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AUSMIN Summit 2020: Between the lines of official media releases

The 2020 Australia-US Ministerial Summit (AUSMIN) in Washington was dominated by an agenda of China-based issues and considerations and took place behind closed doors. Official media releases from the high-level diplomatic meetings were carefully worded.

Some highly significant information was, nevertheless, divulged about the so-called alliance between the US and Australia and the escalation of US-led militarism sweeping the Indo-Pacific region.

The annual 2020 AUSMIN summit in late July with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and their US counterparts, Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper, was billed as the 'most important AUSMIN meeting yet', in the dying months of the Trump administration. (1) The stakes for the White House administration, therefore, were very high.

The US has long relied upon Australia as a major regional hub for operations in the broadened Indo-Pacific region. It was no surprise, therefore, to find the initial series of meetings led to a joint press conference and media release mid-way through proceedings. Later media releases continued to play down the US-led nature of the talks, although Pentagon military planning clearly rested upon the compliance of Australia for the maintenance of traditional hegemonic positions.

Increased role for Darwin in US miitary planning

Information about the plan to place Darwin at the centre of future military strategy together with 'a new bi-lateral team to co-ordinate decisions on joint operations and deployment of hardware and personnel across the Indo-Pacific', left little to the imagination. (2) Coverage that 'this AUSMIN was dominated by China', likewise, clearly showed how the US regard competition to their traditional regional position. (3)      

In more recent times US-led military upgrades to existing facilities have revealed how defence budgets have already established Darwin as a support centre for operations. Intelligence facilities, likewise, on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Guam in Micronesia, have been upgraded to function as operational hubs. Both intelligence facilities exist on an arc from Pine Gap, revealing the importance of Australia for US regional military planning. Elsewhere across the Indo-Pacific region smaller military facilities hosted by various governments have been re-opened to operate at a clandestine level, as links to the main US-led hubs for defence and security provision in a spider-web of matrix-type formations. (4) They form part of the highly secret Pyramider orbiting satellite system at Pine Gap which provides the US intelligence services with secure communication with agents using transmission and reception devices in what are regarded as 'denied areas'. (5)

Information from the recent AUSMIN summit also revealed:  

*the US intend to escalate their wave of militarism across the region. It was noted, for example, 'a possible expansion of annual joint training with US marines in Darwin', was linked to the establishment of 'a new force posture working group that will co-ordinate the nation's Indo-Pacific military planning'; (6)

*No reference was provided about the composition of the working group and how it fitted into existing defence organisational structures, including the recently Pentagon-established China Strategy Group. (7)

Further information about continual all-year round military deployments of US marines through facilities in Darwin was also announced together with a plan to 'include other friendly nations to bolster regional relationships and capabilities'. (8) No US allies were, however, identified.

Co-operation measures were also announced which included defence industry links with 'greater maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade of US military platforms and components in Australia'. (9) No specific industries or their locations were noted.  

Plans to establish a huge US commercial fuel storage facility in Darwin with a budget of $86.4 million would tend to reveal the harbour being used by US vessels for re-fuelling on regional deployments, and the strategic significance of the port facilities in the Northern Territories as a support centre.

Joke of the year: "We make our own decisisons...."

Partly to acknowledge growing concerns that Australia is too subservient towards the US and its aggressive stance towards China, attempts were made to “show that we made our own decisions in our own interests”.  Thus, the Asia Pacific Defence Reporter stated:

The Australian side however, pushed back against US efforts to force Australia to conduct assertive freedom-of-navigation exercises in the South China Sea. Australia’s Reynolds told reporters such exercises were “subject of discussion” but that “our approach remains consistent, we will continue to transit through the region in accordance with international law”. Payne went a step further and said while Australia had much in common with the US, “we make our decisions, our own judgements in the Australian national interest and about upholding our security, our prosperity and our values.”

In the same vein, toward the end of the 2020 AUSMIN summit an official diplomatic statement from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted that 'Australia makes its decisions based on our own national interests and our own timings'. (10) US ambassador to Australia, A.B. Culvahouse, likewise, replied, extending diplomatic niceties and double-talk, with the statement that he 'applauded Australia's robust and ongoing leadership'. (11) When people conduct their professional lives in such a manner, one can but wonder about codes of conduct in private life. Is duplicity ever an ethical consideration for such people?

The 2020 AUSMIN summit quietly closed; the Australian delegation had been briefed and informed of their duties and responsibilities toward the US war-machine.

Finer, more detailed information about the present nature of US-led military planning was not forthcoming, although from the little available with official media releases:
                                          We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Australia loath to sail too close to the wind, Australian, 29 July 2020.
2.     Secret defence pact to counter China, Australian, 30 July 2020.
3.     Good week's work brings the U.S. closer to us, Australian, 30 July 2020.
4.     See: US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2014; and, US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014; and, Tightening Philippine military involvement with the US, The Philippine Star, 5 May 2018.
5.     The Secrets of Pine Gap, William Pinwill, Australian Penthouse, October 1979, page 68.
6.     Secret defence pact, Australian, op.cit., 30 July 2020.
7.     See – China now biggest military threat: US., Australian, 10 July 2020.
8.     Secret defence pact, Australian, op.cit., 30 July 2020.
9.     Ibid.
10.   Australian, op.cit., 29 July 2020.
11.   Send warships to South China Seas, PM told, Australian, 27 July 2020.