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Aust delegation to fly to US for AUSMIN

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will defy the threat of the coronavirus pandemic and fly to Washington, DC for the annual AUSMIN talks with their Trump administration counterparts.

China is expected to dominate discussions in next week’s face-to-face discussions with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper.

The downsized Australian delegation of just nine people will take precautions to limit the chance of exposure to COVID-19.

They will fly on an Australian government jet, wear personal protective equipment, practice social distancing and undergo 14 days of quarantine when they return to Australia.

Ms Payne will have dinner with Mr Pompeo at the State Department on Monday evening and the quartet will meet on Tuesday for AUSMIN.

China as a threat to Indo-Pacific security is expected to be central to the discussions.

US President Donald Trump, Mr Pompeo, Mr Esper and other key members of the administration have ramped up rhetoric against China since the spread of COVID-19 and are rallying support from allies.

Mr Pompeo gave a speech at California’s Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future”.

“If the free world doesn’t change, communist China will surely change us,” Mr Pompeo said.

“There can’t be a return to the past practices because they’re comfortable or because they’re convenient.

“Securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time, and America is perfectly positioned to lead it because our founding principles give us that opportunity.”

It will be Ms Payne’s first face-to-face international engagement since her last trip to Washington DC in March.

The Trump administration asked for Ms Payne and Ms Reynolds to appear in person for the three-day visit rather than conduct AUSMIN via video conference.

AAP understands the complex set of challenges facing both Australia and the US, including strategic tensions with China, elevated the need for face-to-face meetings.

Other issues to be discussed include COVID-19, China’s alleged disinformation campaign about the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong’s new security laws, infrastructure development and critical minerals.

The AUSMIN communique is expected to highlight concerns about China but will not include wholesale new positions from the Australian and US sides.

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