Jul 28, 2020
Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper Press Conference Transcript with Australian Counterparts July 28
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper held a July 28 press conference with Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne. Read the full transcript of their press conference here.
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Mike Pompeo: (00:00)
… immediate crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, and longer term challenges like the Chinese communist party’s ambitions. We need to deal with each of these challenges simultaneously.
Mike Pompeo: (00:10)
We are lucky to count Australia as a close partner throughout all of this. When I was in Sydney last August, I recall naming our relationship as the unbreakable alliance. It’s even more true today. We started this morning by talking at length about the Chinese communist party’s malign activity in the Indo- Pacific region, and indeed all around the world. The United States commends the Morrison government for standing up for democratic values and the rule of law despite intense, continued, coercive pressure from the Chinese communist party to bow to Beijing’s wishes. It is unacceptable for Beijing to use exports or student fees as a cudgel against Australia. We stand with our Australian friends.
Mike Pompeo: (00:58)
We also discussed COVID-19 pandemic. The United States commends Australia for publicly condemning Chinese disinformation campaign and insisting on an independent review into this virus’s origin. I also want to applaud your efforts to include Taiwan in the World Health Assembly so that the world might benefit from that vigorous democracy’s wisdom in dealing with the outbreak.
Mike Pompeo: (01:22)
We look forward to working together on our nation’s ongoing economic recovery from this entirely preventable pandemic. Today, we reaffirmed our collective commitment to strengthening supply chains so that they’re resilient against future pandemics, CCP retaliation, and the use of forced labor.
Mike Pompeo: (01:41)
Turning to Hong Kong. Our nations have both denounced the CCP’s violation of its own treaty promises and the crushing of Hong Kong’s people’s freedoms. The U.S. applauds Australia’s decisive response to suspend its extradition agreement, and extend visas for residents of Hong Kong in Australia. We also address the CCP’s attempts to dominate the technology space. We in fact, spent a great deal of time on this issue. Australia was ahead of us in awakening to the threat of untrusted vendors like Huawei and ZTE. We look forward to nations becoming clean countries together.
Mike Pompeo: (02:16)
And finally, we’ll keep working with our Australian partners to reassert the rule of law in the South China Sea, which the United States and Australia have both underscored in recent important statements. I’ll let Secretary Esper address more about our military cooperation, both there and elsewhere. Ministers, as I said just last week at the Nixon Library, the burden Australia has undertaken to uphold democratic values is not yours to bear alone. The United States knows the threats that you and the rest of the free world face, and the United States stands with you in our unbreakable alliance. Thank you again for being here today. Minister Payne.
Minister Payne: (02:56)
Thank you very much, Mike, and to our secretary colleagues, Mike Pompeo, and Mark Esper, it is a great pleasure to be here today. Both the minister Linda Reynolds and I are very pleased that AUSMIN was able to take place in person today. We know that we’re living in a very constrained set of circumstances so we particularly appreciate the effort made by the United States to host us here, by the teams who have put together an AUSMIN in these constrained circumstances. And I want to thank all of those involved. I want to thank ambassador Arthur Sinodinos and his team, acknowledge ambassador A.B. Culvahouse, who’s also made the trip from Canberra, and our secretaries, Frances Adamson and Greg Moriarty, and the Chief of the Australian Defense Force, general Angus Campbell.
Minister Payne: (03:49)
This year marks 80 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and the United States. This is the 30th AUSMIN talks, and indeed as a Mike referred to it, is my fifth in two incarnations at least.
Minister Payne: (04:11)
It’s hard to believe that it’s a year since we were in Sydney because so much has happened in the last 12 months. And I want to particularly convey my condolences, my sympathies, to those amongst the American people who have lost loved ones, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are difficult times for all of us. As both Secretary Pompeo and I have said at various times, Australia and the United States’ strong and enduring relationship is built on our shared values. It’s built on our resolute belief in the rule of law, our respect for human rights, our promotion of gender equality, our protection of freedoms of religion and belief. It’s built on the fact that we are both strong liberal democracies that cherish freedom of expression and diversity of opinion. And it’s built on our confidence in making decisions in our interests.
Minister Payne: (05:10)
At AUSMIN today, we discussed and reached agreement on a wide range of issues. We agreed it’s essential that the alliance remains well positioned to respond to both the immediate impacts of COVID-19, as well as the longer term economic and security challenges that have emerged not just in the past six months, but in recent years.
Minister Payne: (05:32)
Australia in the United States are deeply committed to strengthening health security efforts in the Indo-Pacific to help states combat COVID-19, and to prevent the emergence of future pandemics. So I’m pleased that as part of our talks today, we have agreed to expand cooperation under our health security partnership to explore opportunities to prevent and respond, to detect and respond to infectious disease threats, including ensuring access to vital vaccines.
Minister Payne: (05:59)
COVID- 19 has without doubt exacerbated the security challenges in our region. Some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy. The role of multilateral institutions is more important now than ever in supporting our values and our strategic objectives as the world responds to the health and economic challenges of COVID-19. We’re therefore pleased also to be able to announce a new working group between Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United States’ Department of State to monitor and respond to harmful disinformation. The rules-based global order is a constant notwithstanding or perhaps even more so, given the impact of the pandemic. We reiterated our commitment to holding states to account when they breach international norms and laws, as we have done and will continue to do so in relation to China’s erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong.
Minister Payne: (07:02)
We also recognize the importance of international leadership and cooperation, which for both of us involves helping other countries through the COVID-19 crisis. We will step up and ensure that we support our mates further afield. That means working together to strengthen the capacity of states in our region to recover economically from COVID-19, including by supporting infrastructure development. Our work together, for example, along with the government of Palau and other partners, including Japan on the Palau marine cable to provide fast and affordable internet to our Pacific neighbor is a really good example of this. And I’m glad we’ve been able to progress our discussions on these today.
Minister Payne: (07:43)
We will use the Australian/U.S. alliance as the basis to deepen our friendship with others. We already do. We work more closely with existing partnerships, such as the Five Eyes, the ASEAN, the Quad, the Trilateral Infrastructure Partnership, the East Asia Summit. And, as we have through COVID-19, we will build new groupings, cementing friend…
Minister Payne: (08:03)
… 19, we will build new groupings, cementing friendships, improving our security through a network of nations that share our vision of an open, prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific. I’m very proud to be here this week. I’m very proud that the enduring Australia-US Alliance will be at the very heart of this vision. Mike, thank you and Mark again for your hospitality.
Secretary Esper: (08:28)
Well, thank you, Minister Payne and Minister Reynolds, Maurice, Linda, for coming all this way to be here in person, particularly in the time of COVID. Your presence reflects the strength of the US-Australia Alliance and signifies our ever increasing convergence on the most important strategic issues of our time.
Secretary Esper: (08:47)
The United States and Australia share a deep and enduring bond, united by common values and forged through decades of shared sacrifice. Having fought shoulder to shoulder in every major conflict since World War I. Today, our Alliance remains strong and resilient and is vital to stability, to security and prosperity around the globe. And in the United States priority theater, the Indo-Pacific. 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.
Secretary Esper: (09:35)
Today, we discussed a range of issues regarding the future of the region, including the impact of the global pandemic, as well as the security situation in the South China Sea specifically and the Indo-Pacific more generally. We appreciate Australia’s significant contributions to COVID-19 response efforts. And we spoke in detail about the Chinese communist party’s destabilizing activities, and the fact that Beijing is increasingly resorting to coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives at the expense of other nations.
Secretary Esper: (10:10)
The United States seeks a constructive, results-oriented relationship with the PRC, but we will stand firm in upholding the international rules based order. And we applaud Australia for pushing back against the CCP’s brazen economic threats and coercive behavior and increasing risk of retaliation. We also discussed the PRC’s less conspicuous means of extending its influence through state-sponsored tech dominance. And 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.
Secretary Esper: (10:52)
In this regard, I want to thank Australia for its continued support of the Marine rotational force at Darwin. Our significant presence there enables excellent combined training between the US and Australian troops. And this year’s rotation is an important example of how we can meet our strategic interests as an Alliance while adapting to health concerns posed by the coronavirus. We owe it to our partners to make sure that we deploy responsibly, as I assured minister Reynolds of our preventative measures.
Secretary Esper: (11:22)
Additionally, 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, ahead of the upcoming RIMPAC exercise in Hawaii. These exercises not only bolster interoperability, but also 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.
Secretary Esper: (11:55)
Amid these challenging and uncertain times, the US-Australia Alliance remains a powerful force for stability and prosperity in our region and the world. And we thank you once again, Minister Payne and Minister Reynolds, for your participation here today. Thank you.
Minister Payne: (12:10)
Well, thank you very much, Secretary Esper, to Mark and to both of you, Mike, thank you very much for your hospitality and also for the very productive discussions that we’ve had today. I’m delighted that we’re able to come here in person because there really is no substitute for face-to-face meetings that we’ve had here today. Since its beginning, AUSMIN has steered our Alliance through a rapidly changing world, from the Cold War to confronting extremism. And most recently focusing the Alliance activities in the Indo-Pacific.
Minister Payne: (12:43)
But today we are both experiencing a profound change in the geopolitical framework that underpins our security, but also our prosperity. So now more than ever, we must put a premium on ensuring the Alliance continues to serve both our nations’ interests. And today we have done just that focusing to ensure our Alliance corporation is best placed to respond to our shared challenges.
Minister Payne: (13:09)
We’ve agreed an ambitious set of defense outcomes, ones that advance our cooperation in support of our shared vision, a vision for a region that is secure, that is open and that is also prosperous. Secretary Esper and I signed a statement of principles on Alliance defense cooperation, and on force posture priorities in the Indo-Pacific. This builds on our successful force posture cooperation over the past 10 years, and it will drive the next decade of our defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
Minister Payne: (13:41)
It will also strengthen our shared ability to contribute to regional security and to deter maligned behavior in our region. We intend to establish a US funded commercially operated strategic military fuel reserve in Darwin. We agreed to further deepen our defense science technology and also our industrial cooperation. This includes hypersonics, electronic warfare and space-based capabilities. This will ensure the Alliance maintains its capability edge in a rapidly modernizing environment.
Minister Payne: (14:15)
Further reducing barriers to industrial base integration will also strengthen our interoperability and also our shared resilience. When we released Australia’s Defense Strategic Update earlier this month, my prime minister noted that we now face a world that is poorer, that is more dangerous, and that is more disorderly. The Australian government’s $270 billion investment in defense capability over the next decade will build capability, resilience, and further agility for the Australian defense forces. It will also allow Australia to make it strongest contribution to our shared Alliance security interests, right across the Indo-Pacific.
Minister Payne: (14:59)
And today we reaffirmed the importance of working with partners to strengthen sovereignty and also resilience to coercion. Our Alliance is in great shape, but we cannot ever take it for granted. And this is why the substantial outcomes and agreements we have reached today are so important for us both. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (15:24)
Okay. For our first question, let’s go to Nick Schifrin from PBS News Hour.
Nick Schifrin: (15:32)
Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary and Minister Payne, if I could ask you both about China, and Mr. Secretary, a more local question. Mr. Secretary, after your Alliance of Democracy speech, you received some criticism by some people who called it unworkable, especially for European allies. As the Trump administration pursues a confrontational trade policy on Europe and doesn’t criticize other autocrats, including Viktor Orban. How do you work through that? And Minister Payne, another aspect of that speech was the admonition to help the Chinese…
Nick Schifrin: (16:03)
Another aspect of that speech was the admonition to help the Chinese people change the Chinese government. Do you think that is possible and/or wise? Mr. Secretary, if I could quickly, more locally-
Mike Pompeo: (16:12)
Do you want three questions? Yeah. Good try. Just quickly, let me just take your first question to me and then Minister Payne can take the second one.
Mike Pompeo: (16:21)
No, it’s completely workable. As I said, in that same set of remarks, this isn’t about picking America versus China. This is about choosing freedom and democracy against tyranny and authoritarian regime. And I am confident that the democracies of our Transatlantic Alliance, all of those great nations know precisely which side of that debate they want to be on. They know where their people’s interests lie, with freedom and democracy and continued economic prosperity for their people. That doesn’t come from partnering with, or working with authoritarian regimes that threaten them, but rather, working with countries like Australia and America, that value freedom and human rights in the same way that they do. You made a comment about the fact that we’ve not been consistent on human rights. I have a fundamentally different view of that. We’ve been intensely focused on making sure that we stand up for the very values that the United States, and Australia alongside of us, care so deeply about. I gave a set of remarks in Philadelphia now a couple of weeks back that talked about this and put it in sharp focus, and talked about the unalienable rights that matter so much to the world, and we’ll defend them everywhere. And I’m confident that our partners all across Europe and frankly, democratic friends all across the world, whether that’s in India or Japan or South Korea, our Australian partners are here today, understand that the challenge of our times is to make sure that those nations that do value freedom and do want economic prosperity based on the rule of law, will join together to deliver that for our people.
Mike Pompeo: (17:51)
Last thing, you asked a second question, I’m going to take a swing because you mischaracterized again. What I said, go back and look what I said. We need to make sure we’re talking to everyone all across the world. The Chinese, when they come here, they talked to Democrats. They got to go to Capitol Hill and lobby Democrats on Capitol Hill. American diplomats ought to have that same opportunity, so that we can speak to all people that are part of the People’s Republic of China. It seems only appropriate that we do that. It seems quite necessary. Indeed, I would think that the government of Beijing would want that. We encourage there to be freedom of speech, openness, and the capacity to work with elements inside the United States that don’t always agree with the administration. That’s how democracy is. That’s how economic growth takes place. Those kinds of things are the right thing to do. And we’re aiming, through our diplomatic efforts, to make sure that there’s every opportunity for people all across the world to speak to all of the various views that are contained inside of the People’s Republic of China.
Minister Payne: (18:50)
Thanks very much, Mike. And rather than I think make individual comments off the secretary’s speech, the secretary’s speeches are his own. Australia’s positions are our own. And we operate as you would expect, on the basis of our shared values, actually, which are reflected in both the approach of the United States and the approach of Australia.
Minister Payne: (19:12)
But most importantly, from our perspective, we make our own decisions, our own judgments in the Australian national interest, and about upholding our security, our prosperity, and our values. So we deal with China in the same way. We have a strong economic engagement, other engagement, and it works in the interests of both countries. That said, of course, we don’t agree on everything. We are very different countries. We are very different systems. And it’s the points on which we disagree that we should be able to articulate in a mature and sensible way, and advance, as I said, our interests and our values. As my prime minister put it recently, the relationship that we have with China is important, and we have no intention of injuring it. But nor do we intend to do things that are contrary to our interests, and that is the premise from which we begin.
Speaker 2: (20:09)
Next can we go to Sarah Blake from [Newsport 00:20:11]?
Sarah Blake: (20:14)
Thank you. I have a question for both Secretary Pompeo and for Minister Payne. Secretary Pompeo, there are currently dozens of Australian citizens in Syria who are the wives and children of captured Islamic State fighters. Do you think that Australia should bring these people home? And if so, why? And if so, why not?
Mike Pompeo: (20:34)
If you have a question for Minister Payne, [inaudible 00:04:36].
Sarah Blake: (20:37)
Minister Payne, did the question of the ISIS wives and children arise in your talks with Secretary Pompeo, and will Australia bring these people home? And if so, why?
Mike Pompeo: (20:46)
Maybe I’ll let you go first since it’s the same question and they’re Australian people. [inaudible 00:04:50].
Minister Payne: (20:51)
Well, we’ve broadly discussed a number of issues relating to counter terrorism more broadly. And in relation to Syria, it’s important to note that Australia has repatriated some orphans from Syria. But these are very complex challenges, and I don’t think that that should be underestimated. The priority of the Australian government is the protection of Australia and the Australian community. We’re a good international citizen. We don’t shy away from our responsibilities. And those also, of course, include our responsibilities to citizens at home, to our diplomats and officials who would be required to travel into what are very dangerous situations. And as the government has repeatedly said, the prime minister, the minister for home affairs, and I have repeatedly said, we will not put Australian lives at risk to try and to extract people.
Minister Payne: (21:40)
It’s important to note, I think, that COVID-19 has further complicated this picture extensively. We have seen closed borders, significant travel restrictions, significant international travel bans put in place, including of course in Australia itself. Movement in Syria and in the region is now more complex than ever. And at home, we see our states and territories very stretched, as an understatement in some cases, because of the impact of COVID-19 infections.
Minister Payne: (22:11)
So any assessment of the sorts of resources that would be needed to reintegrate, to monitor, to secure, to deradicalize people who are brought home, are under significantly more pressure than they usually would be. And we will not put our communities at home at risk, nor our officials abroad to extract people from Syria under current conditions. We will always take a case by case approach to returns of individuals. But at this point in time, it’s an extremely complex situation, and that remains the government’s position.
Mike Pompeo: (22:44)
And we’ve made very clear our expectation is that the places that these fighters are being detained may not be sustainable, and that we need to work with each host country to bring those people back and bring them to justice back in their home. We think that’s important. We’ve been consistent with that all across all the nations that have fighters that are there inside of Syria.
Speaker 2: (23:09)
Third question, go to Katie Bell Williams from Defense One.
Katie Bell Williams: (23:18)
Thank you all for doing this. First to Secretary Esper, did the US and Australia discuss deploying either additional US troops or intermediate range missiles on Australian soil, and can you give us any details on the outcome of those conversations? And secondly, can you tell us what are your concerns about military style uniforms being worn by federal officers conducting civilian law enforcement activities in Portland?
Katie Bell Williams: (23:43)
And then to Minister Reynolds, during your meetings this week, did the US side press you to conduct freedom of navigation operations closer to the disputed island chains in the South China Sea than Australia has previously been willing? And do you plan on honoring that request? And if so, what has changed Australia-
… honoring that request. And if so, what has has changed Australia’s calculation?
Secretary Esper: (24:06)
So I’ll go first and I’ll take your first question, since it involves our Australian partners who have traveled 22 hours to be here today and face a 14-day quarantine on the back end. Let me just say we had a very wide-ranging discussion about the capabilities that the United States possesses and the capabilities that Australia possesses, and our desire to advance them, whether they are hypersonics or any other type of capability. And I think it’s important as we think forward about how do we deter bad behavior in the Indo-Pacific and how we defend the international rules-based order, in this case, specifically, with regard to China. I would like also to take this moment to commend Australia. They recently announced a bold new defense strategy that is far reaching, and I think really puts them at the forefront as a really extremely capable partner to the United States, and a very capable partner in terms of defending that international rules-based order. And that will involve the full suite of capabilities and strategies we intend to roll out together in the years ahead.
Minister Payne: (25:10)
Well, thank you very much, Mark. And Katie, in relation to transiting through the region and also freedom of navigation and overflight, as you would expect, it was a subject of discussion. For those of you who know, Australia has a long history of transiting through the region, unilaterally, bilaterally with regional friends, and also multilaterally. For example, the ADF Joint Task Group recently transited through the South China Sea on its way to RIMPAC. And as the secretary observed, we did a trilateral transit through the Philippine Sea. Our approach remains consistent, and we will continue to transit through the region in accordance with international law.
Speaker 3: (25:56)
Okay. Last question to Amelia Adams with Nine Network.
Amelia Adams: (26:06)
Secretary Pompeo, if I could start with you, there’s a lot of concern in Australia about the growing rift between your administration and China. As you know, Australia is very dependent on China. Should Australians be concerned about the long-term consequences of the breakdown in relations between your two countries for our regional security. And perhaps Minister Payne, if you could talk to the same question after the secretary.
Mike Pompeo: (26:39)
This isn’t about a breakdown in relations between the United States and China. This is about unlawful misconduct by the Chinese Communist Party, coercive behavior that frankly, most Western nations have permitted to go on for far too long. President Trump made very clear, as far back as his campaign, that we were no longer going permit that to happen. We were going to rebalance the relationship with the objective of getting a much more fair, reciprocal relationship between the United States and China. We’ve done it on multiple fronts. We’ve seen it very publicly on trade. We’ve seen it, the things we’ve done to make sure that we have a safe and secure infrastructure. The Australians have been fantastic at making sure that Australians’ information, their private information, didn’t end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. So every nation and its people needs to be aware of the threat that is posed by the Chinese Communist Party to them. And I am confident that the Australian government, just like the American government, will act in ways that preserve their sovereignty and secure freedoms for their own people.
Minister Payne: (27:39)
Amelia, I think in part, I answered the question no, in response to the question from our first representative this afternoon. But from Australia’s perspective, let me reiterate that we make our own decisions. We do that based on our values, many of which are shared values overwhelmingly, but most importantly, in Australia’s national interest. We do often hold common positions with the United States because we do share so many of those fundamental values, and we both want the same kind of region. We want it to be secure. We want it to be stable. We want it to be free. We want it to be prosperous. And what this meeting is all about, what AUSMIN is all about, and it has been, in fact, for its 30 iterations, is the alignment of the broad perspectives of Australia and the United States on global and regional issues.
Minister Payne: (28:31)
That includes our discussions in relation to China. It includes our discussions in relation to COVID-19 response and recovery. We have, I think, a demonstrable track record of making decisions based on our own interests. A number of those have been mentioned today in terms of protecting Australia and Australians in the interest of national security, whether they are around countering foreign interference, whether they are ensuring that our 5G network is protected from high-risk vendors, whether they are about the sorts of initiatives that we’ve taken more recently around our foreign investment rules. We don’t agree on everything, though. And that’s part of a respectful relationship. It’s part of a relationship that has endured over a hundred years of mateship to recoin that phrase, and will endure, I am absolutely confident based on our fundamental shared values, for centuries into the future.
Great. Thanks, everyone.