Pompeo Calls for US, Australia to Present United Front to China

SYDNEY—The U.S.-Australia
alliance is “more vital than ever,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said,
calling on greater cooperation between the two countries to deal with a new era
of security challenges as China seeks to extend its influence in the Indo-Pacific
region.

Speaking Sunday in Sydney,
Pompeo condemned China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and unfair
trade practices, painting these contemporary tensions as a generational test
for the “unbreakable” U.S.-Australia alliance. 

“I want Australians to know
they can always rely on the United States of America,” Pompeo said, adding that
the U.S. is “here to stay” as a Pacific power.

Drawing parallels with the
two countries’ shared history of fighting side-by-side in both world wars and
the Cold War, Pompeo added: “Neither of our two countries have ever stepped
away from responsibilities, even if those responsibilities required years and
years of hard work and determined effort.”

Pompeo spoke to reporters following the annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations defense summit in Sydney, where he was joined by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper for talks with Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second from left, was joined by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper for talks on Sunday in Sydney with Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne (second from right) and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds (right). (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

The American side didn’t
mince words, striking a notably hard line regarding China. 

“We firmly believe no one
nation can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific,” Esper, who officially assumed
the office July 23, said. “We stand firmly against a distribution pattern of
aggressive behavior, destabilizing behavior, from China. The U.S. will not
stand by idly while any one nation attempts to reshape the region to its favor
at the expense of others.”

Sunday’s meeting occurred
amid the backdrop of a worsening trade dispute between the U.S. and
China. 

On Thursday, President
Donald Trump announced a new round of 10% tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods, supplementing
25% tariffs already in place on $250 billion of Chinese imports. 

Speaking at a separate
event Sunday at the State Library of New South Wales in central Sydney, Pompeo
singled out Beijing’s predatory lending practices, which he said often saddle
smaller nations with crippling debt for the sake of “political control.” 

The secretary of state also
drew a direct link between China’s economic boom and its expanding military
footprint across the Indo-Pacific. 

“I’ll hear folks talk
about trade and economic issues as separate from national security,” Pompeo
added. “Let’s make no mistake about it, China’s capacity, the People’s Liberation
Army’s capacity to do exactly what they’re doing is a direct result of trade
relationships that they built.”

Pompeo went on to praise
Australia for its proactive opposition to China’s 5G networks—a lingering bone
of contention with some European allies—as well as Australia’s efforts to
thwart covert Chinese disinformation campaigns and electoral interference.

On
Monday, the U.S. labeled China a currency manipulator, further ratcheting up
trade tensions.

Balancing
Act

China has had a recent
spate of maritime confrontations with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South
China Sea, ratcheting up an ongoing dispute over freedom of navigation in that
body of water after Beijing began transforming natural atolls into military
outposts. 

However, China’s expanding military footprint in
Southeast Asia is not limited to the South China Sea. Recent news reports claimed Cambodia was harboring a secret
Chinese base on its soil. Also, Chinese and Russian warplanes recently conducted
a joint air operation over the Sea of Japan. 

South Korean fighters
reportedly fired 360 warning shots to turn back a Russian surveillance aircraft
after it allegedly violated South Korean airspace. The incident spurred many
experts to speculate whether a new Sino-Russian military bonhomie was on the
rise in Asia.

According
to a joint U.S.-Australian statement issued during the Australia-U.S.
Ministerial Consultations, the two sides “expressed concern about the potential
establishment of new military bases that could undermine stability and
sovereignty in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The
U.S. and Australia already are linked by a 1951 alliance known as ANZUS, the
Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty. That treaty’s mutual
defense pledge was invoked for the first time in 2001, following the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks.

Today,
the Australian government generally sees a beefed-up U.S. military presence in
the region as a hedge against China’s expanding footprint. 

U.S.
Marines have maintained a rotational force based outside Darwin, in northern
Australia, since 2012. Recently, the size of that force increased to 2,500
Marines, underscoring America’s long-term commitment to safeguarding the
region, according to Pentagon officials. 

Australia
is also the largest foreign purchaser of the U.S.-built F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter.

“The days of Australia as a ‘middle power’ are coming to an end,” Pompeo said. “That’s a good thing for the region, and the world.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne arrive at New South Wales State Parliament Aug. 4, 2019, in Sydney. (Photo: Rick Rycroft-Pool/Getty Images)

Yet, some Australian
officials and defense experts are asking whether the U.S. has designs on
deploying missiles on Australian soil with the capacity to strike mainland
China. That move would make Australia a more vulnerable military target, some
say.

With its withdrawal last
week from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the U.S. has floated
the possibility of deploying ground-based,
medium-range missiles to the Indo-Pacific region—part of a broader effort to
push back against China’s rising military footprint in the region.

“We are a consistent
partner with our friends in the United States … but we’ll always make our own
decisions in Australia’s national interest,” said Payne, Australia’s foreign
affairs minister, during a QA with Pompeo following his speech at the State
Library.

On Sunday, neither Pompeo
nor Esper ruled out the possibility of U.S. missiles in Australia. However,
Pompeo affirmed the sovereign right of any nation to make its own decisions
regarding U.S. requests to deploy military forces or hardware on its soil.

“It is, of course, the case
that when we deploy these systems around the world with our friends and allies
we do so with their consent,” Pompeo said.

China remains Australia’s
top trading partner, raising
concerns from some quarters about the economic consequences of a falling out
with Beijing. 

Pompeo, for his part, urged
Australians to look past China’s economic sway and remain committed to U.S.-led
efforts to push back against Beijing on other fronts.

“Look, you can sell your
soul for a pot of soybeans, or you can protect your people,” Pompeo said.

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