Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, Japanese Minister of Defense KONO Taro, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper convened a virtual trilateral defense ministerial meeting on July 7 (Washington). The ministers reaffirmed their joint commitment to enhance security, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region in keeping with their shared values and longstanding alliances and close partnerships. This was the ninth meeting among the three nations’ defense leaders.
The ministers concurred that the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of a rules-based international order in setting the conditions for our nations to address this shared threat in a way that is transparent, accountable, and resilient. As a measure of the strength and adaptability of the trilateral partnership, the ministers discussed collaborative efforts to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. They committed to:
(1) Continue to share information, best practices, and lessons learned about measures taken by defense authorities toward mitigating the impacts of COVID-19, including as part of whole-of-government efforts;
(2) Further develop a mutual understanding of the threat environment in the Indo-Pacific region, including the potential effects of the spread of COVID-19 on their respective defense policies and preparedness; and
(3) Promote vigorous trilateral defense cooperation and exchanges that make tangible contributions in support of a free, open, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.
The ministers reinforced their strong opposition to any destabilizing or coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions in the East China Sea. They expressed their intention to continue to coordinate closely on the security environment in this region, with a view to deterring such actions.
With regard to the South China Sea, the ministers reinforced strong opposition to the use of force or coercion to alter the status quo, and reaffirmed the importance of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight. They expressed serious concern about recent incidents, including the continued militarization of disputed features, dangerous or coercive use of coast guard vessels and “maritime militia,” and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities. They emphasized the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, in particular as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and called for all countries in the region to take meaningful steps to ease tension and build trust. The ministers also called for any Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to be consistent with existing international law, in particular as reflected in UNCLOS; not to prejudice the interests of third parties or the rights of any State under international law; and to reinforce existing inclusive regional architecture.
The ministers also expressed their deep concern over Beijing’s imposition of a national security law upon Hong Kong.
The ministers shared their strong concern that North Korea’s series of ballistic missile launches pose a serious threat to international security and condemned the repeated violations of multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs). They expressed concern about North Korea’s announcement that it no longer considered itself bound by its moratorium on nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The ministers again called upon North Korea to cease actions that increase tensions and undermine regional stability, to comply with its international obligations, and to take clear steps to achieve the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles programs of all ranges in accordance with UNSCRs. To this end, they commended ongoing diplomatic efforts to engage North Korea, and called on North Korea to return to the negotiating table and make a sustained commitment to dialogue. In the meantime, they reaffirmed their commitment to implement and enforce sanctions against North Korea, including through ongoing cooperation to monitor and deter illegal ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum, coal, and other sanctioned goods.
The ministers underlined the instrumental role of ASEAN in facilitating regional dialogue and establishing norms of behavior that support stability, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, and recognized the importance of supporting partners in South and South East Asia. The ministers emphasized their ongoing support for ASEAN centrality as a key contributor to regional security and prosperity. The ministers undertook to continue to coordinate closely on their support to the region, in order to maximize the benefits of their national and combined engagement activities in a transparent, efficient, and effective manner under their shared strategic vision.
The ministers underscored their unwavering commitment to work closely with their Pacific partners to support a Pacific region that is prosperous, secure, and respectful of sovereignty. They decided to continue their trilateral capacity-building efforts in the Pacific through joint defense initiatives with regional partners. The ministers welcomed and acknowledged the significance of each country’s military-to-military activities, particularly when those activities contributed to whole-of-government engagement with Pacific nations.
In reference to the 2019 Australia-Japan-United States Trilateral Strategic Action Agenda, the ministers directed their respective officials to continue to pursue avenues for practical engagement, cooperation, and interoperability in a time of geostrategic change.