US-Australia: the alliance in an emerging Asia

  • Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

Thank you Bates and thank you for your promotion of the New Colombo Plan it certainly is an important initiative. In face it is where the Coalition Government's commitment to engaging more deeply in our region finds its true expression.

It's a pleasure to be here this morning to participate once again in this vitally important conversation about the future of the Australia-United States Alliance - the Alliance that is at the heart of Australian foreign and security policy. It is the very cornerstone of our strategic architecture, built on our shared values and priorities – our commitment to freedom and democracy, peace and prosperity, and a rules-based international order.

This commitment to values is not abstract, but a real and tangible force - a commitment to action when required. That's why it's so important that our Alliance strengthens and evolves as our nations and the geopolitical environment evolve.

Neither Australia nor the United States are the nations they were in 1951 when Foreign Minister, Percy Spender, and Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, along with New Zealand's Carl Berendsen, signed the ANZUS treaty. They could scarcely have imaged the world we live in today given the extraordinary achievements and challenges of the past 63 years. And I doubt they could have pictured the particular complexities of the shifting global order we face today.

However the core characteristics of our Alliance are very much intact, and have deepened. This is a credit to those who drafted the original treaty motivated by an optimism about the future, a determination to innovate and change with the times, and most of all, to remain friends and allies.

At the heart of the treaty is a commitment to come to one another's aid in the worst of times; and, when times are good, to work together in the interests of both our nations and the wider world to create peace and prosperity.

The success of the Alliance in the past gives us a solid foundation to meet the challenges of changing times. Our relationship is enhanced by our economic partnership – building on the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement – and our two way investment stocks are worth over one trillion dollars, plus there's our two-way trade.

It is United States investment in our energy and resource sector that enables us to be an energy powerhouse - to enable us to in supply China, South Korea and Japan with LNG for example.

To ensure our success endures, it's important that we think critically about the Alliance – what it means to us and what it can achieve for us – and work to create new pathways for cooperation in the 21st century.

So I congratulate the Alliance 21 project and the US Studies Centre on your efforts to find new ways to bolster the Alliance in this era of constant change.

When I spoke to the Alliance 21 conference in Washington earlier this year, I focused on some of the most pressing shared challenges we're facing in the region – North Korea, the struggle with terrorism, the future of Afghanistan. Today, the unexpected and deeply concerning events unfolding in northern Iraq and Syria again put the Alliance to work.

Already it is clear that the Alliance will be as important in the 21st century as it has been in the 20th – and that the United States will remain a global power throughout this century, even as Asia continues to rise. For many, the mantra of the past decade has been that the 21st century is the Asian century. For some, it's an even narrower view – that this will be China's century.

I am dismayed by the amount of commentary that equates Asia's rise with America's decline because I think such thinking fails to take into account the depth of the United States engagement with Asia. And history shows there is room in the global order for more than one centre of power.

Of course the United States, like all advanced economies, faces challenges – economic, political, but the outlook for the United States is stronger than ever, and its role in the Asia Pacific even more imperative. Over coming decades, the United States will remain the single most powerful state in the world.

First, the United States is the world's largest economy.According to a recent estimate by Harvard Professor Jeffrey Frankel, at market exchange rates, the United States economy is still nearly twice the size of world's second largest economy, China.And it accounts for almost 23 per cent of global GDP.

Yes, the United States was shaken by the Global Financial Crisis, but the tapering of monetary stimulus that's now underway signifies a recovery benefiting not just the United States itself, but countries like Australia, with our investment and trade ties.

The manufacturing sector is undergoing a renaissance, thanks to revolutions taking place in energy, robotics, and information technology and of course there's the ingenuity of the American people. In the energy sector, there is significant ongoing growth, with phenomenal opportunities in the years ahead.

The United States has the second largest shale oil reserves in the world – and the fourth largest shale gas reserves – and has pioneered the development of new technologies to exploit them. The United States enjoys natural gas prices that are well below many of its OECD peers – giving American manufacturers a unique competitive advantage. The United States remains the world's most dynamic and innovative economy.

Big data, 3D printing and growing communication between devices are part of this transformation. More important than size alone, America has the kind of economy that enables it to help itself. Superior business management and entrepreneurship are its hallmarks, the capacity to take up rapid technological changes and build competitiveness, and of course, the US higher education system is unrivalled in the world.

US institutions occupy 8 of the top 10 positions on the prestigious Times Higher Education world reputation rankings and 46 of the top 100 institutions. There can be no doubt that America has used its dominance of the 20th century to build the institutions and culture that will enable it to continue to thrive into the 21st century.

Issues that could barely have been imagined when the first ANZUS text was drafted 63 years ago are now at the forefront of our defence and security relationship.

Consider America's world-leading role in outer space. The US did more than any other nation to launch humanity into the space age. It inspired people everywhere by putting men on the moon less than 25 years after the end of the Second World War. Nearly five decades on, it remains the fact that the only Moon boots have been American. And next year, an American spacecraft will be the first ever to travel to the distant dwarf planet Pluto. Sometimes, the significance of these achievements need to be appreciated for their pioneering and ground-breaking nature.

The United States continues to drive space developments that are quietly transforming societies around the globe, with satellite technologies that have become indispensable in our lives. And the US and Australia are working closely to further our aims in space and focussing on safeguarding the sustainability, safety and security of the space environment.

At the last AUSMIN meeting Defence Minister David Johnston and I reaffirmed with US Secretaries Kerry and Hagel both countries' commitment to a partnership on space situational awareness. And joint work is now under way to relocate two vital American space assets to my home state of Western Australia.

The highly advanced Space Surveillance Telescope and C-band radar will make use of Australia's unique geography, in other words we've got a lot of space, to increase the southern hemisphere coverage of the US's Space Surveillance network. This network provides a service that's crucial to satellite safety worldwide, by tracking space objects and providing alerts of potential collisions. We are also working closely to drive global action on space debris – space junk.

Central to our Alliance is our cooperation on intelligence. For much of the Alliance's history, this focussed on the Soviet Union and its Cold War allies. But since September 11 our collaboration has been directed particularly at the threat of non-state actors, at terrorism. This cooperation does not just benefit Australia and US and our five eyes network. It helps us to work with friends, neighbours and allies and partners more broadly in countering the threats that they face.

As our Prime Minister said during his very successful recent visit to North America:

"With continuing terrorist threats, exacerbated by militarised radicals returning from Syria, with Russia's interference in Ukraine, tensions in the South China Sea, and the potential for nuclear brinkmanship in Iran, good intelligence is ultimately in the world's interests, not just our nations".

There is also longstanding, close collaboration between Australia and the United States on cyberspace. In 2011, our two nations agreed that if a cyber-attack were to threaten either country's territorial integrity, political independence or our security, we would work together to address the threat. And we continue to work together in the ASEAN Regional Forum on confidence-building measures to avoid conflict between states in cyberspace.

Space, intelligence, cyber - these three areas exemplify the evolution of the Alliance to meet contemporary challenges. Another six decades from now on, I have no doubt we'll be cooperating in spheres that we cannot imagine today.

Regardless of the challenges to come, an engaged and connected United States is vital to the future security and prosperity of our region.

Australia's foreign policy is firmly focused on advancing our own national interest, but this Alliance is part of our national interest, and has never been more important, to our national security and the security and economic prosperity of our region.

American engagement in our region supports the established international rules-based system. When I meet with leaders and foreign ministers from around the Indian Ocean Asia-Pacific region, they tell me they want more United States leadership, more United States engagement in the region, not less.

They know that each country in this region has benefited from the peace and stability that the United States presence here has supported and encouraged. They know that the extraordinary economic growth and increased prosperity that they've created over the past two decades has been on the back of that stability. I agree.

It's in all our interests that the United States continue its diverse and multi-dimensional engagement in our neighbourhood. The Australia-US Alliance is an important pillar of that regional engagement.

Our shared commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is one way we're taking this forward. The TPP is a mechanism of greater and more complex integration – and a gateway to Indian Ocean Asia-Pacific markets and opportunities for trade and investment on a much greater scale.

In the strategic sphere, we have a shared commitment to the joint posture initiatives that include a rotational presence of thousands of US Marines in Darwin. We are also working to develop enhanced cooperation between the Royal Australian Air Force and the US Air Force over coming years. We look forward to opportunities for increased naval cooperation, as agreed at the AUSMIN meeting last year.

These initiatives are part of a natural evolution of our long-standing bilateral defence cooperation. They offer opportunities to strengthen cooperation with regional partners through combined training and exercises, including in important areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Importantly, Australia and the United States are continuing to develop defence engagement with China – through ship visits, reciprocal exchanges and exercises. Later this month in Hawaii, China will participate in the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise RIMPAC.

This is our core work - to develop a genuine and comprehensive sense of community in the region – where cooperation is the default principle. We envisage a region where China's development as a prosperous nation is welcomed and where China is actively and constructively engaged as a significant power in regional and global affairs. A region where cooperation and dialogue is the norm – through ASEAN, APEC and the East Asia Summit – to forge closer ties, cooperation, transparency and understanding between the very diverse nations of the Indian Ocean Asia-Pacific.

It is our fundamental expectation that our region will continue to grow peacefully. The job for the Alliance, is to build relationships with our neighbours to prevent misunderstanding, to build the institutional frameworks to deal with any disputes that arise and do it peacefully and through established channels and international law. And if things don't go quite to plan, the Alliance gives us a framework within which to tackle security issues in the region.

To navigate unpredictable change, we have to strive to shape our future – while drawing upon the best of the past. Our countries are smart, creative, and committed to the shared values of democratic order and freedom that underpin all of the progress we've made. That's part of what the Alliance 21 project is all about - to harness the opportunities of our close relationship, to build bridges from the past to the future.

In two months Defence Minister David Johnston and I will host Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel for the next round of AUSMIN. Our intention will be to combine American influence and capability with Australia's own economic and strategic strengths, to work together for the good of our nations and beyond.

The Alliance will remain the touchstone of our relationship, and I trust that the work of the Alliance 21 Project and the US Study Centre will play a continuing and important role in ensuring this remains a vibrant and dynamic partnership.

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