Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Payne to Pompeo: ‘Australia makes own decisions’

Australia has supported the United States in its current muscular stance against China, but would not act in any way to damage our own relationship with Beijing, said Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Washington today.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used an address after the annual AUSMIN bilateral talks in Washington DC to thank Australia for standing up to pressure from China and continuing to push for answers about the origins of the coronavirus which has caused the global pandemic.

"Our two great democracies face crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and longer term challenges like the Chinese Communist Party's ambitions," Mr Pompeo said.

"The United States commends the Morrison government for standing up for democratic values and the rule of law despite attempts of continued coercive pressure from the Chinese Communist Party."

Ms Payne said the US and Australia shared a commitment to the rule of law in the South China Sea and to protesting "China's erosion of freedom in Hong Kong."

"We will step up and ensure that we support our mates," Ms Payne said.

But she stressed the government's actions would always put Australians first.

"The relationship that we have with China is important. And we have no intention of injuring it," Ms Payne said.

"But nor do we intend to do things that are contrary to our interests."

Mr Pompeo described the meeting between the top US foreign officials and defence chiefs as "lively and productive".

It came after Mr Pompeo recently called for "a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies" to counter China's "bullying".

Ms Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds flew to the US to hold two days of meetings in person and they and their small delegation will have to quarantine for 14 days on their return.

She had earlier described the AUSMIN summit, which was being held for the 30th year, as the "most significant" yet.

Ms Payne said that while Australia and the US shared an interest in securing the Asia-Pacific as a region of peace and prosperity: "We make our own decisions".

"We do that based on our values," she said.

"But most importantly in Australia's national interest. We do often hold common positions with the United States, because we do share so many of those fundamental values and we both want the same kind of region. We want it to be secure. We wanted to be stable. We wanted to be free.

"We don't agree on everything though and that's part of a respectful relationship. It's part of the relationship that has endured over a hundred years of mateship…."

"We deal with China in the same way. We have a strong economic engagement, other engagement, and it works in the interests of both countries."

Among the areas of common ground was finding that China had breached international law in trying to claim territory in the South China Sea.

"The Secretaries and Ministers expressed serious concerns over recent coercive and destabilising actions across the Indo-Pacific," they said in a joint statement.

"In line with the 2016 decision of the Arbitral Tribunal, they affirmed that Beijing's maritime claims are not valid under international law. Specifically, they affirmed that the PRC cannot assert maritime claims in the South China Sea based on the "nine-dash line," "historic rights," or entire South China Sea island groups, which are incompatible with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"They noted that the 2016 Arbitral Award is final and binding on both parties and emphasised that all claims in the South China Sea must be made and resolved in accordance with international law."