The United States and Australia have committed to significantly increasing defence cooperation to plug Australia’s capability gap and counter the growing threat of Beijing in the Indo-Pacific region.
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Washington D.C. for the annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial (AUSMIN) meeting.
Following the talks, Austin declared that the United States “will not allow Australia to have a capability gap going forward.”
“Our goal is to design the optimal pathway for Australia to get a nuclear-powered conventionally armed submarines as quickly as possible,” he told reporters, referring to the Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines under the AUKUS alliance.
“We recognise where Australia is and when its capability begins to diminish. And, of course, we will address all of that in that pathway that we create.”
Australia’s Navy is expected to experience a capability gap as the first nuclear submarines under the AUKUS agreement will not be ready until the 2030s at the earliest.
This means the life of existing aging diesel-powered Collins Class submarines will likely need to be extended.
Austin announced there would be an increase in rotations for U.S. air, land, and sea forces, including bomber task forces and fighters, to Australia to help with interoperability and increase the presence of U.S. forces in the region.
“The details of those rotations will be worked out by our staffs and announced later. We don’t have a specific to announce to you today, but we do have a commitment between our two countries to do what we just described,” Austin said.
The two governments have also agreed to a continued effort to find ways to integrate defence industrial bases further.
Marles, who is also the deputy prime minister, said creating a seamless defence industrial base between both countries was important.
“We’re at a point now where we need to be building as much cooperation as possible,” he said.
“If we do see an uplift in the Australian defense industry, that makes a contribution to the capability of our collective effort.”
Pursuing nuclear submarine capability would be most important for Australia’s capability.
Previously, Marles indicated that the Australian Defence Force needed to step up and enhance its self-reliance to act on its own terms when the time calls for it.
The defence ministers from AUKUS nations will also be meeting to further discuss ways optimal pathways for Australia to acquire nuclear submarines.
Beijing Aggression Driving Closer Australia-US Military Cooperation
Austin said the Chinese communist regime was challenging the vision of a region free from coercion and intimidation.
“United States and Australia share a vision of a region where countries can determine their own futures,” Austin said.
“Unfortunately, that vision is being challenged today. China’s dangerous and coercive actions throughout the Indo-Pacific, including around Taiwan, and toward the Pacific Island countries, and in the East and South China Seas, threaten regional peace and stability.”
Blinken also reiterated a comment by President Joe Biden that the United States “will not leave Australia alone on the pitch.”
“When it comes to Chinese economic coercion, Australia has done an extraordinary job of standing up to that coercion and coming out in a better and stronger place,” he said.
Marles said the democratic world faced the most complex and precarious strategic environment since World War II, with the global rules-based order under pressure in the Indo-Pacific and Ukraine.
While Marles and Wong also strongly condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, China was not specifically referred to for its actions in the Info-Pacific.
However, Wong did state that Australia valued its relationship with Taiwan.
“We collectively have a strong stake in preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” she said.
“We value our long-standing unofficial relationship with Taiwan, underpinned by cultural, economic, and people-to-people ties. And that’s how we’ll continue to engage in a manner that is consistent with a long-standing bipartisan one-China policy.”
Japan Invited to Join Efforts
Blinken also revealed that Australia and the United States were looking towards Japan to increase military cooperation in the region further.
“We agreed to enhance trilateral defence cooperation and to invite Japan to integrate into our force posture initiatives in Australia,” he said.
Following AUSMIN and AUKUS talks, Marles and Wong will fly to Japan to hold “2+2” talks on Dec. 9.
“We look forward to being able to have more engagement with Japan,” Marles said.
“It is a great outcome of today’s meeting that we can go to Japan at the end of this week, with an invitation for Japan to be participating in more exercises with Australia and the United States.”