Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Lisa Reynolds arrive in Washington on Monday. Image by Rick Rycroft/AAP PHOTOS

economy, business and finance

US flags democracy alliance on AUSMIN eve

2020-07-26 11:42:37

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stood on an outdoor stage at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum near Los Angeles a few days ago and flagged a master plan to take on China.

“Maybe it’s time for a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies,” Mr Pompeo told the audience.

Australia would be a key piece of Mr Pompeo’s proposed alliance.

The issue will undoubtedly be discussed when an unusually small, but high-powered Australian delegation headed by Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Lisa Reynolds arrives in Washington DC on Monday for the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations.

Ms Payne will have dinner with Mr Pompeo at the State Department on Monday evening.

The AUSMIN meetings are scheduled for Tuesday.

Flying to the US has its perils when each day more than 70,000 Americans are testing positive and 1100-plus are dying from COVID-19.

Ms Payne and Ms Reynolds could have stayed in Australia and conducted AUSMIN with Mr Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper via video conferencing.

The Americans, however, deemed the talks so important they asked to speak to Ms Payne and Ms Reynolds face-to-face.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rates the discussions at such a high level he is willing to endure the inconvenience of Ms Payne and Ms Reynolds undergoing 14 days of quarantine on their return from Australia. 

Australian officials will not say it publicly, but China sits on top of the AUSMIN agenda.

Mr Pompeo and other members of the US President Donald Trump’s administration are not so diplomatic.

China, or “the Chinese Communist Party” as Mr Pompeo refers to the Asian power, is firmly in America’s sights.

Mr Pompeo’s speech at the Nixon library on Thursday was titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future” and, as he explained, was the fourth and final speech of a carefully-planned series he organised.

In recent days National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, FBI Director Chris Wray, and Attorney General Barr delivered speeches “to explain the different facets of America’s relationship with China, the massive imbalances in that relationship that have built up over decades, and the Chinese Communist Party’s designs for hegemony”.

“Ambassador O’Brien spoke about ideology,” Mr Pompeo said.

“FBI Director Wray talked about espionage.

“Attorney General Barr spoke about economics.

“And now my goal today is to put it all together for the American people and detail what the China threat means for our economy, for our liberty, and indeed for the future of free democracies around the world.” 

Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo blame China for the global spread of COVID-19, bullying smaller nations, threatening Indo-Pacific security with military island building and “eviscerating” Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Mr Pompeo and other Trump officials also regularly cite China punishing Australia with barley tariffs and beef bans after Mr Morrison asked for an investigation into the origin of COVID-19. 

On Friday State Department officials, in explaining the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, pointed to alleged Chinese illegal activity and a link with Australia.

They also mentioned the book Silent Invasion by Australian intellectual Clive Hamilton.

“We note that the Houston consulate general was previously posted in Australia,” a senior State Department official, who declined to be named, told reporters.

“The trouble that PRC (People’s Republic of China) agents have been causing here in the US isn’t just limited to the US.

“It truly is global.

“Australia, by the way, has done some really good things to combat this covert, coercive, and/or corrupting interference.

“The Australian government has taken a range of measures and Australian civil society and journalists have helped educate the world on the problem.       

“I commend Clive Hamilton’s book Silent Invasion to you if you want to look at the background that goes to that.”