Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at US-Australia meet in Washington | @SecPompeo | Twitter
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at US-Australia meet in Washington | @SecPompeo | Twitter
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Washington: The US and Australia have reaffirmed their commitment to Quad consultations with India and Japan, stressing that they are working side-by-side with other partners to maintain a secure, prosperous and rules-based Indo-Pacific, amidst China flexing its muscles in the region.

The top ministers from the two countries on Tuesday reaffirmed that the Indo-Pacific is the focus of the alliance and that the US and Australia are working side-by-side, including with ASEAN, India, Japan, South Korea, and Five Eyes partners, to strengthen their networked structure of alliances and partnerships to maintain a region that is secure, prosperous, inclusive and rules-based.

Quad or quadrilateral coalition represents four countries – India, Japan, Australia and the US. It was set up with an aim to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and check China’s increasing efforts to expand military influence in the region.

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, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a joint news conference.

Pompeo was accompanied by US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.

The leaders committed to continue to work together with Indo-Pacific partner countries to mitigate any impacts of COVID-19 on exacerbating the regional terrorist threat and to support regional counter-terrorism partner countries in addressing these threats, including any potential movement of foreign terrorist fighters within the region.

Pompeo commended Australia for publicly condemning China’s disinformation campaign and insisting on an independent review into the origin of the coronavirus.

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Pompeo said he talked at length at the meeting about the Chinese Communist Party’s malign activity in the Indo-Pacific region, and indeed all around the world.

“The United States commends the (Scott) 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, Pompeo said.

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

In a joint statement issued after the Australia-US Ministerial Consultations, the two countries affirmed that China 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).

China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory. It has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

They noted that the 2016 Arbitral Award is final and binding on both parties and emphasised 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, the statement said.

They welcomed the recent ASEAN Leaders statement that a South China Sea Code of Conduct should be consistent with UNCLOS, and emphasised 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 militarisation of disputed features, the statement said.

Payne said Australia and the US 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.

The rules-based global order is a constant, notwithstanding or perhaps even more so given the impact of the pandemic. We reiterate 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, he said.

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, Esper said.

During the meeting, they 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, the statement said.

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, Esper said.

Also read: With desire for ‘higher gear’ and ‘new age of ambition’, India-US embrace becomes tighter


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