On July 24, 2018, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defense Minister Marise Payne in Palo Alto, California for the 2018 Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN).
In the press conference that followed, all officials emphasized their appreciation for the amicable relationship Australia and the United States share, and expressed a strong commitment to its continuance. Secretary Pompeo acknowledged Australia as “one of [the United States’] best friends and strongest allies,” and alluded to the first AUSMIN dialogue in 1985, when Secretary of State George Shultz and Admiral William Crowe traveled to Canberra under the Reagan Administration. Secretary Pompeo also reiterated the American commitment to the 1951 ANZUS Treaty, which officially allied the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Minister Bishop conveyed similar sentiment, confirming the “strength and steadfastness” of the relationship. Secretary Mattis and Minster Payne showed gratitude for the 100 years of “Mateship” currently being celebrated by both countries, and expressed optimism for the sustained security partnership.
Among the topics discussed during the meetings, the alignment of strategic priorities in the Indo-Pacific was the keystone. Secretary Mattis stated that the United States and Australia share a common strategic goal in ensuring a “free, open, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.” Minister Bishop mentioned that the officials discussed ways to work constructively with the other countries in the region, including the ASEAN member states, China, Japan, India, and the Pacific Island nations. Minister Payne explained that Australia and the United States would cooperate in strengthening regional security by increasing the regional capacity for response to counterterrorism, humanitarian disasters, and maritime security.
On the topic of North Korea, all parties shared the call for a complete and verified denuclearization of the DPRK through enforcement of the UN Security Council-imposed economic sanctions. In response to a question on “expressed concern [regarding] China’s creeping strategic and economic influence,” Secretary Pompeo reemphasized the United States’ commitment to security in the region, stating “the South Pacific, like most places in the world, [understands] the enormity of having an American ally, the enormity of having a country that consistently, over decades, projects the democratic values, the human dignity that comes with having an American partner.”
In order to address these strategic priorities, continued security cooperation was conveyed as crucial. Secretary Mattis and Minister Payne both reported they had signed a cyber memorandum of understanding that would enable both countries to perform extensive research and development in order to advance their abilities to combat cybersecurity threats. Additionally, Secretary Mattis expressed that Australia’s inclusion in the US National Technology and Industrial Base would allow for deeper collaboration on defense industry innovation. Secretary Mattis also announced the Marine Rotational Force in Darwin would reach the agreed-upon number of 2,500 personnel on a timeline set by the Australian government, and commended the enhanced military interoperability through Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). Minister Payne echoed this sentiment by bringing to attention the 1,600 Australian defense personnel currently participating in the US-led international naval exercise.
Beyond the security partnership, Secretary Pompeo and Minister Bishop lauded the constructive economic, industrial, and educational partnership both countries enjoy. Secretary Pompeo celebrated the ongoing bilateral foreign direct investment, technological innovation, and educational exchange, while Minister Bishop stated, “[t]he United States is one of our most important, if not most important, economic partner, given the level of investment that the United States makes in Australia as well as our trading relationship.” Secretary Pompeo announced he would be speaking to the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Washington next week with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in order to articulate a thoroughly successful Indo-Pacific economic relationship. On furthering Australia’s economic relations with the United States, Minister Bishop announced the development of a fact sheet outlining the joint work plan. She concluded her speech by looking forward to AUSMIN 2019, which will be hosted in Australia.
For further information on the Trump Administration’s meetings and interactions with Australian officials and other Asia Pacific government officials, the East-West Center Washington’s special project on the Trump Administration and US-Indo-Pacific relations provides updates on President Trump and his cabinet’s activities.
Joseph Meisburger is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is currently a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Arizona, studying Geography and Urban & Regional Development.