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Blinken, Austin conclude Pacific tour with Australia visit

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On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin wrapped up their Pacific tour by visiting Australia, a crucial stop to strengthen Washington’s presence in the region.

The United States has been intensifying its efforts to re-engage with the South Pacific, which has seen China’s growing influence in both diplomatic and military spheres.

Blinken’s visit to Brisbane marks the culmination of a diplomatic blitz that included stops in Tonga and New Zealand, while Secretary of Defense Austin arrived from Papua New Guinea.

During their visit, the US officials engaged in discussions with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and Defense Minister Richard Marles, with formal talks scheduled for Saturday.

Albanese emphasized that “the strategic competition in the region is increasing, and both Australia and the United States are working together to promote security, stability, and prosperity.”

Blinken expressed that the alliance between the two nations has never been stronger and highlighted the importance of having close partners and friends in challenging times.

While military cooperation remained a focal point of discussions, Blinken also emphasized the significance of addressing issues like climate change and supply chain security.

During a visit to a local clean energy company, Tritium, Blinken pointed out that the clean energy transition is becoming a crucial aspect of the US-Australia alliance.

The US sees Australia as a valuable partner in reducing China’s dominance in emerging clean energy industries, particularly in electric vehicle manufacturing, where Australia’s lithium resources play a key role.

Discussions during the visit also centered around finalizing details of the AUKUS pact, a budding military alliance among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The pact involves Australia acquiring a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, a major military upgrade. Attention now shifts to “pillar two,” which focuses on cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, and the development of hypersonic missiles.

The leaders also addressed efforts to strengthen relationships with Pacific nations that are being actively courted by China.

This comes in the context of the Chinese “Peace Ark” hospital ship’s recent visit to Tonga and other Pacific islands, showcasing China’s engagement in the region.

Overall, the visit reinforced the commitment of the United States to the Indo-Pacific region and underscored the importance of collaboration with key allies like Australia to address pressing security and climate challenges.

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