The United States and Australia share a deep and enduring bond, forged by common values and decades of shared sacrifice, having fought together in every major conflict since World War I, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.
Esper spoke after today's 2020 Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations at the State Department, in which he and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo met with their respective Australian counterparts: Defense Minister Linda Reynolds and Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
The alliance between the nations remains strong and resilient and is vital to stability, security and prosperity around the globe, Esper said during a news conference.
"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," he said.
Esper said a range of issues was discussed, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and security in the South China Sea as well as in other areas.
He said China's destabilizing activities and its increasing coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives at the expense of other nations were also discussed.
China is also seeking a less conspicuous means of extending its influence through state-sponsored technology dominance, Esper said. "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 defense relationship." In June, the Federal Communications Commission designated the Chinese telecommunications firms as a security threat.
The U.S. seeks a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, he said, "but we will stand firm in upholding the international, rules-based order."
Esper also thanked Australia for supporting the U.S. Marine rotational forces at Darwin, Australia. "Our significant presence there enables excellent combined training, with appropriate COVID-19 preventive measures in place,” he said.
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, with more exercises to follow. Besides the excellent combined training to increase proficiency and interoperability, Esper said, such exercises "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."
Reynolds, the Australian defense minister, noted that she and Esper signed a statement of principles on alliance defense cooperation and force posture priorities in the Indo-Pacific. She said the statement will drive defense cooperation over the next decade and deter malign behavior.
"Now, more than ever, we must put a premium on ensuring the alliance continues to benefit both our nations' interests," she said. The shared vision of both nations, she added, is a region that is secure, open and also prosperous.
Australia also has agreed to further deepen its defense science and technology and industrial cooperation with the United States, she said, to include hypersonics, electronic warfare and space-based capabilities.