Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has announced plans to meet with regional counterparts to discuss bilateral defence engagement and regional security challenges.
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds has travelled to the Indo-Pacific to meet with counterparts from Japan, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines, in a bid to to “advance” bilateral defence partnerships and discuss emerging challenges in the region.
Drawing from sentiment expressed in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update, Minister Reynolds said the Indo-Pacific is in the “midst of the most consequential strategic realignment since World War II”.
“I will use my visit to deepen bilateral engagement with these important partners and friends, who share our vision of an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Minister Reynolds said.
“Our partnerships with regional countries have a long history and we are focused on further strengthening these relationships through expanding defence diplomacy, cooperation and capacity building activities.
“Increased engagement will focus on working with our partners to shape an Indo-Pacific region that is stable, secure and sovereign and where international rules and norms are respected.”
In Japan, Minister Reynolds will meet with newly-appointed counterpart Minister of Defence Kishi Nobuo, to discuss joint efforts to address shared challenges, and “set the direction” for the next phase of bilateral defence and security co-operation, which forms part of the nations' 'Special Strategic Partnership'.
Minister Reynolds will then be hosted by Singapore’s Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, with the pair to review ongoing defence engagement efforts and discuss the maintenance of regional stability and security under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
“My visit will provide an important opportunity to mark the 30th anniversary of Singapore’s military training in Australia,” Minister Reynolds added.
The trip will also involve discussions with Brunei’s Second Minister of Defence Pehin Halbi, ahead of the country’s stint as ASEAN chair in 2021.
According to Minister Reynolds, the regional counterparts will discuss recent developments in the region, and the nations’ co-chairmanship of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus Experts’ Working Group on Military Medicine.
Minister Reynolds’ tour of the Indo-Pacific will conclude in the Philippines, where she will meet with Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon to discuss respective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Program, and the progress of defence industry engagement.
Minister Reynolds stressed that all aspects of the tour would be conducted with “strict adherence” to safety and health protocols to mitigate COVID-19 risks.
“I am grateful to the governments of Japan, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines for the conscientious COVID-19 measures put in place to facilitate a safe visit,” the minister said.
Minister Reynolds' tour follows her meeting with the Five Eyes, in which the intelligence partners committed to strengthening cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s also recently met with her counterparts from the US, Japan and India for the second Quad Foreign Ministers Meeting (the Quad).
The Quad addressed emerging challenges that threaten to “undermine” the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, with Minister Payne acknowledging that the region is “becoming more complex”.
Minister Payne and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo specifically noted concerns regarding the People’s Republic of China’s “malign activity” in the Indo-Pacific.
As such, the Quad has agreed to “enhance co-operation” to promote a “strategic balance” and support “a region of resilient and sovereign states”, which engage on the basis of rules, norms and international law.
[Related: Five Eyes discuss co-operation ramp up]