Amid heightened Chinese aggression, Australia and the US reaffirmed their “unwavering commitment” to a free and open Indo-Pacific, saying all countries in the region are “free to choose their own destinies”.
In a joint press conference with Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles Saturday (local time), US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We are deeply concerned by China’s aggressive, escalators, and destabilising military activities in the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific.” Austin held a Trilateral Defence Ministers Meeting (TDMM) with Marles and Japanese Minister of Defence Hamada Yasukazu in Hawaii on Saturday and called out China’s aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We (the US, Japan & Australia) remain focused on maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Austin.
Stressing the importance of the alliance system in the Indo-Pacific region, the US Defence Secretary said, “US and Australia have long-standing ties, trust and friendship. We are both deeply dedicated to freedom and democracy. We also share an unwavering commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. In this region, all countries are free to choose their own destinies, where states respect international law and disputes are resolved peacefully without coercion or intimidation. They are the foundation of our unbreakable alliance.”
Further, the international, rules-based order is based on the idea that nations should respect international laws and resolve disputes peacefully.
“These shared convictions run deep, and they are the foundation of our unbreakable alliance,” said Austin.
“The region and the world face a growing challenge from autocratic countries attempting to change the status quo through threats, coercion and provocative military activities and even naked aggression,” he said.
Austin and Marles discussed the steps needed to enhance deterrence and strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific.
“We talked about enhancing our interoperability and expanding our operations and advancing our on-going posture, force posture initiatives,” said Austin.
Marles said the two leaders talked about ways to deepen defence industrial base cooperation.
They also spoke about Australia, the UK and the US trilateral security pact that will pave the way for Australia to acquire nuclear submarine technology and for the three nations to cooperate on other advanced technologies.
Marles thanked all those involved in working on the pact and said Australia is still on track to announce the way forward on the submarine acquisition process in the first part of 2023.
He said his nation also sees increasingly aggressive Chinese efforts to “seek to shape the world around it in a way that we have not seen before.”
The freedom of navigation in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and around Taiwan is “fundamentally important to Australia’s national interests,” he said.
Both leaders discussed the US Marine Corps rotation to Darwin, Australia, “but we want to look at other ways in which we can build upon American force posture and doing that in cooperation with Australia,” Marles said.
He said at the heart of the meeting is the strategic alignment between the US and Australia. This has always been the case, “but has never been greater than it is right now,” he said.
The US-Australia alliance is one part of the US alliance network.
“Our allies and partners bring significant capability, and — not only in terms of what they bring to the fight, but the access, basing rights — all of those things contribute to our overall effort,” Austin said. “Quite frankly, it’s what our adversaries worry about most — our ability to work together with like-minded partners and allies. That really magnifies our warfighting capability,” Marles said.
Alliances and partnerships are critical to deterrence. “That’s why you’ve seen us work hard to strengthen partnerships and alliances in the region,” he said.
Marles also commented on the importance of alliances. “Our alliance with the United States is completely central to our national security and to our world view, and the alliance has never been more important than it is now,” he said, adding the vast majority of Australians support the treaty with the US.
Marles said the US system of alliances is profoundly essential. “It is the ‘edge,’ and it matters deeply,” he said. “It matters deeply in terms of providing security.”
Following the meeting, Austin invited the deputy prime minister to the Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, submarine docks where they toured the USS Mississippi. The Mississippi is a nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine that’s armed with cruise missiles, according to a US Department of Defence press release.