Australia tells the United States that it has no intention of damaging major ties to China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and its close ally Australia held high-level talks on China and agreed on the need to maintain a rules-based global order, but Australia’s foreign minister stressed that Canberra’s relationship with Beijing was important. and had no intention of hurting him.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens as Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks during a press conference at the United States Department of State after the 30th AUSMIN in Washington, DC, July 28, 2020. Brendan Smialowski / Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper held two days of talks in Washington with their Australian counterparts, who had traveled the world for meetings despite the pandemic of COVID-19 and face two weeks of quarantine upon their return.

At a joint press conference on Tuesday, Pompeo praised Australia for facing pressure from China, saying Washington and Canberra will continue to work together to reaffirm the rule of law in the South China Sea, where China has been pressing its claims. . This has caused friction with other countries in the region and concerns about freedom of navigation.

Australian Chancellor Marise Payne said the United States and Australia shared a commitment to the rule of law and reiterated their commitment to hold countries accountable for violations, such as the erosion of China’s freedoms in Hong Kong.

He said the two sides also agreed to form a working group to monitor and respond to harmful disinformation and would look for ways to expand cooperation on infectious diseases, including access to vaccines.

At the same time, he said that Australia did not agree at all with Beijing, or with the United States.

“The relationship we have with China is important. And we have no intention of damaging it, ”he said. “But we also don’t intend to do things that are contrary to our interests.”

She said Australia and the United States had a shared interest in an Asia-Pacific region that was free, prosperous and secure and that was broadly aligned on issues, including China.

“However, we do not agree on everything. And that is part of a respectful relationship, it is part of a relationship that has lasted more than 100 years of “couple relationship”.

Payne did not elaborate on disagreements with Washington, but said Australia made its own decisions and judgments based on its national interests and security.

“We deal with China in the same way. We have a strong economic commitment, another commitment, and it works in the interest of both countries. ”

Pompeo, a persistent and forceful critic of Beijing, said in a speech last week that Washington and its allies must use “more creative and assertive ways” to pressure China to change its ways and called it the “mission of our time.”

Pompeo also said that it may be time for “a new group of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies” for this purpose.

Pompeo has been criticized by some for the speech, given the confrontational approach that the Trump administration has taken towards some traditional allies, including in Europe, over issues such as trade.

Payne specifically declined to comment, but said: “The Secretary’s speeches are his, Australia’s positions are ours,” even if countries operate on the basis of shared values.

In response to a question, Pompeo rejected the suggestion that the administration’s approach was unfeasible.

“It is not about choosing the United States versus China,” he said.

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“It is about choosing freedom and democracy against tyranny and authoritarian rule, and I am sure that democracies, our Transatlantic Alliance … know precisely which side of the debate they want to be on.”

While Washington is Australia’s main security ally, China is its main trading partner, and Canberra has forged ties to the latter by pushing an international investigation into the spread of the coronavirus that first emerged in China.

Beijing imposed dumping duties on Australian barley, suspended some imports of beef and warned students and tourists not to travel there, citing allegations of racism.

Reports by David Brunnstrom and Daphne Psaledakis, Franklin Paul and Grant McCool Edition

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