Joint Press Conference, Honolulu, United States

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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3 May 2024

SUBJECTS: Australia-United States-Philippines-Japan Defence Cooperation; US Indo-Pacific Change of Command; Hamas-Israel Conflict; Additional Military Support for Ukraine. 

UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Good afternoon everyone. Deputy Prime Minister Marles, Minister Kihara, Secretary Teodoro it’s been great to welcome you to Camp Smith. And it’s great to be back here in Honolulu. I want to thank Admiral Aquilino and INDOPACOM for their hospitality on the eve of tomorrow's change of command ceremony. Earlier today, I had the chance to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Marles and Minister Kihara. We discussed how we can deepen our trilateral cooperation to strengthen stability and security throughout the Indo-Pacific. And together with Secretary Teodoro, we held an historic meeting to further deepen the defence relationships among our four countries. Just last year, in Singapore, the defence ministers from Australia, Japan, the Philippines and United States met together for the first time. Today's meeting, the second of its kind, built on that momentum and it helped advance a vision that our four democracies share for a free and open Indo-Pacific. I'm proud of all that the United States has achieved with each of your countries, gentlemen, since President Biden took office. And I'm proud of that all that we've achieved together. Just last month, our four militaries conducted a maritime cooperative activity in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. This was the second multilateral cooperative activity of its kind in the last 12 months alone. Activities like this don't just strengthen our interoperability, they also build bonds among our forces and they underscore our shared commitment to international law in the South China Sea. Now, we also talked about the security landscape across the Indo-Pacific and discussed new initiatives to make the region more stable and secure. We're looking to conduct more maritime exercises and activities among our four countries. We also want to pursue coordinated security assistance to the Philippines that will boost interoperability and help the Philippines achieve its defence modernisation goals. So, it's been a highly productive day. We've gathered here because we share a vision for peace, stability and deterrence in the Indo‑Pacific. We've charted an ambitious course to advance that vision together and that's why today's meetings were so important. So, Ministers, thanks again for joining me here in Honolulu. And Richard, over to you.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, thank you, Secretary Austin, Minister Kihara, Secretary Teodoro, it is a pleasure and an honour to be standing with the three of you here today. We meet at a time when the global rules-based order is under intense pressure. We see that in Ukraine with the appalling invasion by Russia of that country, but we see the global rules‑based order under pressure in the Indo‑Pacific as well. And a challenge to the global rules‑based order in Ukraine, is a challenge to the global rules‑based order in the East China Sea, in the South China Sea, in the West Philippine Sea. And our four countries are utterly committed to asserting freedom of navigation, to asserting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to asserting the global rules‑based order around the oceans of the world, including in the West Philippine Sea. Our Alliance with the United States has been the cornerstone of Australia's national security since World War Two. And today the security relationship that we have with both Japan and with the Philippines has never been closer. But as close as our respective bilateral relationships are, there is a power and a significance in our four countries acting together. And today the meetings that we have held represent a very significant message to the region and to the world about four democracies which are committed to the global rules‑based order. In our discussions today, we've spoken about an increased tempo of defence exercises based on the reciprocal access agreements, the status of forces agreements that we have between our countries or which are being negotiated. We have been very pleased to sign the research, development, testing and evaluation arrangement with Japan and with the United States and this arrangement will see much greater collaboration between our countries in relation to defence science and technology. And we've also discussed ways in which our countries can coordinate more in terms of our activities in the Philippines, which is very important as well. As I said, we are four people who have a very close personal relationship which reflects the significance of the relationship between our countries and the determination and commitment that we have as four countries to upholding the global rules‑based order within our region and Australia has been very pleased to be able to participate in today's meetings. 

Finally, can I just say, the United States Indo‑Pacific Command is profoundly important to the national security of Australia, but also the countries of the region. And I want to take this opportunity to thank Admiral Chris Aquilino for his service in this command during his tenure of office. He is a dear friend of Australia and we wish him very much the best for his future. In the same breath, I'd also like to say how much we are looking forward to Admiral Sam Paparo taking up his role as the Commander of Indo‑Pacific Command. I've had the opportunity to get to know Admiral Paparo over the last few years and I know that this command could not be in a safer or better pair of hands. And so with that, we wish both men all the best for the handover tomorrow.

JAPANESE MINISTER OF DEFENSE, KIHARA MINORU: First and foremost, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Secretary Austin, DPM Marles, Secretary Teodoro and everyone involved for your effort to realise this meeting. While the security environment surround us is facing even harsher challenges, it is extremely vital for us allies and likeminded countries to cooperate and collaborate with each other. In order to maintain and bolster peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region under such circumstances, it is extremely significant that we are able to hold a second meeting of the US-Australia-Japan and Philippine defence ministries’ meeting. Furthermore, to be able to hold the first joint press conference on the four nations, we stand by together with all the nations who share common vision of the free and open Indo-Pacific which is the foundation of the peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region. Japan considers it is most important to maintain and bolster free and open international order based on the rule of law. I expressed and explained the East China Sea situation in the meeting, as well as also issues around the South China Sea is the valid interest matters of the international society, including the four nations which is directly related to the peace and stability of the region. We stand united to strongly oppose any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo of the South China Sea by force or any activity to heighten the tension in the region. Last month, we had a joint exercise with US, Australia, Philippines and Japan in the South China Sea. This was the first joint Maritime Cooperative Activities – MCA – by the four nations to strengthen regional cooperation, to realise free and open Indo-Pacific. And at that opportunity, the four ministers who are present today issued a joint statement demonstrating that the solidarity of our four nations to the international society we would like to continue to pursue the further opportunities of co-operations. Currently, we are under negotiation to reach RAA – Reciprocal Access Agreement with the Philippines. The early settlement of this negotiation will further activate and vitalize the bilateral joint exercise and training of the Philippines and Japan military units and expected to contribute to the reinforcement of the cooperation among the four nations. Japan is determined to further strengthen the cooperation of the four nations and will make all possible efforts to secure peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. Thank you.

PHILIPPINES SECRETARY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE, GILBERT TEODORO: Thank you very much Secretary Austin, Deputy Prime Minister Marles, Minister Kihara. Thank you once again to Secretary Austin for hosting this historic meeting today. It comes after the trilateral meeting between our heads of state in Washington DC and in our case, the visits of President Ferdinand Marcos to Australia, Japan and the United States. The underlying principle of this meeting is a shared respect for a rules‑based international order and the upholding of international law. And it is safe to say that four countries, four independent countries, voicing the same message means an important thing in the face of a unilateral declaration by a single theatre actor. And this is what perhaps the symbolic suggestion of four defence ministry and department heads are here today. And in this spirit of upholding a rules‑based international order, a free and open Indo-Pacific and upholding international law, we meet here once again today in the latest iteration of our four countries’ multilateral cooperation. We are gratified to see that the Philippines role at the forefront of severe challenges to its territorial rights, challenging the accepted norms of international law, are accepted by likeminded nations. We welcome their partnership and cooperation, not only to protect solely its territorial integrity and sovereignty, but to uphold, once again let me reiterate, principles of international law which guide the global order in the proper way that nations should live amongst each other. On a more concrete note, this latest iteration will give birth to further cooperation and coordination and interoperability between four of our countries, which the four of us have committed to work closer together in order to have more synergies and partnerships in order to make this alliance that we have stronger and more sustainable in the long run. Also, we look forward to concluding a Reciprocal Access Agreement between Japan and the Philippines so that our interoperability, quadrilaterally, can be in a more complete manner– can be enforced in a more complete manner. Lastly, we thank Admiral Aquilino of INDOPACOM for his service to the region and we welcome working with Admiral Sam Paparo. Once again, thank you Secretary Austin for hosting us and we look forward to more fruitful outcomes in the future as we work closer together, not only in terms of our departments, but in true people-to-people understandings and exchanges. Thank you. 

MODERATOR: Thank you all, gentleman. Our first question will come from Phil Stewart, Reuters.

JOURNALIST: Secretary Austin, on Gaza, do you have any credible information that Hamas hopes to target US troops building and eventually operating the pier off Gaza. And a question on the US and Philippines; to Secretary Teodoro, given recent clashes with China in the Second Thomas Shoal, do you believe it’s increasingly likely that you will need to invoke a mutual defence treaty? And what kind of US response would you like to see if a Filipino service member is killed? And to clarify, Secretary Austin, to confirm President Marcos referring to your comments said it would take the death of a Filipino service member to invoke the treaty. Is that correct that you feel that way and what makes that threshold the right one? 

SECRETARY AUSTIN: Thanks Phil. A number of questions in there so I’ll try to work my way through them. But first, I think the first question was regarding any credible information that we have that Hamas is going to attack our troops. Of course, I don't discuss intelligence information that at the podium, but I don't see any indications, currently, that there is an active intent to do that. Having said that, Phil, this is a combat zone and a number of things can happen, a number of things will happen and the safety and security of our troops is very important to me. And so, the chairman and I have worked through, have talked with the combatant commander, General Kurilla, a number of times on what measures he's putting in place, he personally is putting in place, to ensure that our troops are protected. And so, I think he's done a credible job of making sure that he has the right means in place. Our allies are also providing security in that area as well. And so it's going to require that we continue to coordinate with them very closely to ensure that, you know, if anything happens that our troops are protected. 

The second question, I think you asked was regarding our treaty with the Philippines. You know, we've been very clear to everyone, to include Beijing, that kind of behavior that we've seen, where Filipino crews are put in danger, where sailors have been injured and property damaged, that's irresponsible behavior and it disregards international law. So I won't get into any hypotheticals on what could happen and how it could happen. I would just say that you've heard me say, you've heard our President say a number of times that our commitment to the treaty is ironclad and we stand with the Philippines. And finally, let me just say that as all of us have said, we're doing historic work with the Philippines and helping them modernise their military. And it's exciting work and we look forward to continuing to make progress. Today's discussions just highlighted the kinds of things that we need to focus on, we are focusing on, types of exercises and operations we're going to do to ensure that we increase interoperability. So it's been a very fruitful day from that standpoint.

SECRETARY TEODORO: I would like to echo words of Admiral Aquilino that it would really be counterproductive to delve into hypotheticals. And I for one as Defence Secretary would like to steer away the discussion from a scenario where or in what occasions the MDT [Mutual Defense Treaty] may be invoked when our jobs are secretaries is make sure that there are no situations – through capability building, through deterrence – that an MDT situation would arise. And so we are very conscious of the fact that we need to assert our rights, but in a manner that safeguards the safety of each and every member of the Philippine Armed Force, which is the principal actor in the area. And the talk about MDT sometimes also is exploited in the international press and used sometimes as a boogeyman, in order for our countries, bilaterally and multilaterally, to go forward with legitimate hardening measures for the Republic of the Philippines. So I would stay away from theoretical and hypothetical thoughts on the MDT because to me, these are counterproductive. It is an agreement and it will be a political decision at the end of the day of both, principally the Philippine government, when to invoke it and I will leave it at that. 

MODERATOR: Our next question will go to Nobuhiko Tajima, Asahi Shimbun. 

JOURNALIST: My name is Tajima from Asahi Shimbun. I would like to ask all of you sirs: this is the first time that the Secretary and the ministers of defence of the four countries gathered together to make an appearance for the press conference. Standing side by side to hold this press conference like this, what kind of message could you send to China?

SECRETARY AUSTIN: Is this for all of us? Okay, I'll start. First and foremost, we're here today because we share a common vision and that vision is a free and open Indo‑Pacific. And we believe that our continued work together, and we’ll continue to promote activities that will help lead to the accomplishment of that vision. And you just heard us talk about some of the work that we're doing together. And I think, I think that kind of work will advance, again, our efforts to achieve the objective. Now, having said that, we're clear eyed about the challenges that exist throughout the region and so we'll need to continue to work together to increase interoperability, to make sure that we share– information share intelligence and, again, I think that's the way that you that you promote security and stability. But that's why we're here, because we share a common vision.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES: Thank you. Well, in standing here, I think we reflect the determination to work as closely as we can together to pursue our objectives. And those objectives are around what each of these four countries stands for on their own and what we stand for together and that is, as Secretary Austin has just said, a free and open Indo‑Pacific. It is the maintenance of the global rules‑based order within our region. And we do that as four democracies which have shared values. So that we stand here today is actually about us. That is what we are giving expression to in this moment. And I'd make the observation that in standing for a free and open Indo‑Pacific, in standing for the expression of the global rules‑based order in our region, we are standing for what has underpinned prosperity and security within the Indo‑Pacific for decades, which has seen this region of the world experience enormous economic growth and, in many ways, be the powerhouse of the global economy and has literally seen millions of people raised out of poverty. That's what this is about. This is first and foremost about what each of us stand for collectively, it is about the way in which we work together and it is about the assertion of the global rules‑based order.

MINISTER KIHARA: [no translation] press conference today we expressed concerns regarding the situation in the East and South China Sea. However, the statement is not directed towards any specific or particular nation, it is towards the nations which are trying to change the status quo by force. Based on that, it is urgent that we strengthen cooperation and interoperability with allies and like-minded countries in order to maintain peace and stability in the Indo‑Pacific. At the last trilateral meeting, we were able to agree to promote cooperation and also interoperability in the area of defence and peacekeeping and security, and not too far out from the US-Philippine-Japan Summit, this time we were able to hold this defence ministers and secretaries meeting and also hold this joint press conference today. And I would like to continue sending messages throughout the world that us – four nations and governments gathered together here today – will be hand in hand to continue making efforts to the realisation of an open Indo‑Pacific region as well as realising, keeping order based on abiding by the rules.

SECRETARY TEODORO: [inaudible] have a common understanding of generally accepted principles of international law, UNCLOS, and the need for a global and open Indo‑Pacific. And this common understanding includes the interpretation of these bodies of law, which are commonly accepted against unilateral appropriations of singular interpretations for the benefit of any one country. For the Philippines, this is particularly important being a small, archipelagic nation where our integrity as an archipelagic country, and as a political and legal [inaudible], depend on the world's acknowledgement of its baselines under international law. And this is not only a question of legal or political importance, but being a country with a growing population with climate change challenges, this is essential for its sustainability and for the sustenance of our future generations. So generally, we are fighting today for the betterment of future generations of Filipinos. And that is the fight for us, which we appreciate, because it falls under the context of a rules‑based international order that the three countries are supporting us in our common quest for already commonly understood definitions of international law, particularly in the maritime domain. This is the message that I interpret this meeting to be. 

JOURNALIST: One more question I would like to ask. For Japan, which is increasing the defence capability, how do you evaluate its effort? And please tell us what you expect you have with Japan in the framework of these four nations. Also, we have another question for Minister Kihara, we understand that the very first Maritime Cooperative Activity for US, Australia, Philippines and Japan and we also understand there'll be more MCAs or more frequent MCAs. With our Constitution, what would you think that you can– what you can do and what type of activities you can do?

SECRETARY AUSTIN: [inaudible] efforts to defend, efforts to increase its defence capability. And I'll let Minister Kihara speak to how they're doing and what they're doing. What I will say is that Japan is a very important ally to us. It is a very capable country, a proud democracy. And we have often described Japan as– our relationship with Japan as a cornerstone to our efforts in the region, and certainly leads to, or contributes to greater security and stability in the region. So we're going to continue to do everything that we can to help Japan achieve its goals and objectives. You know, they're looking to further modernise their force, do some things to restructure their command and control, invest in new capabilities. And we're going to help any way we can, every step of the way. And you saw from the recent summit conducted in Washington, we announced a number of defence initiatives that I think are going to ensure that we're working together with Japan to continue to build real credible capability as far as their defence is concerned.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES: As I said at the outset, we have never been closer to Japan than we are right now, in terms of the way in which we cooperate on our collective security. We have a Reciprocal Access Agreement in place which is a step change in the way in which we engage with each other in respect of defence. And that last year, for example, saw us operate F-35s in both of our countries, together. And so we welcome an increase in Japan's defence capabilities. We welcome it because we see Japan as a close partner with us, but with America with the Philippines, in contributing to the collective security of the region in which we all live. And from Australia's point of view, we take the position now that the defence of Australia doesn't mean much unless we see the collective security of the region in which we live. And so when we look at Japan making its commitments to increase its capability and working closely with us in providing for the collective security of the region, that is a very good thing.

SECRETARY TEODORO: Japan has been a traditional industrial, commercial, and tourism partner of the Philippines for some time now. So it is a logical facet of our bilateral relations that we welcome the increase in defence capabilities, particularly in the technological field of Japan, of which the Philippines can be a partner or a recipient of. Now for the collective regional question, we welcome the additional capabilities of Japan because as we said, they are important in our scheme of things, particularly in this quadrilateral summit in enforcing regional peace in the area. And we look forward to Japan's increasing role, not only bilaterally with the signing of our Reciprocal Access Agreement, but all the resultant benefits that this and other multilateral initiatives will bring to the region.

MINISTER KIHARA: Well, that was my question too, about our contribution to our role in the framework, correct. Okay. Last month, our four nations had the joint exercise and today we released a joint statement by the four secretaries and ministries who are standing here today. The MCA by our four countries is an effort that strengthens international cooperation and represents our stance that we support and respect of maritime rights under the international laws, such as freedom of maritime activity, in order to achieve realisation of a free and open Indo-Pacific. And in terms of what type of activities that Japan Self Defense Force will or may participate in MCA will be considered and determined individually and specifically for each activity. In any case, I would work on deepening our commonality in our common tasks and personal pursuit to have more opportunities of cooperation by four nations and including MCA. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. Our last question. We'll go to Haley Britzky, CNN.

JOURNALIST: Thank you so much. Question for you, Mr Secretary. And then for you as well, Minister Marles. Secretary Austin, you've said that you've not yet seen a detailed plan from Israel that takes into account moving civilians from harm in Rafah before an offensive operation. What consequences would Israel face from the US if they moved on this operation without appropriately taking into account other civilians in the area? And secondly, on Niger, it was reporting today that Russian troops have moved into an airbase that are housing US forces. Are you concerned about the proximity of Russian and US forces? And what is your message to other countries on the continent who may be eyeing expanding their relationship with Russia? And for you, Minister Marles, Australia announced recently another $100 million in aid to Ukraine. After your recent visit to Ukraine, do you believe that that's enough? And would Australia be prepared to provide more support, particularly in air defences?

SECRETARY AUSTIN: Thanks Haley. In terms of consequences, I won't speculate on what could happen, what should happen. That'll be determined by the President, if we reach a point that something like that needs to happen. But what we've asked, what we've highlighted for the Israelis is that it's really important to make sure that the civilians that are in that battle space move out of the battle space before any activity is conducted. And if and when they return to any kind of an operation that it'd be conducted in a much more precise fashion. They have not yet moved the civilians out of the battlespace, Haley, as you know there are some 275,000 or so people that were living in and around Rafah before the conflict started. Now there's 1.4 million or so people that are there. And that's a lot of people in a very small space. And, again, if it's a good chance that, you know, without taking the right measures, that civilians will be– we will see a lot more civilian casualties going forward. So, before anything happens, we certainly want to see them address that threat to the civilians. And again, we would, we would ask that things be sequenced. But you know, right now, the conditions are not favorable to any kind of operation. And we've been clear about that. You know, it's necessary to take care of the civilians– the fleeing population that's in that area before anything else happened. In Niger, you asked about Niger and Russians being in the same space that we're in in Niger. I think, you know, that Airbase 101 where our forces is, is a Nigerian Air Force base that is co-located with an international airport and a capital city. The Russians are in a separate compound and don't have access to US forces or access to our equipment. And this is something that, you know, again, I'm always focused on the safety and the protection of our troops, something that we'll continue to watch. But right now, I don't see, I don't see a significant issue here in terms of our force protection.

MARLES: Thanks for the question. I was very pleased and honoured to be able to announce our most recent package in support of Ukraine, which was $100 million. But in announcing that package, it is just the most recent package, there will be more. We've made it clear from the outset that we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes for Ukraine to resolve this conflict on its terms. And we see this as an enduring conflict where we will need to be standing side‑by‑side with Ukraine over the long term so that we'll see future packages, just as there have been previous packages to the one that we announced last week. But we did see that this was a particularly precarious moment for Ukraine. And so we felt that it was important on this occasion, in announcing the package to do so in Ukraine and as I say, I feel very privileged and honoured to be able to make this announcement in Ukraine itself. Integrated air missile defence was a key priority for Ukraine in the conversations that we've had with the Ukrainian government. It formed about half the package that we announced and we will continue to work with the Ukrainian government going forward about what their priorities are, and where our support can be best placed.

MODERATOR:  Ministers, Secretaries, thank you very much gentleman for your time today. This concludes our press briefing today.

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