US Secretary of Defence James Mattis has warned North Korea is the “most urgent threat” to Australia’s regional security and foreshadowed an increased US defence force presence in the Asia-Pacific region as he prepared to land in Sydney on Monday.
Mr Mattis praised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for his “dogmatic pragmatism” and his optimism to challenges in the region, before meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, Defence Minister Marise Payne and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week.
Mr Mattis signalled the military aggression of the North Korean regime would be a central part of discussions in Australia, warning the “current situation cannot continue”.
“North Korea’s particular pursuit of nuclear weapons is not new but the regime has increased the scope and pace of its efforts,” he said at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore. “It’s nuclear weapons maturing is a threat to us all.”
Mr Mattis said North Korea had a clear intention of acquiring intercontinental missiles.
“The era of strategic patience is over,” he said. “There is a strong international consensus that the current situation cannot continue.”
Mr Mattis said the Trump administration would increase diplomatic and economic pressure until Pyongyang permanently abandoned its ballistic missile program.
On Friday, the UN Security Council voted to increase sanctions against North Korea after a series of missile launches. The council instigated asset freezes on 14 North Korean officials and the national Koryo Bank.
Speaking after Mr Mattis in Singapore, Senator Payne said Australia would work closely with the US to “increase the cost of North Korea’s behaviour”.
In strong comments on China, Mr Mattis condemned it for its ongoing territorial expansion in the South China Sea while also hinting at a closer strategic relationship with Taiwan.
Asked by a general of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the audience if this meant the US was abandoning the “one China policy,” which treats China and Taiwan as one country, Mr Mattis denied this was the case.
He said while competition between the US and China was bound to occur, “conflict is not inevitable”.
On Friday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressed the dialogue and also took aim at China, warning a “coercive China would find its neighbours resenting [it]” over its expansion in the South China Sea.
Mr Turnbull said Australia would not use the US alliance to “abrogate our responsibility for our own destiny” and that the “United States’ own interests in the Indo-Pacific demand more US engagement, not less”.
He also urged leaders to “reject the de-globalisation impulse,” in what could be seen as a criticism of some of the US administration’s more isolationist policies, after the US withdrawal from the Paris accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Mr Mattis said while the TPP “didn’t suit the needs of our population”, it did not mean the US was turning its back on bilateral trade.
“What a crummy world we would live in if we all retreated into our own countries,” he said.
Mr Mattis said the Prime Minister’s speech reminded the world that “large nations, small nations and even shrimps” can thrive in robust relationships but that every country needed to contribute more to their security, drawing on similar comments by US President Donald Trump at NATO this week.
Before talks with Ms Bishop and Senator Payne on Monday, Mr Mattis said the Trump administration would expand the Department of Defence’s footprint in the Asia Pacific and “strengthen US operational capability in the region”.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald