US, Australia announce working group to combat China's 'harmful' disinformation
The United States and Australia on Tuesday (local time) announced a new working group to check China's "harmful" disinformation on COVID-19 pandemic and other issues.
Speaking at a press conference following the 30th Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) here, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, in a veiled reference to China, said that "some countries were using the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine liberal democracy".
"COVID-19 has, without doubt, exacerbated the security challenges in our region. Some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy. The role of multilateral institutions is more important now than ever in supporting our values and our strategic objectives as the world respond to the health and economic challenges of COVID-19," she said in the joint press conference with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo by her side.
"We are therefore pleased also to be able to announce a new working group between Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United States Department of State to monitor and respond to harmful disinformation," she said.
Payne said that Australia and the US reiterated their commitment to holding states to account when they breach international norms and laws, and noted the two sides will continue to do so in relation to China's erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong.
The top Australian diplomat said that both countries have agreed to expand cooperation under the health security partnership to explore opportunities to detect and respond to infectious disease threats, including ensuring access to vital vaccines.
On his part, Pompeo said the US commends the Australian government for standing up for democratic values and the rule of law, despite intense, continued, coercive pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to bow to Beijing's wishes.
"It is unacceptable for Beijing to use exports or student fees as a cudgel against Australia. We stand with our Australian friends," Pompeo said at the conference.
The two sides discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and Washington commends Canberra for publicly condemning China's disinformation campaign and insisting on an independent review into the origin of the virus, he said.
Pompeo stated that the two countries look forward to working together on bringing their respective economies back on track from the "entirely preventable pandemic".
"We look forward to working together on our nations' ongoing economic recovery from this entirely preventable pandemic. Today, we reaffirmed our collective commitment to strengthening supply chains, so that they are resilient against future pandemics, CCP retaliation, and the use of forced labour," he said.
Pompeo underlined that the US and Australia "spent a great deal of time" discussing the CCP's attempts to dominate the technology space.
"We also addressed the CCP's attempts to dominate the technology space. We, in fact, spent a great deal of time on this issue. Australia was ahead of us in awakening to the threat of untrusted vendors like Huawei and ZTE. We look forward to nations becoming 'Clean Countries' together," he said.
Apart from Pompeo and Payne, US Secretary of Defence and his Australian counterpart Linda Reynolds were present in the press conference.