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US, Australia team up to criticize China in Asia-Pacific

WASHINGTON – The United States and Australia are teaming up in their criticism of China, taking the country to task for aggressive behavior throughout the Asia-Pacific and not acting quickly to contain the coronavirus.

The U.S. and Australian foreign and defense ministers pledged Tuesday to renew and strengthen a united front against China and what they termed Beijing’s malign behavior throughout the region and beyond that they said had grown worse in recent years.

The two sides — represented by Secretary of Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds — accused China of violating international norms in the South China Sea and vowed to uphold freedom of navigation and the rule of the law as well as democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.

Pompeo said the U.S. and Australia face “immediate crises" that must be dealt with simultaneously. Those include COVID-19 and “Chinese communist party ambitions," particularly its “malign activity in the Indo-Pacific region and indeed all around the world.”

Pompeo applauded Australia for suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, something the Trump administration is also pursuing as China moves to impose curbs on dissent in the former British territory. He also slammed China for using pressure to stop Australia from taking such actions by targeting exports to the country.

Payne said Australia would work to hold all states accountable for violating the rule of law and would support allies in combating “China’s erosion of freedom in Hong Kong.” ”We will step up and ensure that we support our mates," she said.

Payne added that the U.S. and China would establish a working group to combat Chinese disinformation about COVID-19 and other issues.

Payne, Reynolds and their delegation met with Pompeo and Esper at the State Department despite concerns about the coronavirus. They will voluntarily self-quarantine on their return home to Australia.