Ambassador Atul Keshap, Principal Deputy Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Perth USAsia Center and U.S. Studies Center Conference
Thank you, Professors Flake and Jackman, for your kind introduction and inviting me today. “State of the United States: An evolving Alliance agenda” – an excellent report, and a broad, compelling, and important topic – and ever-relevant to us and so many of our colleagues across the Indo-Pacific.
Greetings to everyone gathered in Canberra today. I also want to convey warm greetings to those in sunny Perth, where I was fortunate to attend two Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) summits graciously hosted by Australia on the shores of the Indian Ocean. I am also delighted to speak again to the U.S. Studies Center, bringing back fond memories of a talk in Sydney in 2013 and again in November 2019 here in Washington.
Australia is a long-standing ally and partner of the United States. Australia and the United States have a proud history of assisting one another in times of crisis. The relationship between the United States and Australia is, without question, one of our strongest and most important, and will continue in strength and purpose for decades to come. No further proof of this is required if one visits the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, which I was very moved to see on a visit in 2013. Our “mateship” has been forged in blood and shared sacrifice over the past century.
Our alliance endures because our shared democratic values form a bedrock of trust and cooperation.
The strength of our alliance is seen at every level. The people of Australia and the United States support each other: we consume each other’s movies and culture, we attend each other’s schools, and in non-COVID times, we visit each other’s countries frequently. And we have long sent firefighters to help each other battle blazes in Queensland and in California.
Our Alliance is also strong at the national level. This past July, our Secretaries of State and Defense hosted their Australian counterparts for the 30th annual AUSMIN, which demonstrated how closely aligned we are on many issues facing the Indo-Pacific region. FM Payne called it one of the most consequential AUSMINs ever, and she and DefMin Reynolds traveled to Washington during a pandemic and quarantined upon return, because of the importance we all place on our bi-lateral relationship and the urgency of the challenges we are tackling together.
We’ve already had productive exchanges between the Biden administration and the Australian government. President Biden has spoken to PM Morrison, as has Vice President Harris. Secretary Blinken’s call to Foreign Minister Payne was one of the very first calls he completed, as was the call from Defense Secretary Austin to Defense Minister Reynolds. We anticipate a productive AUSMIN 2021 later this year, which will include a focus on U.S. and Australian efforts to vaccinate the Pacific Islands against COVID-19 and set countries up for success economically as they recover from the pandemic-induced worldwide recession.
As I am sure you have all seen in his first major foreign policy speech, Secretary Blinken named revitalizing ties with allies and partners a priority. He rightly noted that our alliances are what the military calls “force multipliers.” Our alliance with Australia has been, and remains, a force multiplier for both of our countries, allowing us to leverage each other’s strengths to improve the future for all our citizens.
Most recently, on Friday, our leaders met in the Quad format to proclaim our shared values of democracy, a rules-based international order, peaceful resolution of disputes, and rule of law, with prosperity for all.
Australia and the United States are engaging in substantial regional multilateralism to work together on many issues facing the region. The Quad is uniquely positioned to help lead the Indo-Pacific towards the more positive vision we all seek.
Last week’s Quad summit was a historic moment and showcased the Quad’s ability to pool our capabilities and build habits of cooperation to address the world’s most urgent problems together.
The administration is looking forward to deepening cooperation on combating COVID-19 and climate change.
President Biden is deeply focused on the issue of expanding global vaccination, manufacturing, and delivery, which will all be critical to end the COVID-19 dynamic. The Quad’s COVID-19 engagement is a joint partnership to boost vaccine manufacturing and strengthen vaccinations to benefit the Indo-Pacific.
We are also looking forward to working together on emerging technologies and messaging the positive impacts of Quad cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
In addition to the key Summit deliverables on COVID-19, climate, and emerging technologies, the Quad will continue to advance coordination on issues including economic recovery, climate change, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security, counter terrorism, and countering disinformation.
Our economic relationship is critical to both of our economies, and it continues to grow. The United States is by far Australia’s largest investor, and most important economic partner, accounting for seven percent of Australian GDP – as much as the entire mining sector.
More than 1,100 U.S. owned firms operate in Australia, employing 320,000 Australians at salaries well above the national average.
Much of that investment is increasingly going into the advanced technology sectors which will drive our economies over the coming decades – aerospace, advanced manufacturing, biomedicine, and the digital economy. The technology deployment and skills development accompanying this investment is helping create the infrastructure for long-term economic growth both in Australia and here at home.
Just as important, the United States is the top destination for Australian investment overseas, helping create good-paying jobs and supporting communities across our country.
We are also Australia’s third largest trading partner, with bilateral trade nearly doubling since the signing of the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 2005.
Working together, we are both well placed to help lead the post-COVID economic recovery and return to growth that will power our economies over the long term.
We also work closely with Australia within APEC, the OECD and the G20.
The United States and Australia share a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Cooperation is critical – there is no global or regional challenge that can be met by any one nation acting alone.
We are both strong supporters of ASEAN centrality and coordinate our support to ASEAN closely. We are both active in supporting a rules-based order and international law in the Indo-Pacific, including as it relates to the South China Sea.
We share Australia’s view of the Mekong region as strategically important, and we have increased our coordination on assistance. This is especially true in helping these countries combat transnational crime and trafficking. We should support regional architecture like ACMECS and the Mekong River Commission and encourage ASEAN to take a stance on the Mekong region’s transnational challenges.
Additionally, I want to note our ongoing efforts with Australia and others to urge the Burmese military to refrain from violence and restore the democratically elected government, particularly in light of the brutal and lethal attacks on protesters over the weekend. We are deeply saddened by reports as many as 42 protesters were killed.
The junta’s violence against its own people is immoral and indefensible, and we will continue to work with the international community to take action to oppose the coup and escalating violence.
The United States and Australia are both committed to delivering development assistance to our Pacific neighbors. We coordinate closely on development and support for the region, to best leverage our collective efforts. In July last year, USAID and DFAT signed an updated MOU solidifying joint efforts providing development assistance to the Indo-Pacific region, complementing the relative strengths of each country. We are focused on helping our neighbors improve their capacity so they can manage their own development effectively and swiftly. Last October, the United States and Australia, together with Japan, announced our first project under our Trilateral Partnership for Infrastructure, to fund construction of an internet cable to Palau.
The United States has an extremely close relationships with the Freely Associated States (FAS) of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Our Compacts of Free Association with these countries form the backbone of our enduring relationships. Through ongoing negotiations on agreements to extend and amend expiring provisions related to U.S. economic assistance and access to certain U.S. federal programs and services, we are seeking to strengthen these partnerships, which have contributed to the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.
While the United States has historically focused much attention and foreign assistance on the FAS, we welcome Australia’s plans to establish Embassies in all three countries. Building up the diplomatic presence of open democratic countries, collaborating on the ground, and creating more opportunities to cooperate on common goals, benefits us all.
Climate change poses serious short, medium, and long-term challenges for all countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Climate change is a critical area where the United States and Australia are well placed to work together, to help each other and our Pacific neighbors face these challenges effectively, and demonstrate leadership in the region by reducing our own national emissions to help get the world on track to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We are focused on protecting populations and helping them recover from increasing extreme weather events and other consequences, while adapting economies to reduce our carbon footprints and build a sustainable future.
One of Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Secretary John Kerry’s earliest calls was to Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor and we look forward to doing more with Australia on climate issues. Businesses, universities, researchers, and scientists across Australia and the United States are uniquely positioned to tackle the climate crisis, and help bring the Indo-Pacific region into a sustainable and prosperous future through innovation and a green energy revolution.
And lest anyone relegate climate change to ‘merely’ a tech or solar panel issue, let me reinforce – we see climate change as an economic, humanitarian, environmental, and security issue. President Biden included the risks the acceleration of climate change poses to the whole world in his speech to the Munich Security Conference precisely because this is an existential crisis.
The PRC Challenge
Securing a free, open, transparent, and prosperous Pacific will be one of the most consequential efforts we undertake.
The United States and Australia’s common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific is predicated on a rules-based, rights-respecting, corruption-combatting context. Strong democracies which protect the self-determination of their people, ensure human rights are respected, defend freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and conduct government business openly and transparently, are critical for the pursuit of happiness for all people in the Indo-Pacific region.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will travel March 18 to Anchorage, Alaska for discussions with People’s Republic of China (PRC) Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi. The talks – which will take place after the Secretary’s trip to Japan and Korea and meetings with two of our closest regional allies – are an opportunity to engage on a wide range of issues with the PRC, including ones where we have deep disagreements. (EAP Press Guidance 03/11)
And of course, Australia and the United States are working with each other and other partners to help the Indo-Pacific manage the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic that has ground so much human activity to a halt, and killed and harmed millions, has left the Pacific relatively unscathed compared to other areas, thanks to the swift action of so many Pacific countries. However, closed borders are not an indefinite solution in a globalized world, and Australia and the United States are working to help our Pacific neighbors fortify their healthcare systems, strengthen public health responses, plan mass vaccine programs, and prepare economic recovery plans.
I am hopeful our efforts will be successful, and we will be able to have future discussions in person in the not too distant future.
The strength of the U.S.-Australia alliance, our decades of cooperation on bi-lateral and regional challenges, our economic ties that support tens of thousands of jobs in both countries, our development assistance coordination across the Indo-Pacific, our formal and informal cultural exchanges, and the entirety of our alliance – of our “mateship” – are concrete positive results for the people of the United States, Australia, and the Indo-Pacific region. And after this conference, I am diving right back into coordinating with Australians to continue our work, confront challenges, and forge ahead.
Thank you all.