- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday lashed out at the Chinese government for threatening an economic boycott of Australia as a means to sow discord with the United States, as senior U.S. and Australian officials met in Washington to discuss rising tensions in the region.

Australia has been a particular focus of Chinese pressure in recent years, and the government of conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new national defense strategy calling for more military spending in a thinly disguised response to Chinese assertiveness toward its neighbors.

Speaking after the day’s discussions were concluded, Mr. Pompeo told reporters the U.S. and Australia share an “unbreakable alliance” based on shared values.

“This isn’t about picking America vs. China. This is about choosing freedom and democracy against tyranny and an authoritarian regime,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“We stand with our Australian friends,” Mr. Pompeo said.

China, Australia’s biggest trading partner and export market, has expressed open unhappiness with recent moves by Canberra, including blocking Chinese high-tech giant Huawei from its national 5G information network, challenging Beijing’s aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea, and spearheading the move into an international investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

While Mr. Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper both frequently condemned “malign activities” from the Chinese Communist Party, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for Defense Linda Reynolds were more circumspect.

“These are difficult times for all of us,” Ms. Payne said. “Australia and the United States’ strong and enduring relationship is built on our shared values.”

The U.S.-Australian consultations were considered so important that both Australian officials opted to forgo an online conference in favor of face-to-face meetings. The ministers and their staff members will go into two-week quarantine when they return to Australia.

“COVID-19 has without a doubt exacerbated the security challenges in our region,” Ms. Payne said. “It is essential the alliance responds to COVID-19 and the economic and security challenges.”

Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. supports Australia’s decision to suspend its extradition treaty with China and extend visa opportunities for Hong Kong residents.

“Some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracies,” Ms. Payne said. “The role of multilateral institutions is more important now than ever in supporting our values and our strategic objectives.”

The United States is seeking a “constructive, results-oriented relationship” with the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Esper said, but will stand firm in upholding the international rules-based order.

“We applaud Australia for pushing back against the [China’s] brazen economic threats and coercive behavior,” Mr. Esper said.

Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said she and Mr. Esper signed a statement of cooperation that will guide the Australian-U.S. defense relationship in the Indo-Pacific for a decade. She said the U.S. will fund a strategic military fuel reserve in Darwin in northern Australia. The two countries agreed to increase cooperation in defense technology, such as hypersonic weapons and space-based capabilities.

“This will ensure the alliance maintains its capability edge in a rapidly modernizing environment,” Ms. Reynolds said. “Our alliance is in great shape, but we cannot ever take it for granted.”

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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