(Australian Associated Press)
Australia and the United States have held intense discussions about the Chinese government’s misbehaviour and agreed to boost defence cooperation.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Foreign Minister Marise Payne held talks with their US counterparts in Washington on Wednesday.
The US again pressed Australia to hold joint military patrols in the South China Sea, after Australia declared Beijing’s maritime claims to the disputed waters unlawful.
Senator Reynolds refused to say whether Australia agreed to the specific request, but said it would continue holding freedom of navigation exercises through the South China Sea.
They also discussed the growing threat of military and trade retribution from China.
Senator Reynolds said as strategic competition between the US and China increased, Australia would continue calling out bad behaviour from Beijing.
“As we expect of ourselves, to be responsible regional players, we also expect China and all other nations engaging in our region to do so as well,” she told ABC radio.
Senator Reynolds said deteriorating relations between the two superpowers was nowhere near escalating into a full-blown military conflict.
“It is very clear the strategic tensions are increasing but we had a look at ways of de-escalating that,” she said.
“Obviously nobody wants things to escalate any further.”
The ministers also discussed Chinese hacking and foreign interference, as well as helping Pacific nations defend their sovereignty against Beijing’s so-called debt-trap diplomacy.
A joint statement released after the AUSMIN talks contained strong language on Taiwan.
The secretaries and ministers reaffirmed Taiwan’s important role in the Indo-Pacific and their intent to maintain “strong unofficial ties” with the province.
“The United States and Australia highlighted that recent events only strengthened their resolve to support Taiwan,” the statement said.
“They reiterated that any resolution of cross-strait differences should be peaceful and according to the will of the people on both sides, without resorting to threats or coersion.
“They also committed to enhancing donor coordination with Taiwan, with a focus on development assistance to Pacific island countries.”
The US has previously raised the prospect of basing interballistic missiles on Australian soil but it was not raised at the bilateral meetings.
“No, it wasn’t discussed and no, it is not on the table,” Senator Reynolds said.
However, Australia and the US have agreed to develop hypersonic and space-based weapons.
“There is only an upside to both of us working together and harnessing our collective capabilities to develop new technologies and to develop defences against emerging technologies,” Senator Reynolds said.