A 3-day tour of Australia by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta has highlighted strong US-Australia links, as both countries face the challenges and opportunities presented by the Asian century.
The latest round of Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) began on Wednesday Nov 14 as Ms Clinton and Mr Panetta met with their Australian counterparts, Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr.
The annual high-level talks, which alternate between Australia and the US, are primarily aimed at strengthening bilateral security and defence cooperation.
The meetings paved the way for stronger military cooperation by recognising Australia’s proximity and access to Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, and the strategic necessity for US presence and US-Australia cooperation in the region.
Over the next few years, the US will send more troops to Darwin and Australia will provide the US with greater access to airfields in the north and naval bases on the west coast, such as HMAS Sterling on Garden Island near Perth.
The talks reflect and complement both US foreign policy and Australia’s recent Australia in the Asian Century white paper, which was commended by Ms Clinton.
“Now, all of our work together, whether it’s on the world stage or here in the Asia-Pacific or the Indo-Pacific, is driven by the values and the vision we share,” Ms Clinton said, in her address at the opening of the meetings. “You can see that in Prime Minister Gillard’s recent white paper.”
A joint AUSMIN statement says the US-Australian alliance is “helping to shape the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific, while also contributing to global security, good governance and the rule of law”.
While questions have been circulating about how China will react to Australia’s increased engagement with the US, in a timely display of democratic resolve, both countries affirmed their intent to engage China by continuing “to build positive, cooperative and comprehensive relations with China, including through strong economic engagement and encouraging progress on human rights”.
While both countries aim to strengthen military-to-military relations with China, both have called for more transparency about China’s military expenditure. The recent Asian Century white paper commented that China’s spending is “likely to be more than the publicly available figure”.
On Nov 15, Ms Clinton visited the $300 million Techport naval industry hub in Adelaide and gave her final address on what would be her last visit to Australia as US Secretary of State.
Ms Clinton, who is due to retire next year, said the corporate partnerships between US and Australian companies linked to the Techport site were exemplary. The naval hub is the construction site for the next generation of air warfare destroyers—the Hobart Class.
“[The facility] showcases two of the strongest elements of the US-Australian relationship: our security alliance and our economic ties,” Ms Clinton said.
We are not fair-weather friends; we’ve been there for each other for decades and we will keep being there.
Ms Clinton pointed out that the US is Australia’s third largest trading partner and leading investment partner – some $136bn in direct investment by US companies.
“We are not fair-weather friends; we’ve been there for each other for decades and we will keep being there.”
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