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The 2021 Australia-US Ministerial Consultations: Five Critical Areas for Cooperation
A detail of the flag of Australia on an Australian Army soldier on May 09, 2019 in Seymour, Australia (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

The 2021 Australia-US Ministerial Consultations: Five Critical Areas for Cooperation

John Lee

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On September 16, the US will host the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN), the annual meeting of cabinet-level principals responsible for foreign affairs and the defense of Australia and the US. Although Australia participates in similar 2+2 meetings with a handful of countries that include the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and India, AUSMIN is the most established and essential of these for Canberra, reflecting the singular importance of Australia’s alliance with the US.

While affirming the closeness of the two countries’ relationship, AUSMIN represents much more than symbolism or tradition, as the US-Australia bilateral alliance is also a practical relationship based on action, outputs, and outcomes. AUSMIN is therefore a necessary event on the calendar that leads to both countries’ formulating objectives and implementing policy decisions. Viewed in a broader context, AUSMIN also increases regional countries’ confidence that US alliances are not merely historical artifacts, but relationships that evolve and respond to the most important of current challenges.

The latter point, increasing regional and global confidence in US-led strategic architecture, is crucial, as the rising threat posed by authoritarian nations such as China and Russia requires a collective and coherent response by democratic countries and groupings. The US’s formal alliances in the Indo-Pacific complement other groupings of democracies such as the Group of Seven and newer entities such as the Quad, which involves the US, Japan, India, and Australia. In particular, its alliances with Japan and Australia are the US’s northern and southern anchors in the Indo-Pacific. Consequently, as one of the most important annual meetings of the US-Australia alliance, AUSMIN takes on even broader significance and relevance due to its role in ensuring regional and global balances of power, resolve, and values that favor liberal democracies.

This paper outlines five areas that, from an Australian perspective, are critical to the Australia-US security partnership and efforts to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. Areas of discussion that should be prioritized by AUSMIN participants include: shifting orthodoxies around warning times for military conflict with China; increasing multi-domain joint military training; responding to illegitimate Chinese economic activity; adapting shared geopolitical strategy to account for the pandemic’s impact in the region; and countering Chinese narratives about the superiority of authoritarian models of governance.

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