Australia and US Talk China in Ministers’ Meeting

‘One of the most consequential meetings in decades' . . .

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, joined by other high-ranking Australian officials, met Tuesday with their American counterparts in Washington, D.C. for “one of the most consequential” Australia-US Ministerial Consultation (AUSMIN) meetings in decades. The fact that Australia’s officials will have to go through 14-day quarantine upon their return to Australia reflects the seriousness of the meeting between the two allies. The discussions focused primarily on China, with both countries expressing concerns about a wide range of actions taken by Beijing, most notably its crackdown on Hong Kong and Xinjiang and its activities in the South China Sea.

Strong joint statement . . .

At the end of the meeting, the two countries agreed to expand defence ties and co-ordination, as well as increase co-operation on health and development. More significantly, they also decided to set up a working group to counter false information across the Indo-Pacific region, warning that “state-sponsored malicious disinformation and interference in democratic processes are significant and evolving threats.” China’s embassy in Australia reacted by warning Canberra “to not go further on the road of harming China-Australia relations.”

What’s next for the Australia-US alliance?

While the meeting highlighted the strengthened alliance between Australia and the U.S., it also showed a divergence in their approaches to China. In their respective speeches, for example, the U.S. insisted on referring to “all of China’s sins,” while Australia was more selective, mainly focusing on China’s crackdown on Hong Kong and the New Security Law. Australia has also pledged to increase its defence co-operation with the U.S., especially in the South China Sea, although without committing to join Freedom of Navigation Operations in the disputed region. Australia also made clear that while it shares common ground with the U.S. on many fronts, it has its own positions on China. As the U.S. increasingly seeks support for its approach to China, it is more important than ever for its allies to follow their national interest, a delicate balance Canada is also trying to strike.