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Secretary Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton At a Joint Press Availability

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon.  I know that I speak for Secretary of Defense Austin when I say what an absolute pleasure it’s been to host our friends from Australia – Foreign Minister Payne, Defence Minister Dutton – here in Washington today.

Today’s ministerial consultations reinforce the breadth and depth of our relationship with our Australian ally.  We will have a lot to cover, but I just want to start by saying that the alliance between our countries quite simply has never been stronger, and it’s never been more important.  This year marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS Treaty, which is the foundation of the security partnership that’s been vital for our countries, for the Indo-Pacific region, and, I would argue, for the world.

We also recently marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the only time the collective defense article of the ANZUS Treaty was formally invoked.  That meant a great deal to us.  We also remember how Australia’s parliament very swiftly passed a motion offering support for the United States after the 9/11 attacks.  Simply put, we will always be deeply grateful for Australia’s solidarity, for its friendship at one of the darkest moments in our history.

In Afghanistan, Australian and American troops served side by side for 20 years as part of the NATO-led multinational missions.  More than 40 Australians lost their lives as part of those missions.  We’ll never forget their courage and their sacrifice.  And we’ll continue to work together as we look to the future in Afghanistan to ensure that terrorist groups never again use it as a base for external operations that could threaten Australia, the United States, or our allies.

Yesterday, President Biden announced a historic new chapter in our security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom.  It’s called AUKUS, and it reflects our countries’ shared commitment to work together to safeguard peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific now and in the future.

Through AUKUS, we will significantly deepen our cooperation on a range of security and defense priorities, including by strengthening our joint capabilities and interoperability in a number of key areas: cyber, AI, quantum technologies, additional underseas capabilities.  We’ll also work to sustain and deepen information and technology sharing between our countries, and we’ll foster a deeper integration of security- and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains.

The first initiative under AUKUS is our shared ambition to support Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.  We’re now embarking on a trilateral effort to identify the best way to deliver that capability.

I want to emphasize that there is no regional divide separating the interests of our Atlantic and our Pacific partners.  This partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom is a signal that we’re committed to working with our allies and partners, including in Europe, to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.  We welcome European countries playing an important role in the Indo-Pacific.  We look forward to continued close cooperation with NATO, with the European Union, and others in this endeavor.  France, in particular, is a vital partner on this and so many other issues, stretching back generations, and we want to find every opportunity to deepen our transatlantic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.

Our discussions today reflect how the alliance between Australia and the United States goes far beyond our military ties, deep and as important as they are.  Our economic relationship is robust.  The United States is proud to be the top foreign investor in Australia by far, and to be the top destination for Australia’s foreign investment.  We’re connected by people-to-people ties stretching back generations and thriving today.  Nearly 5,000 Australian students came to American universities in 2019, and more than 12,000 Americans studied in Australia, discovering for themselves Australia’s great natural beauty, its multicultural society, and its easygoing friendliness.

And beyond these bilateral ties, the partnership between our countries underpins stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region as a whole.  We share a commitment to democracy and the rule of law.  We stand up for human rights and stand together against threats to democratic governance, including state-sponsored disinformation.  We work together to help neighbors in the Indo-Pacific and to take on urgent global challenges.

For example, we’re working together – both bilaterally, and through the Quad and other global fora – to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.  Today we also discussed the urgent need to respond to the climate crisis by making significant progress and cutting emissions by the end of this decade.

And our two countries together defend the international rules-based order that makes so much cooperation and shared progress among nations possible to begin with.  The world saw China’s aggressive response when Australia led calls for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.  And Beijing has seen over the past months that Australia will not back down and that threats of economic retaliation and pressure simply will not work.  I also want to reiterate what I’ve said before: the United States will not leave Australia alone on the field – or better yet, on the “pitch” – in the face of these pressure tactics.  We have raised publicly and privately our serious concerns about Beijing’s use of economic coercion against Australia – and we’ve made it clear that actions like these targeting our allies will hinder improvements in our relationship with the Chinese Government.

We welcome Australia’s leadership in standing up for universal values that we seek to uphold and helping to shape an Indo-Pacific region where nations conduct themselves in ways that enhance stability, reinforce international law, including freedom of the seas, allow for unimpeded commerce, and respect the sovereignty of all countries.

These past 70 years have proven that this is an unshakeable alliance.  We’re deeply grateful for our friendship with Australia.  We’re eager to continue to work closely together for the next 70 years and beyond to ensure a bright and hopeful future for Australians, for Americans, for people across the region.

So thank you so much again, Foreign Minister Payne, Defence Minister Dutton, for traveling here to Washington.  We’re looking forward to returning the favor and traveling to Australia as soon as we can – and to welcoming Prime Minister Morrison here next week when he meets with President Biden and the leaders of Japan and India for the Quad Security Dialogue.

With that, Foreign Minister Payne.

FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE:  Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken.  And to Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin, thank you both for hosting the 31st AUSMIN Consultations.  May I also thank those many officials who have been toiling behind the scenes for some time now to prepare for a meeting of this consequence.  It is a great pleasure to be here in Washington with our friends and colleagues to engage in the AUSMIN talks, and it’s not possible without the work of officials that goes into it.

Two weeks ago, the sails of the iconic Sydney Opera House were lit up with the Stars and Stripes of the flag of the United States, marking 70 years since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty.  And for those 70 years, our alliance has helped to safeguard our people and to enhance the security of our region.  ANZUS, along with the other alliances the United States has in the Indo-Pacific and the many good friendships and partnerships of both our nations, have formed a bedrock of stability enabling seven decades of peace and economic growth.  As we face a prolonged period of strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, we are now expanding this network, the AUKUS trilateral security partnership being the latest example of that.

Indeed, Australia and the United States are continually identifying new ways to work together in our region, according to our values and interests and in concert with existing and new partners.  Prior to arriving in Washington, Minister Dutton and I visited Jakarta, New Delhi, and Seoul, where we discussed many of the same issues that have been on the agenda here today.  At today’s meeting, we have reiterated that our allies and our partners are our greatest strategic asset.  We are committed to ASEAN centrality and ASEAN-led architecture and will continue working with the Quad as a key vehicle to support the Indo-Pacific.  Next week’s Quad Leaders Summit, the first such meeting in person, will be a powerful demonstration of the commitment of our four nations.

We see that competition is happening across a wide range of areas – in economics, in diplomacy, in development, in health, technology, and in gray zones.  Our alliance has long evolved beyond its initial status as a military pact, which means it is contemporary, it is well suited to cooperate on countering economic coercion, or supporting our region’s response to COVID-19, as much as it is on those more traditional security challenges.

Our approach stems from our fundamental values as liberal democracies, of which we are deeply proud.  But it is inclusive.  There is room for each nation to be itself within that regional framework that protects and respects sovereignty, that champions openness, and resists unilateral assertiveness and breaches of international rules and norms.

We’re supporting that vision practically by ensuring that others in the region have confidence that there are options available.  We are guided by the priorities of our partner countries as we support them in their recovery from COVID-19 through enhanced access to vaccines and strengthened health security infrastructure.  Our question is what do you need, not how can you serve our strategic interests.

We also discussed working together to enhance cooperation on innovation and critical technologies, to advance the peaceful use of space through a space framework agreement, to counter malicious cyber activity, to build infrastructure to promote economic growth and independence, to combat dangerous disinformation, and to drive clean energy solutions that meet the world’s climate targets.  Our determination to combine our strengths in critical technologies to drive prosperity, to meet security challenges, as well as to increase regional stability is well demonstrated by the AUKUS partnership, which will integrate our efforts across science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains.

Today, we also discussed strategic competition.  We discussed the competition of China at a number of levels that requires us to respond and to increase resilience.  This does not mean that there are not constructive areas for engagement with China.  Australia continues to seek dialogue with China without preconditions.

Let me conclude by emphasizing that United States leadership in the Indo-Pacific remains indispensable.  We must compete in order to preserve and to shape the international order that has underpinned decades of prosperity and economic stability in the Indo-Pacific.  Australia’s message is that we are an ally that is looking for opportunities to work together across the region alongside U.S. leadership to maintain, to improve security and prosperity for all.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Good afternoon, Minister Payne and Minister Dutton.  Let me also thank you for coming all the way to Washington to join us.  It’s great to see you.  Your presence here reflects the strength of what we’re proud to call the unbreakable alliance.

Our alignment on the most important strategic issues of the day attest to the enduring value of our partnership.  And speaking of partners, I want to thank my friend and colleague, Secretary Blinken, for welcoming us all to the State Department.  Tony, you’ve been a great host, and thanks for having us.

As my colleagues have made clear, the United States and Australia share an enduring bond, united by our common values and common interests and deepened through more than a century of shared battlefield sacrifice from the Somme to Afghanistan.  It’s not lost on me – and certainly what Secretary Blinken highlighted just a moment ago – that Australian troops have been at our side through thick and thin, through every conflict of the modern era, and certainly over the last two decades.  I’ve served with and fought alongside our allies from down under and I can attest to their bravery, their skill, their professionalism in the face of danger.  I’m extraordinarily grateful for their courage and for their mateship.  And here today, we still stand shoulder to shoulder as mates, ready to face the challenges and the opportunities of the future.

And that’s what this new trilateral security partnership between the U.S., the UK, and Australia is all about.  And as Secretary Blinken noted, an important first step for AUKUS will be our efforts to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.  This will significantly improve the Australian navy’s reach and defensive capabilities.  It will also help to contribute to what I call integrated deterrence in the region, the ability for the United States military to work more effectively with our allies and partners in defense of our shared security interests.  This morning, we had a robust discussion across the full range of those security interests, to include terrorism, climate change, and the increasingly contested security environment in the Indo-Pacific.

We spoke in detail about China’s destabilizing activities and Beijing’s efforts to coerce and intimidate other countries, contrary to established rules and norms.  And while we seek a constructive, results-oriented relationship with the PRC, we will remain clear-eyed in our view of Beijing’s efforts to undermine the established international order.

Now, let me also take a moment to thank Australia for its continued support of the Marine Rotational Force Darwin, which is completing its annual deployment, despite the difficulties of COVID-19.  I’m proud of the breadth and the depth of our alliance, and it’s only getting stronger.

Yesterday, Minister Dutton and I signed a statement of intent that will expand our efforts to co-develop advanced defense capabilities, and today we endorse major force posture initiatives that will expand our access and presence in Australia.  We agreed to take immediate steps to improve interoperability through deeper integration.  And we have reaffirmed our commitment to expanding multilateral efforts, especially with Japan through the trilateral defense ministers meeting, and also with India.

And so Minister Payne, Minister Dutton, thank you again for being here today and for a very productive couple of days, and I look forward to working closely with you as we deepen this alliance.  And, of course, I look forward to joining Secretary Blinken on a trip to Australia at the earliest possible opportunity.  Thank you very much.

DEFENCE MINISTER DUTTON:  Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  Thank you very much for being here.  Firstly, my very sincere thanks to Secretary Blinken and to Secretary Austin for hosting what has been an incredibly successful and, indeed, historic AUSMIN.  At a time when it has been difficult, of course, to meet in person, this meeting has offered us a great opportunity to build on our storied partnership, the most important relationship Australia has, bar none.  And I’m grateful for the warm hospitality and welcome that we have received here in Washington.

To be here, in this year, at this time, is indeed a great honor.  This year is the 70th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS Treaty, and it’s also now 20 years, as we well know, since the devastating September 11 terrorist attacks which changed this country, her allies, and the world.  Prime Minister John Howard at the time invoked the ANZUS Treaty for the first time in the wake of those dreadful attacks.  Then, as now, Australia stands with the United States.

Seventy years on, our alliance is stronger and more important than ever.  It stands as a pillar of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific and it’s a testament to our shared values and our commitment to a secure, prosperous, and resilient Indo-Pacific.  Yesterday’s announcements that we have established an enhanced trilateral security relationship with the United Kingdom and the U.S., AUKUS, is further evidence of the strengths of these bonds and our commitment to protect shared values and promote security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Our discussion here today has reinforced our shared commitment to ensuring an alliance that is match fit to meet the strategic challenges ahead.  It’s through this lens that I’m proud to announce that Australia and the United States will be significantly enhancing our force posture cooperation, increasing interoperability, and deepening alliance activities in the Indo-Pacific.  This will include greater air cooperation through rotational deployments of all types of U.S. military aircraft to Australia.  We will also establish combined logistics, sustainment, and capability for maintenance to support our enhanced activities, including logistics and sustainment capabilities for our submarines and surface combatants in Australia.  These key activities will be complemented by conducting more bilateral exercises and greater combined exercise engagement with partners in the region.

What makes Australia and the U.S. so effective as alliance partners is the depth of our cooperation.  We further advanced our cooperation today in science, technology, strategic capabilities, and defense industrial base integration, which are the key pillars of our alliance.  This included signing a classified statement of intent on strategic capabilities, cooperation, and implementation.  It will be a key way that we can strengthen capability outcomes, deepen our alliance, and increase cooperation to meet emerging strategic challenges and support regional stability.

We also discussed plans to accelerate establishment of Australia’s guided weapons and explosive ordinance enterprise, and we agreed to cooperate on its development.  We’re also looking towards the domains that will shape our future environment – activities that will expand Australia’s space knowledge and capabilities – and I’m pleased to announce that the Australian Department of Defence and the United States National Reconnaissance Office have also committed to a broad range of cooperative satellite activities.

Australia and the United States have common values and a history of mateship and collaboration in times of war and in times of peace.  It’s therefore no surprise that we have formed such a close and enduring bond over that time.  As we stand here, acknowledging several important anniversaries for the alliance, as well as historic new opportunities between our two countries and our partners, I’m positive that we have laid the foundation for another 70 years of cooperation and collaboration.

Thank you.

MR PRICE:  We’ll now move to questions, and we’ll start with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ned.  Thank you and – thank you very much.  With your indulgence, I have the honor of representing all of my colleagues, so I’m going to represent them today with things that are their mind as well.

Secretary Blinken, you opened today talking about the strong alliance with France.  But after professing at NATO that America is back to all of the Europeans, what do you say to an ally, France, that feels that this agreement today stabs them in the back by going and providing nuclear submarines to the Australians?

For Secretary Austin, after two days of grueling testimony on the Hill, Secretary Blinken was asked, grilled, about questions that really involved Pentagon decisions and decisions by other agencies such as the closing of Bagram, the intelligence assessments, the failure to train up the Afghan army as had been expected.  Should the Pentagon also be held accountable for some of the failures in Afghanistan?

And for both of you, after those NATO meetings in June, you heard very strong objections, Secretary Blinken, to a total withdrawal.  You came back, and according to the Woodward-Costa book, you revised some of your proposals and suggested a slower withdrawal, leaving a footprint, a smaller footprint.  Secretary Austin, according to the book, you suggested a slower withdrawal, a gated proposal, perhaps to provide room for negotiations with the Taliban.  So according to the book, you also had a deep analysis of a worst-case scenario where al-Qaida would, indeed, reform and be able to eventually pose a threat to the homeland.  So what does that say about the assessments and about the decisions that were eventually made to withdraw, as you did unilaterally without proper consultations, or at least in contradiction to what you heard at NATO in Brussels?

And to Secretary Austin, with your indulgence, this is our first opportunity to ask you to respond to those Republicans on the Hill, including, of course, the former president, demanding the firing of the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Milley.

Thank you all very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Andrea.  I’m happy to start and then hand it over to Lloyd.

With regard to France, first of all, Andrea, as I noted, as the President said, last night in announcing this initiative we strongly, strongly welcome European countries playing an important role in the Indo-Pacific.  We look forward to continued close cooperation with NATO, with the EU and others in this endeavor.  One of the hallmarks of the conversations that Lloyd and I both had over these many months in Europe at NATO, as well as with the EU, has been their own increased focus and attention on the Indo-Pacific and the work that we can do together in that regard.

And as I said, France in particular is a vital partner on this, on so many other things stretching back a long, long time, but also stretching forward into the future, as we’ve discussed in depth in my many conversations with my French counterpart, President Biden with President Macron, including at the NATO summit, at the G7, and other places.  And we want to find every opportunity now to deepen transatlantic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.

We’ve been in touch with French counterparts in the last 24-48 hours to discuss AUKUS, including before the announcement.  I’ll leave it to our Australian partners to describe why they sought this new technology.  But as the President said, and I want to emphasize again, we cooperate incredibly closely with France on many shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific but also beyond, around the world.  We’re going to continue to do so.  We place fundamental value on that relationship, on their partnership, and we will carry it forward in the days ahead.

With regard to Afghanistan, a couple of things.  First, as the Secretary of Defense noted as well, we both went very early, well before the President’s decision on Afghanistan, to NATO to spend time with our NATO Allies and other partners, to listen intently to them about their views on the way forward in Afghanistan, views that not only did we listen to very carefully but we shared directly with President Biden, and they very much factored into our thinking and into the decisions he made on Afghanistan.

Different Allies had a variety of perspectives on the way forward.  Some talked about a conditions-based withdrawal.  That certainly came up in the conversations that we had.  But each of them, to an ally, to a partner, recognized that had we chosen to stay beyond May 1st or not to make clear by then that we were withdrawing pursuant to the agreement negotiated by the previous administration, an agreement that led to the Taliban not attacking our forces or allied or partner forces from the time of the agreement until the planned withdrawal on May 1st and that led to it not attacking the major cities in Afghanistan, they knew and expressed, to a partner, that should we stay beyond May 1st or not make clear that we were in the process of leaving, that the attacks not just on us but on Allies and partners would resume, that the offensive against Afghanistan’s cities which we’ve seen in recent months would commence, and that we would be faced with the decision of what to do about that, and that decision would have involved sending substantially more forces into Afghanistan under fire, taking casualties for some indefinite length of time, and again, with little prospect of doing more than perhaps restoring the stalemate that had been in place before.

So when the President made his decision, we went back to NATO and at that session, NATO immediately and unanimously endorsed the decision.  We went in together, we agreed that we would leave together, and that’s exactly what we proceeded to do.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Andrea, with respect to testimony, as you probably know, I am scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the 28th of this month, and then the House Armed Services Committee on the 29th of this month.  And so I will appear, as Tony did, before my respective committee and have an opportunity to address some of the issues that you raised.

On the issue of what’s in the book with respect to my activities and Secretary Blinken’s activities, I won’t confirm or deny what’s in the book because I’ve not read the book, but again – and so I won’t comment on what’s in the book.  But what I will say, as Tony has just mentioned, that we followed a rigorous process where commanders and other players in the NSC establishment were able to provide their inputs, and with those inputs the President made his decision.  And in following that decision, as the Secretary of State has said, we went to NATO to engage our NATO Allies.  And then beyond that, once we laid the plan for retrograding our equipment and people, we synchronized that plan with our Allies to make sure that we had everyone and everything accounted for.

And finally, regarding General Milley, again, much of what’s in – all of what’s in that book happened before I became Secretary of Defense, so I can’t comment on that as well, and certainly I won’t comment on what’s in the book.  I have confidence in General Milley.

QUESTION:  And what about the demands from the Republicans?  What would you say to them?

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  I don’t have a comment there, Andrea.

MR PRICE:  We’ll turn to Greg Jennett of ABC News.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon and thank you for this opportunity, also on behalf of the colleagues.  My questions – there’s only two – are primarily directed to the secretaries, but no doubt Ministers Payne and Dutton may choose to respond.

Following on from yesterday’s remarkable AUKUS submarine decision, and it goes to the principle of reciprocity – so Australia is going to get America’s most valuable nuclear technology secrets to undertake this nuclear-powered submarine endeavor.  Is it accepted broadly that with that comes now a requirement for Australia to reciprocate with things that it has previously been reluctant to do.  Two possible examples that I’d be thinking of: de facto home porting, once Australia builds up nuclear infrastructure in places like HMAS Stirling on the west coast, for instance; intermediate-range missiles hosted on Australian soil, considered before and rejected before.

And then the second question, just to follow up and sketch out further the enhanced force posture initiatives that have been endorsed today.  Minister Dutton, you’ve given us a very broad outline, all categories of aircraft plus the logistics and the maintenance.  Could you expand any further but with particular reference to the scale here, given the Marines training in the north?  I think the number is about 5,000.  At any given point in time, what might the enhanced U.S. force posture position be in and around Australia?

Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I can simply say that from my perspective there are no follow-on reciprocal requirements of any kind.  This is a partnership.  This is a cooperative agreement with us, with Australia, with the United Kingdom, and any future decisions on issues such as the ones you’ve mentioned are, of course, sovereign decisions for Australia to make.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Yeah, we certainly didn’t go into this with a quid pro quo mindset, and we’ve not outlined any specific reciprocal requirements.  Again, we look to strengthen a partnership that is already very strong, and Australia has been with us through thick and thin in a number of different – through a number of different challenges.  And we look forward to building additional capability here but also in some of the things that you mentioned earlier.

DEFENCE MINISTER DUTTON:  Greg, thank you for your question.  A couple points.

One is that we have – as the prime minister and I, Marise, others have pointed out regularly in our meetings with the media – highlighted the fact that we see incredible uncertainty within the Indo-Pacific.  It’s formed the basis of much of our discussion here with our colleagues – very significant uncertainty, and more so than any time since the Second World War.  And we do believe it’s in Australia’s national security interest to deepen our relationship with the United States, with other partners, including through the Quad.  ASEAN will always have primacy within the Asia Pacific, but there’s a collaboration between likemindeds that want continued peace in our region, and from my perspective Australia leads that pack.  We want to make sure that peace prevails in the Indo-Pacific, and all of which we’re doing as part of this discussion and many others that we’ve had in the preceding days and months before now has all been designed to continue that peace in our region.

So I do have an aspiration to make sure that we can increase the numbers of troops through the rotations.  The air capability will be enhanced, our maritime capability enhanced, and certainly the force posture enhanced.  And if that includes basing and includes the storage of different ordnances, I think that is in Australia’s best interest, in our national interest, at this point in time.  And that’s something that I’ll be continuing, to be sure, and we have in principle agreement around a number of issues related to this now as a result of these discussions.

So I’m very grateful for the support of the United States in this regard.  I’ll just finish on this point, and I should have made it clear in my opening remarks.  We are very, very grateful for the support of the United States in Afghanistan.  For us to take out 4,100 people – and Marise really led this work for us in Australia – the stories of young girls and young women within the 4,100.  A very significant number within that 4,100 would not have found a new life of safety and a new life that they couldn’t have imagined without the support of the United States.

There is no other country in the world that could have held Kabul airport, and the U.S. had 4,000 troops there, and the British forces a thousand.  Without their efforts, we wouldn’t have been able to take out those 4,100 people.  And I think, frankly, it’s time for people to pause, reflect on that, and to acknowledge the sacrifice that’s been made over a 20-year period.  But for those 4,000 troops and the Brits to be there along with others, there were no European countries, no Asian countries, no Middle Eastern countries prepared to step up and provide that support.  And as a country, we’re very grateful for what the United States was able to do.

MR PRICE:  Abraham Mahshie of Air Force Magazine.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  My question is directed at Secretary Austin – oh, thank you – Secretary Austin.  And of course, Minister Dutton, you’re invited as well to respond.  Secretary, are you concerned that this move, sharing this technology, raises tensions with China, as it appears it already has?  And can you describe a little bit more detail the air and space cooperation with Australia, specifically things like joint hypersonics development, additional bomber rotations, air patrols and rotations?  And there’s been some allusion to force posture.  Could you give some specifics, numbers, how soon we might see those increases?  Thank you so much.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Yeah, so on the issue of China, let me just emphasize up front that this agreement, this relationship is not aimed at anything or anyone.  It’s – the intent here is to help improve our trilateral cooperation and our capabilities across the board.  And the first step is to focus on helping Australia acquire a nuclear-powered submarine capability, and we’re going to work on that going forward.  And that’s pretty exciting, and it’s exciting because it will provide Australia additional flexibility and capability that I think will be very, very beneficial to all of us going forward.

But we will continue to explore many of the things that you just mentioned in terms of greater and more frequent engagement in – with our air capabilities, more training opportunities for our ground forces, and increasing our logistical footprint in Australia as well.  And again, there are a number of things that are – that we’ve worked together to outline which I won’t go into today, but this is a pretty exciting opportunity for us.

DEFENCE MINISTER DUTTON:  I’ll just add very briefly to that.  This is not the first time that we’ve seen different outbursts from China in terms of Australia’s position.  We are a proud democracy in our region.  We stand with our neighbors in the Indo-Pacific to ensure enduring peace, and this collaboration makes it a safer region.  That’s the reality, and no amount of propaganda can dismiss the facts.  So if we look at the facts here at the moment, Australia has regional superiority with our Collins-class submarines.  They go into a life-of-type extension starting in 2026, and that will take them out to the 2040s, which means that we need an enduring capability with regional superiority beyond that.

The clear advice to us from chief of navy and the chief of the defense force has been that a conventional diesel submarine was not going to provide us with the capability into the 2030s, the second half of the 2030s, 2040s, and beyond, and that we needed a nuclear-powered submarine.  And so we looked at what options were available to us.  The French have a version which was not superior to that operated by the United States and the United Kingdom.  And in the end, the decision that we have made is based on what is in the best interests of our national security and the prevailing security and peace within the Indo-Pacific.  And therefore it became a natural partnership with the UK and the U.S., our two oldest and most enduring partners and partnership – alliance partners.  So that’s why we find ourselves here in this point.

Just in terms of collaboration, both in air and in the other domains, I’ll just point out that there’s already, as we’ve seen recently in Operation Talisman Saber, a great level of exchange, a great trust that’s been established over conflicts and in peacetime as well, with American counterparts.  And that will continue.  So across platforms, and we saw that evidenced in Talisman Saber only a couple of months ago.  And that will form the basis of us continuing to deepen that relationship.  And as I said, that is in our national security interests and in the interests of our region as well.

MR PRICE:  Our final question will go to Megan Palin of News Corp.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.  Thank you for allowing me to talk with you today on behalf of my colleagues.

The first question is for Secretary Blinken and/or Minister Dutton.  Given China’s response to the trilateral partnership, what’s the messaging to the region?  And should they still serve as a warning of any sort?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m happy to start, Peter.  Just to reiterate what Secretary Austin said, this is about enhancing our cooperation, our work together, ultimately about enhancing security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.  It is not aimed at any country.  It’s certainly not aimed at holding anyone back.  It is aimed, as in everything we do together on security, to upholding the rules-based international order that both Australia and the United States deeply believe in and will defend.  That’s what this is about.

DEFENCE MINISTER DUTTON:  I think the other point to add to that is that Australia takes its sovereignty seriously, and we have a desire in our region to work with Indonesia, with India, with Vietnam, South Korea, countries with whom we have very close relations, and they understand the values that we adhere to and that we’ve been consistently adhered to for a long period of time.  We believe in the rules-based order, as Secretary Blinken points out, and, I mean, our motivation, our posture has been consistent and unambiguous.  We believe that millions of people within our region are living a better life today because we’ve enjoyed peace largely since the Second World War, and we want that to continue.

And so there is a deterrence element to our acquisition and to the maintenance of our defense program, and we’ve been, again, consistent in the way in which we’ve been honest with our neighbors, and that will continue.

QUESTION:  China has said that it threatens stability in the region.  Is – do you consider that a threat?

And just finally, Minister Payne, you mentioned before that Australia was still seeking dialogue with China following the announcement.  Has there been any progress on that?  And what is the key message that you want to get across?

DEFENCE MINISTER DUTTON:  Well, no, I don’t see it as a threat.


FOREIGN MINISTER PAYNE:  We’ve been very consistent in reiterating our desire to have constructive engagement with China, and we have consistently reiterated that we place great importance on the relationship.  But as we engage with China, we’ll always consider our own national interest, as any sovereign nation would, as the minister for defense has stated here today.  We are open to dialogue.  The prime minister said yesterday at his media conference in Australia there is an open invitation for President Xi to discuss these and any other matters.  That has always been there.  The same goes for me with my counterpart, with Minister Dutton with his, Minister Tehan, for example, with his.  Dialogue actually is helpful.  Dialogue is constructive.  Dialogue enables the airing of any differences, the ventilating of any concerns.  And so we would continue to encourage that.  I regret that it is consistently not taken up.  It seems to me that mature actors would consider that in a constructive way.

QUESTION:  Thank you all.

MR PRICE:  That concludes the press conference.  Thank you very much.