China has hit out at Australia and the US after the two countries agreed to strengthen military ties.
With Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in Washington DC for the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, the two nations have committed to regular "maritime cooperation" in the South China Sea – a move that has further angered Beijing.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin addressed the meeting on Wednesday evening (local time), using it as an opportunity to lambast Australia and the US for a joint “smear” campaign.
“China has noted the consultations between the Australian Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defense and the US Secretaries of State and Defense,” he told reporters.
“For a while, the US and Australia have been highlighting and hyping up the so-called China threat and smearing China on a series of issues. China deplores and firmly rejects that.”
While stating China had “lodged solemn representations” with both countries, Mr Wang once again called on Australia and the US to change their behaviours – a now common occurrence in the foreign ministry’s daily press conferences.
“We urge the US and Australia to form a correct perception of China, stop interfering in China's internal affairs or damaging Chinese interests, and create enabling conditions to develop bilateral relations with China,” he said.
While he refrained from issuing a threat to Australia, several key communist party figures as well as Chinese state media have previously warned of economical boycotts for Australia if it continues to interfere with China matters.
Earlier this month fellow foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned Australia it must “bear all consequences” after cancelling its extradition treaty with Hong Kong after China implemented national security laws in the special administrative region.
China has already targeted Australia’s agriculture, education and tourism industries – a move US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised.
"It is unacceptable for Beijing to use exports, or student fees as a cudgel against Australia. We stand with our Australian friends,” he said.
Pompeo praises Australia for not bowing to ‘coercive’ China
In yet another dig at China, Mr Pompeo who has routinely criticised Beijing in recent months, praised Canberra for its ongoing stance regarding the communist nation.
"The United States commends the Morrison government for standing up for democratic values and the rule of law despite intense, continued coercive pressure from the Chinese Communist Party to bow to Beijing's wishes,” he said.
Ms Payne was typically more reserved, insisting Australia was capable of maintaining an amiable relationship.
"We are very different countries, we are very different systems, and it's the points on which we disagree that we should be able to articulate in a mature and sensible way," she said.
The US and Australia committed to deepen defence science technology cooperation on hypersonic, electronic warfare and space-based capabilities as well as to the potential expansion of US Marine rotational force joint training exercises in Darwin to include additional partners and allies.
The US and Australia also intend to strengthen supply chains by establishing a US-funded commercially operated strategic military fuel reserve in Darwin.
Ms Reynolds and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a statement of principles on defence cooperation and force posture priorities in the Indo-Pacific to drive Australian-US shared interests for the next decade.
I think it's important as we think forward about how do we deter bad behaviour in the Indo-Pacific and how we defend the international rules based order, in this case specifically with regard to China,” Mr Esper said.
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