G20 Members and their official creditor agencies to follow through on their G20 commitments under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and provide debt relief to eligible countries that request forbearance. Recognizing the vital role multilateral development banks (MDBs) play in regional economic development, the two sides intend to work with likeminded shareholders to ensure effective and transparent implementation of MDB procurement frameworks and policies that emphasize value for money and quality over lowest-price bids and seek to multiply the development benefits by encouraging domestic capacity development and increased opportunities for SMEs in the borrowing country.
The United States and Australia continue to prioritize close and continuing cooperation on supply-chain diversification and resilience, particularly for essential medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, critical technologies, and critical minerals. They welcomed the announcement that Lynas has signed a Phase 1 contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for an engineering and market feasibility study for the design of a heavy rare earth separation facility in the United States. Both countries remain committed to working with like-minded partners to support continued access to critical goods and services. The principals reaffirmed their nations’ openness to an open exchange of views, exploration of new approaches to diversification, and the maintenance of reliable and secure supply chains.
In particular, the Secretaries and Ministers welcomed the continued development of a U.S.-Australia Critical Minerals Plan of Action to improve the security of critical minerals in the United States and Australia. Recognizing the impact of market-distorting practices by near-monopoly suppliers of critical minerals, including attempts to drive out competitors and deter new market entrants, principals plan to progress options to support new investment in the sector to diversify supply chains, and to consider work with like-minded partners to develop international standards on critical minerals.
Bilateral Defense Cooperation
The United States and Australia are determined to strengthen defense cooperation, including on force posture, and acknowledged that the presence of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific has been vital to preserving the region’s security and prosperity for 75 years. They signed a classified Statement of Principles on Alliance Defense Cooperation and Force Posture Priorities in the Indo-Pacific. The Statement establishes a bilateral Force Posture Working Group to develop recommendations that will advance force-posture cooperation in the Indo-Pacific to promote a secure and stable region and deter coercive acts and the use of force.
The Secretaries and Ministers discussed practical ways to strengthen our ability to address a range of challenges in a more contested Indo-Pacific, from countering malign gray-zone tactics to deterring aggression in the region. They recognized Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan further builds Australia’s contribution to the Alliance by investing in a more agile, potent, and self-reliant Australian Defence Force. Australia’s sharper regional Indo-Pacific focus will allow the Australian Defence Force to make its strongest contribution to shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific, be better able to project military power, and deter destabilizing actions at a longer range.
The Secretaries and Ministers emphasized the importance of ensuring that our enhanced defense engagement and capacity building, especially with partners in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, are closely coordinated to avoid duplication and to maximize their impact in protecting sovereignty and building resilience.
Following this year’s cooperative naval activity between HMAS Parramatta and the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group in the South China Sea, the principals committed to pursue increased and regularized maritime cooperation in the region, as well as the Indian Ocean, bilaterally and in concert with other likeminded and regional partners. They were pleased Australia and the United States proceeded with the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin rotation this year, despite COVID-19 challenges. Discussions also included the potential expansion of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin joint training exercises to include additional partners and allies to bolster regional relationships and capabilities.
The two sides recognized that the operational effectiveness of the Alliance relies increasingly on secure supply chains to support our combined capability and readiness.
In a significant step toward strengthening the resilience of our supply chains, the United States and Australia intend to establish a U.S. funded commercially operated strategic military fuel reserve in Darwin.
The United States and Australia also determined to advance initiatives that diversify and harness our industry cooperation, including further pursuing options that enable greater maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade of U.S. military platforms and components in Australia to further strengthen our supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific.
Acknowledging the unique role of technology and our respective industries in the U.S.-Australia defense partnership to maintain our competitive edge, the Secretaries and Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to closely collaborate and encourage bilateral defense trade to promote interoperability, and to pursue cooperation in defense innovation. As an example, they welcomed that over 50 Australian companies were contributing to the global F-35 program. They welcomed Australia’s inclusion in the U.S. National Technology Industrial Base and committed to work to reduce barriers to industrial base integration, including Australian participation in U.S. supply chains. In addition, they noted the ongoing collaboration through the AUS-U.S. Defense Trade Working Group is expected to identify and help resolve defense trade issues of mutual concern, including on export controls, thus facilitating cooperation and strengthening our respective industrial bases and collaboration into the future.
The Secretaries and Ministers recognized an interest in strengthening the mutual security and prosperity of the United States and Australia through investment in technology, innovation, and research to develop new industries, drive economic growth, and enhance readiness. The Secretaries and Ministers affirmed the value of bilateral collaboration on issues including hypersonics, integrated air and missile defense, electronic and undersea warfare, space, cyber, critical minerals, and other technologies.
The United States and Australia also have a rich history of collaboration on civilian science, technology, and innovation, and welcome the fifth U.S.-Australia Joint Commission Meeting on Science and Technology Cooperation in 2020. Building off the 2019 Joint Statement of Intent between the Australian Space Agency and NASA, the principals expressed their support for expanding space exploration cooperation under the Artemis program and committed to finalizing a bilateral Space Framework Agreement as soon as possible, including to support NASA’s mission to put the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, as well as broader space collaboration between the nations.
Australia looks forward to hosting the next AUSMIN in 2021.