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NEWS | May 3, 2024

Austin Lauds Strong Ties Between Key Allies in Indo-Pacific

By Joseph Clark DOD News

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III underscored today the United States' commitment to deepening ties with key allies throughout the Indo-Pacific after meeting with his counterparts from Australia, Japan and the Philippines.
 

A service member in uniform shakes hands with a civilian man wearing a suit.
Austin Arrival
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is greeted by Navy Adm. John Aquilino, 26th Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, upon arrival to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for the Indo-Pacom change of command ceremony, May 1, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 240501-D-XI929-1006

The meeting, which Austin hosted at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, marks a key milestone as the four nations work to enhance interoperability among their forces. 

"Just last year in Singapore, the defense ministers from Australia, Japan, the Philippines and the United States met together for the first time," Austin said during a press conference following the talks. "Today's meeting — the second of its kind — built on that momentum and it helped advance a vision that our four democracies share for a free and open Indo-Pacific."  

In describing that momentum, Austin highlighted last month's Maritime Cooperative Activity in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone last month — the second multilateral cooperative of its kind over the past year alone.  

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"Activities like this don't just strengthen our interoperability, they also build bonds among our forces," he said. "And they underscore our shared commitment to international law in the South China Sea." 

These discussions come at a critical time for defense cooperation throughout the region, a defense official said earlier this week in previewing the talks. 

We've gathered here because we share a vision for peace, stability and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific."
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III

The official noted China's recent harassment of Philippine vessels operating in the South China Sea.  

"Japan and Australia have been some of our most vocal and staunchest allies in speaking up about the completely unacceptable nature of this behavior," the official said, adding that the Philippines have also highlighted China's concerning behavior throughout the region.

"How we, as allies, not only operate together, but how we think about addressing the really worrisome operational behavior and coercion that we see taking place in a number of places across the region, is obviously a topic that we're going to focus on together," the official said.   

During their meeting today, the four leaders discussed the current security landscape across the region, and discussed new initiatives extend more security and stability to the Indo-Pacific. 

A service member in uniform stands at attention as a civilian wearing a suit disembarks an airplane.
Austin Arrival
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is greeted by Navy Adm. John Aquilino, 26th Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, upon arrival to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for the Indo-Pacom change of command ceremony, May 1, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 240501-D-XI929-1004

Those efforts include more maritime exercises and activities between the four countries and pursuing coordinated security assistance for the Philippines.  

"We've gathered here because we share a vision for peace, stability and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific," Austin said. "We've charted an ambitious course to advance that vision together, and that's why today's meetings were so important.  

The meeting capped a series of meetings between Austin and his counterparts while in Hawaii to preside over the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command change of command ceremony later this week.  

Earlier today, Austin met bilaterally with Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles. 

The meeting follows Australia's announcement last week of its new national defense strategy which commits to a 20% increase in defense spending over the next decade.   

Austin also met with Japanese Defense Minister Kihara Minoru. The meeting follows Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's official state visit to the U.S. last month where the two countries announced significant strides in strengthening defense cooperation. 

A service member in uniform and a civilian man wearing a suit engage in conversation.
Austin Arrival
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is greeted by Navy Adm. John Aquilino, 26th Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, upon arrival to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for the Indo-Pacom change of command ceremony, May 1, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 240501-D-XI929-1007

Following the bilateral meetings with his counterparts, Austin convened the 13th trilateral defense ministers' meeting among the U.S., Australia and Japan.   

The three leaders focused on a range of regional topics and how the three countries can further expand initiatives aimed at peace and security throughout the Indo-Pacific. 

They also discussed cooperation on science and technology and signed a new trilateral agreement outlining cooperation on research, development, test and evaluation for new capabilities.   

The agreement encourages standardization and interoperability on defense technology and aims to make the countries' already strong ties on science and technology more efficient and cost effective. 

On Friday, Austin will preside over the Indo-Pacom change of command ceremony.   

During the ceremony, Austin is expected to recognize outgoing Indo-Pacom commander Navy Adm. John Aquilino's efforts that were instrumental in strengthening U.S. partnerships throughout the region.   

Additionally, the secretary will have an opportunity to meet with the leaders of the Freely Associated States, which include the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.