Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, Japanese Minister of Defense KONO Taro, and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper convened a virtual trilateral defence ministerial meeting on Tuesday (local time) to re-affirm mutual cooperation amid coronavirus pandemic and promote vigorous trilateral defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
On recent China’s action in the South China Sea, the US Defence Department said, “The ministers reinforced strong opposition to the use of force or coercion to alter the status quo, and reaffirmed the importance of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight. They expressed serious concern about recent incidents, including the continued militarization of disputed features, dangerous or coercive use of coast guard vessels and “maritime militia,” and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities.”
The Ministers emphasised the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and called for all countries in the region to take meaningful steps to ease tension and build trust.
“The ministers also called for any Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to be consistent with existing international law, in particular as reflected in UNCLOS; not to prejudice the interests of third parties or the rights of any State under international law; and to reinforce existing inclusive regional architecture,” the Department said.
They also expressed their concern over China’s imposition of national security law in Hong Kong as it undermined the city’s special status.
On North Korea’s ballistic missile launches, the Department said, “The ministers shared their strong concern that North Korea’s series of ballistic missile launches pose a serious threat to international security and condemned the repeated violations of multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs). They expressed concern about North Korea’s announcement that it no longer considered itself bound by its moratorium on nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.”
The ministers have again urged North Korea to cease actions that increase tensions and undermine regional stability, to comply with its international obligations, and take clear steps to achieve the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles programs of all ranges in accordance with UNSCRs.
“To this end, they commended ongoing diplomatic efforts to engage North Korea, and called on North Korea to return to the negotiating table and make a sustained commitment to dialogue,” the US Defence Department added.