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Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN)

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Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

Minister for Defence

Media contact

Nicky Hamer (Minister Reynolds’ Office): +61 437 989 927

Defence Media: media@defence.gov.au

Senator the Hon Marise Payne

Minister for Foreign Affairs

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29 July 2020

Joint transcript

  • Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne


SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO: Good afternoon, everyone.

We have had a lively and productive set of conversations this morning and last night as well. I’ll get to that in just a bit.

First, though, I want to personally thank Ministers Payne and Reynolds for travelling all this way, halfway around the world, to be with us today. That is a tough trip in ordinary times.

And your entire delegation will be quarantining when you get back. Not many partners will do that for us, and so thank you, to each of you, and your teams for being with us here in person. It was very important that we all be together to have this important conversation.

Before she left Australia, Minister Payne called this year’s AUSMIN meetings, quote, the “most significant,” end of quote, in her time “for Australia’s short, medium, and long-term interests.” The same could be said for our side as well.

Our two great democracies face immediate crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and longer-term challenges like the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions. We need to deal with each of these challenges simultaneously.

We are lucky to count Australia as a close partner throughout all of this. When I was in Sydney last August, I recall naming our relationship as the “Unbreakable Alliance.” It’s even more true today.

We started this morning by talking at length about the Chinese Communist Party’s malign activity in the Indo-Pacific region, and indeed all around the world.

The United States commends the Morrison government for standing up for democratic values and the rule of law, despite intense, continued, coercive pressure from the Chinese Communist Party to bow to Beijing’s wishes.

It is unacceptable for Beijing to use exports or student fees as a cudgel against Australia. We stand with our Australian friends.

We also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States commends Australia for publicly condemning China’s disinformation campaign and insisting on an independent review into this virus’s origin.

I also want to applaud your efforts to include Taiwan in the World Health Assembly, so that the world might benefit from that vigorous democracy’s wisdom in dealing with the outbreak.

We look forward to working together on our nations’ ongoing economic recovery from this entirely preventable pandemic. Today we reaffirmed our collective commitment to strengthening supply chains, so that they are resilient against future pandemics, CCP retaliation, and the use of forced labour.

Turning to Hong Kong, our nations have both denounced the CCP’s violation of its own treaty promises and the crushing of the Hong Kong people’s freedoms.

The US applauds Australia’s decisive response to suspend its extradition agreement and extend visas for residents of Hong Kong in Australia.

We also addressed the CCP’s attempts to dominate the technology space. We, in fact, spent a great deal of time on this issue. Australia was ahead of us in awakening to the threat of untrusted vendors like Huawei and ZTE. We look forward to nations becoming “Clean Countries” together.

And finally, we’ll keep working with our Australian partners to reassert the rule of law in the South China Sea, which the United States and Australia have both underscored in recent, important statements. I’ll let Secretary Esper address more about our military cooperation both there and elsewhere.

Ministers, as I said just last week at the Nixon Library, the burden Australia has undertaken to uphold democratic values is not yours to bear alone.

The United States knows the threats that you and the rest of the free world face. And the United States stands with you in our unbreakable Alliance.

Thank you, again, for being here today.

Minister Payne.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much, Mike. And to our Secretary colleagues, Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper, it is a great pleasure to be here today. Both Minister Linda Reynolds and I are very pleased that AUSMIN was able to take place in person today. We know that we’re living in a very constrained set of circumstances, so we particularly appreciate the effort made by the United States to host us here, by the teams who have put together an AUSMIN in these constrained circumstances, and I want to thank all of those involved.

I want to thank Ambassador Arthur Sinodinos and his team, acknowledge Ambassador A.B. Culvahouse, who’s also made the trip from Canberra, and our Secretaries Frances Adamson and Greg Moriarty, and the Chief of the Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell.

This year marks 80 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and the United States. This is the 30th AUSMIN talks and indeed as Mike referred to, it is my fifth in two incarnations at least. It’s hard to believe that it’s a year since we were in Sydney, because so much has happened in the last 12 months. And I want to particularly convey my condolences, my sympathies, to those amongst the American people who have lost loved ones, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are difficult times for all of us.

As both Secretary Pompeo and I have said at various times, Australia and the United States’ strong and enduring relationship is built on our shared values. It’s built on our resolute belief in the rule of law, a respect for human rights, our promotion of gender equality, our protection of freedoms of religion and belief. It’s built on the fact that we are both strong, liberal democracies that cherish freedom of expression and diversity of opinion. And it’s built on our confidence in making decisions in our interests.

At AUSMIN today, we discussed and reached agreement on a wide range of issues. We agreed it’s essential that the Alliance remains well-positioned to respond to both the immediate impacts of COVID-19, as well as the longer-term economic and security challenges that have emerged, not just in the past six months but in recent years.

Australia and the United States are deeply committed to strengthening health security efforts in the Indo-Pacific to help states combat COVID-19 and to prevent the emergence of future pandemics.

So I’m pleased that as part of our talks today, we have agreed to expand cooperation under our Health Security Partnership, to explore opportunities to detect and respond to infectious disease threats, including ensuring access to vital vaccines.

COVID-19 has, without doubt, exacerbated the security challenges in our region. Some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy. The role of multilateral institutions is more important now than ever in supporting our values and our strategic objectives as the world responds to the health and economic challenges of COVID-19.

We’re therefore pleased also to be able to announce a new working group between Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United States Department of State, to monitor and respond to harmful disinformation.

The rules-based global order is a constant, notwithstanding, or perhaps even more so given, the impact of the pandemic. We reiterated our commitment to holding states to account when they breach international norms and laws, as we have done and will continue to do so in relation to China’s erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong.

We also recognise the importance of international leadership and cooperation, which for both of us involves helping other countries through the COVID-19 crisis. We will step up and ensure that we support our mates further afield.

That means working together to strengthen the capacity of states in our region to recover economically from COVID-19, including by supporting infrastructure development. Our work together, for example, along with the Government of Palau and other partners including Japan, on the Palau marine cable to provide fast and affordable internet to our Pacific neighbour, is a really good example of this. And I’m glad we’ve been able to progress our discussions on these today.

We will use the Australia-US Alliance as the basis to deepen our friendship with others. We already do. We’ll work more closely with existing partnerships such as the Five Eyes, ASEAN, the Quad, the Trilateral Infrastructure Partnership, the East Asia Summit. And as we have through COVID-19, we will build new groupings, cementing friendships, improving our security through a network of nations that share our vision of an open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific.

I am very proud to be here this week. I’m very proud that the enduring Australia-US Alliance will be at the very heart of this vision. Mike, thank you and Mark again for your hospitality.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ESPER: Well, thank you, Minister Payne and Minister Reynolds, Marise, Linda, for coming all this way to be here in person, particularly in the time of COVID. Your presence reflects the strength of the US-Australian Alliance and signifies our ever-increasing convergence on the most important strategic issues of our time.

The United States and Australia share a deep and enduring bond, united by common values and forged through decades of shared sacrifice, having fought shoulder-to-shoulder in every major conflict since World War I. Today our Alliance remains strong and resilient and is vital to stability, to security, and prosperity around the globe and in the United States’ priority theatre, the Indo-Pacific. Together, we share a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific where all nations, big and small, can enjoy the benefits of sovereignty; where free, fair, and reciprocal trade are the norm; where states adhere to international rules and norms; and where international disputes are resolved peacefully.

Today, we discussed a range of issues regarding the future of the region, including the impact of the global pandemic as well as the security situation in the South China Sea specifically, and the Indo-Pacific more generally. We appreciate Australia’s significant contributions to COVID-19 response efforts, and we spoke in detail about the Chinese Communist Party’s destabilising activities and the fact that Beijing is increasingly resorting to coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives at the expense of other nations.

The United States seeks a constructive, results-oriented relationship with the PRC, but we will stand firm in upholding the international rules-based order. And we applaud Australia for pushing back against the CCP’s brazen economic threats and coercive behaviour at increasing risk of retaliation.

We also discussed the PRC’s less conspicuous means of extending its influence through state-sponsored tech dominance. And we commend Australia for its decision to reject Huawei and ZTE in its 5G network, thus protecting the integrity of our intelligence cooperation and the many other aspects of our defence relationship.

In this regard, I want to thank Australia for its continued support of the Marine Rotational Force at Darwin. Our significant presence there enables excellent combined training between the US and Australian troops, and this year’s rotation is an important example of how we can meet our strategic interests as an Alliance while adapting to health concerns posed by the coronavirus. We owe it to our partners to make sure that we deploy responsibly, as I assured Minister Reynolds of our preventative measures.

Additionally, last week, five Australian warships joined the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group and a Japanese destroyer in conducting a trilateral naval exercise in the Philippine Sea ahead of the upcoming RIMPAC exercise in Hawaii. These exercises not only bolster interoperability, but also send a clear signal to Beijing that we will fly, we will sail, and we will operate wherever international law allows and defend the rights of our allies and partners to do the same.

Amid these challenging and uncertain times, the US-Australia Alliance remains a powerful force for stability and prosperity in our region and the world, and we thank you once again, Minister Payne and Minister Reynolds, for your participation here today. Thank you.

DEFENCE MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, thank you very much, Secretary Esper, to Mark, and to both of you, Mike. Thank you very much for your hospitality and also for the very productive discussions that we’ve had today. I’m delighted that we’re able to come here in person, because there really is no substitute for face-to-face meetings that we’ve had here today.

Since its beginning, AUSMIN has steered our Alliance through a rapidly changing world, from the Cold War to confronting extremism and most recently focusing the Alliance activities in the Indo-Pacific. But today, we are both experiencing a profound change in the geopolitical framework that underpins our security but also our prosperity. So, now more than ever, we must put a premium on ensuring the Alliance continues to serve both our nations’ interests.

And today, we have done just that, focusing to ensure our Alliance cooperation is best placed to respond to our shared challenges. We have a great and ambitious set of defence outcomes, ones that advance our cooperation in support of our shared vision, a vision for a region that is secure, that is open, and is also prosperous.

Secretary Esper and I signed a statement of principles on Alliance defence cooperation and on force posture priorities in the Indo-Pacific. This builds on our successful force posture cooperation over the past 10 years, and it will drive the next decade of our defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. It will also strengthen our shared ability to contribute to regional security and to deter malign behaviour in our region.

We intend to establish a US-funded, commercially operated strategic military fuel reserve in Darwin. We agreed to further deepen our defence science technology and also our industrial cooperation. This includes hypersonics, electronic warfare, and space-based capabilities. This will ensure the Alliance maintains its capability edge in a rapidly modernising environment. Further reducing barriers to industrial base integration will also strengthen our interoperability and also our shared resilience.

When we released Australia’s Defence Strategic Update earlier this month, my Prime Minister noted that we now face a world that is poorer, that is more dangerous, and that is more disorderly. The Australian Government’s $270 billion investment in defence capability over the next decade will build capability, resilience, and further agility for the Australian Defence Force. It will also allow Australia to make its strongest contribution to our shared Alliance security interests right across the Indo-Pacific.

And today, we reaffirmed the importance of working with partners to strengthen sovereignty and also resilience to coercion. Our Alliance is in great shape, but we cannot ever take it for granted. And this is why the substantial outcomes and agreements we have reached today are so important for us both.

Thank you.

MR BROWN: Okay. For our first question, let’s go to Nick Schifrin from PBS Newshour.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr Secretary, Minister Payne, if I could ask you both about China and Mr Secretary a more local question.

Mr Secretary, after your alliance of democracies speech, you received some criticism by some people who called it unworkable, especially for European allies, as the Trump administration pursues a confrontational trade policy on Europe and doesn’t criticise other autocrats, including Viktor Orban. How do you work through that?

And Minister Payne, another aspect of that speech was the admonition to help the Chinese people change the Chinese Government. Do you think that is possible and/or wise?

Mr Secretary, if I could quickly, more locally —

SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO: You want three questions?



QUESTION: Just quickly —

SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO: Let me just take your first question to me and then Minister Payne can take the second one. No, it’s completely workable. As I said in that same set of remarks, this isn’t about picking America versus China. This is about choosing freedom and democracy against tyranny and authoritarian regime, and I am confident that the democracies, our transatlantic alliance, all of those great nations know precisely which side of that debate they want to be on. They know where their peoples’ interests lie. They lie with freedom and democracy and continued economic prosperity for their people. That doesn’t come from partnering with or working with authoritarian regimes that threaten them, but rather working with countries like Australia and America that value freedom and human rights in the same way that they do.

You made a comment about the fact that we have not been consistent on human rights. I have a fundamentally different view of that. We have been intensely focused on making sure that we stand for the very value set that the United States and Australia alongside of us, care so deeply about. I gave a set of remarks in Philadelphia now a couple weeks back that talked about this and put it in sharp focus and talked about the unalienable rights that matter so much to the world, and we’ll defend them everywhere. And I’m confident that our partners all across Europe and, frankly, democratic friends all across the world, whether that’s in India or Japan or South Korea — our Australian partners are here today — understand that the challenge of our times is to make sure that those nations that do value freedom and do want economic prosperity based on the rule of law, will join together to deliver that for our people.

Last thing: You asked a second question to her. I’m going to take a swing because you mischaracterised again what I said. Go back and look what I said. We need to make sure we’re talking to everyone all across the world. The Chinese, when they come here, they talk to Democrats, right? They go to Capitol Hill and lobby Democrats on Capitol Hill. American diplomats ought to have that same opportunity so that we can speak to all people that are part of the People’s Republic of China. It seems only appropriate that we do that. It seems quite necessary. Indeed, I would think that the government in Beijing would want that. We encourage there to be freedom of speech, openness, the capacity to work with elements inside the United States that don’t always agree with the administration. That’s how democracies — that’s how economic growth takes place. Those kinds of things are the right thing to do, and we’re aiming through our diplomatic efforts to make sure that there’s every opportunity for people all across the world to speak to all of the various views that are contained inside of the People’s Republic of China.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Thanks very much, Mike, and rather than, I think, make individual comments on the Secretary’s speech — the Secretary’s speeches are his own — Australia’s positions are our own. And we operate, as you would expect, on the basis of our shared values, actually, which are reflected in both the approach of the United States and the approach of Australia. But most importantly from our perspective, we make our own decisions, our own judgments in the Australian national interest and about upholding our security, our prosperity, and our values. So, we deal with China in the same way. We have a strong economic engagement, other engagement, and it works in the interests of both countries.

That said, of course, we don’t agree on everything. We are very different countries. We are very different systems, and it’s the points on which we disagree that we should be able to articulate in a mature and sensible way and advance, as I said, our interests and our values. As my Prime Minister put it recently, the relationship that we have with China is important, and we have no intention of injuring it, but nor do we intend to do things that are contrary to our interests, and that is the premise from which we begin.

MR BROWN: Next, can we go to Sarah Blake from Newscorp?

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question for both Secretary Pompeo and for Minister Payne. Secretary Pompeo, there are currently dozens of Australian citizens in Syria who are the wives and children of captured Islamic State fighters. Do you think that Australia should bring these people home? And if so, why, and if so, why not? You know what I mean.

SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO: If you have a question for Minister Payne, you can go ahead and put that —

QUESTION: Minister Payne, did the question of the ISIS wives and children arise in your talks with Secretary Pompeo, and will Australia bring these people home? And if so, why or why not?

SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO: Maybe I’ll let you go first since this is the same question and they’re Australian people about which we speak.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Well, we’ve broadly discussed a number of issues relating to counterterrorism more broadly. And in relation to Syria, it’s important to note that Australia has repatriated some orphans from Syria. But these are pretty complex challenges, and I don’t think that should be underestimated.

The priority of the Australian Government is the protection of Australia and the Australian community. We’re a good international citizen. We don’t shy away from our responsibilities, and those also of course include our responsibilities to citizens at home, to our diplomats and officials who would be required to travel into what are very dangerous situations. And as the government has repeatedly said — the Prime Minister, the Minister for Home Affairs, and I have repeatedly said — we will not put Australian lives at risk to try and to extract people.

It’s important to note, I think, that COVID-19 has further complicated this picture extensively. We have seen closed borders, significant travel restrictions, significant international travel bans put in place, including of course in Australia itself. Movement in Syria and in the region is now more complex than ever. And at home, we see our states and territories very stretched, as an understatement in some cases, because of the impact of COVID-19 infections.

So, any assessment of the sorts of resources that would be needed to reintegrate, to monitor, to secure, to de-radicalise people who are brought home are under significantly more pressure than they usually would be. And we will not put our communities at home at risk, nor our officials abroad, to extract people from Syria under current conditions. We will always take a case-by-case approach to returns of individuals but, at this point in time, it’s an extremely complex situation, and that remains the government’s position.

SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO: And we’ve made very clear our expectation is that the places that these fighters are being detained may not be sustainable and that we need to work with each host country to bring those people back and bring them to justice back in their home. We think that’s important. We’ve been consistent with that all across all the nations that have fighters that are there inside of Syria.

MR BROWN: Third question. We’ll go to Katie Bo Williams from Defense One.

QUESTION: Thank you all for doing this. First to Secretary Esper: Did the US and Australia discuss deploying either additional US troops or intermediate-range missiles on Australian soil? And can you give us any details on the outcome of those conversations? And secondly, can you tell us what are your concerns about military-style uniforms being worn by federal officers conducting civilian law enforcement in Portland?

And then to Minister Reynolds: During your meetings this week, did the US side press you to conduct freedom-of-navigation operations closer to the disputed island chains in the South China Sea than Australia has previously been willing? And do you plan on honouring that request, and if so, what has changed Australia’s calculation?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ESPER: So I’ll go first, and I’ll take your first question since it involves our Australian partners who have travelled 22 hours to be here today and face a 14-day quarantine on the back end. Let me just say we had a very wide-ranging discussion about the capabilities that the United States possesses and the capabilities that Australia possesses, and our desire to advance them, whether they are hypersonics or any other type of capability. And I think it’s important as we think forward about how do we deter bad behaviour in the Indo-Pacific and how we defend the international rules-based order — in this case specifically with regard to China.

I would like also to take this moment to commend Australia. They recently announced a bold new Defence Strategy that is far-reaching, and I think really puts them at the forefront as a really, extremely capable partner to the United States and a very capable partner in terms of defending that international rules-based order. And that will involve the full suite of capabilities and strategies we intend to roll out together in the years ahead.

DEFENCE MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, thank you very much, Mark. And Katie, in relation to transiting through the region, and also freedom of navigation and overflight, as you would expect it was a subject of discussion. For those of you who know, Australia has a long history of transiting through the region — unilaterally, bilaterally — with regional friends and also multilaterally. For example, the ADF Joint Task Group recently transited through the South China Sea on its way to RIMPAC and, as the Secretary observed, we did a trilateral transit through the Philippine Sea. Our approach remains consistent, and we will continue to transit through the region in accordance with international law.

MR BROWN: Okay. Last question to Amelia Adams with Nine Network.

QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, if I could start with you, there’s a lot of concern in Australia about the growing rift between your administration and China. As you know, Australia is very dependent on China. Should Australians be concerned about the long-term consequences of the breakdown in relations between your two countries for our regional security?

And perhaps, Minister Payne, if you could talk to the same question after the Secretary.

SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO: This isn’t about a breakdown in relations between the United States and China. This is about unlawful misconduct by the Chinese Communist Party, coercive behaviour that, frankly, most Western nations have permitted to go on for far too long. President Trump made very clear as far back as his campaign that we were no longer going to permit that to happen. We were going to rebalance the relationship with the objective of getting a much more fair, reciprocal relationship between the United States and China.

We’ve done it on multiple fronts. We’ve seen it very publicly on trade. We’ve seen it — the things we’ve done to make sure that we have a safe and secure infrastructure. The Australians have been fantastic at making sure that Australians’ information, their private information, didn’t end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.

So every nation and its people needs to be aware of the threat that is posed by the Chinese Communist Party to them, and I am confident that the Australian Government, just like the American Government, will act in ways that preserve their sovereignty and secure freedoms for their own people.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE: Amelia, I think in part I answered the question in response to the question from our first representative this afternoon. But from Australia’s perspective, let me reiterate that we make our own decisions. We do that based on our values — many of which are shared values — overwhelmingly — but most importantly, in Australia’s national interest.

We do often hold common positions with the United States because we do share so many of those fundamental values, and we both want the same kind of region. We want it to be secure. We want it to be stable. We want it to be free. We want it to be prosperous. And what this meeting is all about, what AUSMIN is all about — and has been, in fact, for its 30 iterations — is the alignment of the broad perspectives of Australia and the United States on global and regional issues. That includes our discussions in relation to China. It includes our discussions in relation to COVID-19 response and recovery.

We have, I think, a demonstrable track record of making decisions based on our own interests. A number of those have been mentioned today in terms of protecting Australia and Australians in the interests of national security, whether they are around countering foreign interference, whether they are ensuring that our 5G network is protected from high-risk vendors, whether they are about the sorts of initiatives that we’ve taken more recently around our foreign investment rules.

We don’t agree on everything, though, and that’s part of a respectful relationship. It’s part of a relationship that has endured over 100 years of mateship, to re-coin that phrase, and will endure, I am absolutely confident, based on our fundamental shared values, for centuries into the future.

SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO: Great. Thanks, everyone.

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