Secretary Antony J. Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Richard Marles at a Joint Press Availability
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. Secretary Austin and I were very happy to welcome our Australian friends – Foreign Minster Wong,...
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. Secretary Austin and I were very happy to welcome our Australian friends – Foreign Minster Wong,...
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. Secretary Austin and I were very happy to welcome our Australian friends – Foreign Minster Wong, Defense Minister Marles – for our first AUSMIN under Prime Minister Albanese's government. It's just wonderful to have you both in Washington. Penny and I have had the chance to meet multiple times pretty much around the world, but it's a special pleasure to have her at the State Department for the first time. So, so good to be with you.
More than seven decades ago the ANZUS Treaty kicked off our shared work to strengthen the fabric of peace in the Pacific. Our discussions today show that that work continues in earnest not only for the benefit of Australians and Americans and others in the Indo-Pacific, but for people around the world. This is our 32nd consultation overall. That such a meeting has persisted for so long shows the enduring importance of the Australian-American alliance. It transcends parties. It has long enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the United States. It covers the breadth and depth of issues facing our people and it reflects a relationship that will only continue to grow deeper.
Take our work on the climate crisis, which reflects an existential threat to the survival of our people and people everywhere and one that demands a truly global response. Early this fall, Australia joined our Clean Energy Demand Initiative, which brings together companies and countries to power the clean energy transition. Already nine American companies have committed to investing at least $2.2 billion to help upgrade Australia's clean energy infrastructure. Or take Partners in the Blue Pacific, a new initiative that seeks to work with Pacific Island countries toward our shared vision of a resilient, inclusive, and prosperous Pacific.
One of the ways we're doing that together is through an initiative focused on preplacing humanitarian supplies in secure locations across the region so the Pacific Islands can better prepare and respond to any disaster.
Today, we discussed our joint efforts to counter President Putin's brutal war on Ukraine and to support Ukraine's energy sector against Russian attacks. We're grateful for Australia's efforts to impose sanctions coordinated with ours – as well as our shared work through the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, through which we're coordinating our aid efforts.
Australia has also shown extraordinary generosity in supporting Ukraine as it defends its territory, contributing more than $440 million in military and humanitarian assistance.
We're also working together through longstanding multilateral organizations, notably ASEAN. Both our countries are committed to its centrality, and we're standing up and revitalizing other bodies to draw on complementary strengths and those of our allies and partners.
In the Quad, along with India and Japan, we're advancing a shared vision of an open and free Indo-Pacific region. A key part of that is making sure that goods and ideas can flow freely throughout the region. Just last week at the Quad Technology Business and Investment Forum in Sydney, leaders from the private sector, academia from across our countries discussed new ways to collaborate on supporting emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and biotech and ensuring that they uphold our democratic values.
In May, together with 13 other like-minded partners representing more than 40 percent of global GDP, we launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, an affirmative economic vision for a region that is free and open, secure and resilient. IPEF will help our countries advance a number of priorities like combatting corruption, promoting high-standard trade provisions for labor rights and the digital economy, hastening the clean energy transition, preparing for and responding to supply chain disruptions. We'll see this collaboration in action next week when the IPEF partners meet in Brisbane to discuss each of these priorities.
Today, we discussed as well how we can continue to advance AUKUS, a vital security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Our three countries have made significant strides toward Australia obtaining nuclear-powered submarines while adhering to the highest nonproliferation standards. We're committed to delivering on that promise at the earliest possible time.
We're also deepening our collaboration on a number of other key areas, including cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities that will help us secure our technological edge and our security going forward. We're increasingly weaving together our alliances in Europe and Asia, in the Atlantic, and across the Pacific because the challenges and threats that those alliances face are increasingly interconnected, and we're more effective when we stand and work together.
We also discussed our efforts to address challenges posed by the PRC to the international rules-based order, including attempts to disrupt the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, efforts to unilaterally change the status quo and undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and attempts to intimidate other countries through economic coercion. Australia is no stranger to such efforts, and we reaffirmed that we would stand with them against these pressure tactics.
We also agreed on the need to responsibly manage the relationship with China to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict and to find areas of cooperation – such as on climate, on global health – that would help both our own people as well as people around the world.
Across the breadth and depth of our relationship, one of the most exciting parts to me is the thriving scientific partnership with researchers and scientists working together developing leading technologies. Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit the University of Melbourne's biomedical project. We've got American companies like Illumina and IBM conducting genomics research and accelerating progress on quantum computing. When I arrived, Moderna had recently announced that they would be opening an mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in Melbourne, the first such facility of theirs in the Southern Hemisphere.
These are the cutting-edge issues that will help define the 21st century. Our collaboration between Australia and the United States is helping to lead the way. Throughout our history, that's what the Australia-U.S. relationship has always: evolve, grow, and ultimately deliver for our people; and make their lives a little bit more safe, a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous. Today's AUSMIN was another step towards building that brighter future for all of our people. It's wonderful, again, to have you both here, and we're so grateful for the work that we did today.
Penny, over to you.
FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Thank you very much, Tony, and can I say how much the Deputy Prime Minister and I are pleased to be here. And we thank the U.S. and Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin for hosting today's meeting, and also for the constructive and insightful round of talks we have just held. The U.S. is Australia's vital security ally. It's our closest global partner. And as Secretary Blinken said, there is an enduring commitment from Australia to the alliance.
AUSMIN is obviously the primary forum for us as an alliance to share our perspectives, to make progress on shared interests; and I think what we are doing, as you will see when the communique or statement is issued, is deepening the cooperation between our two countries to make progress on those interests. We are committed to working together to meet and address shared challenges including climate change. And I think one of the overriding sense – senses I have out of the discussion today is a shared resolve to enhance our relationship to meet the growing strategic challenges of our time.
What we want is a region that is stable, prosperous, and respectful of sovereignty. And as we have made clear many times, U.S. engagement in the Indo‑Pacific makes an indispensable contribution to such a region. 2022 has been a big year, and I want to commend the administration for its significant investments in the Indo‑Pacific. And alongside that, I think you see complementary work done by our government and the actions we've taken to increase engagement with the region.
There are three areas where our collaboration, I think, has a different approach and enhanced emphasis. The first is climate. Obviously, the new Australian Government is committed to ambitious domestic action on climate and to being an ambitious and constructive international player on this issue. And you will see in the work that we're doing reflected the president and prime minister's commitment to pursue action on climate change and clean energy as a new pillar of the alliance.
Second, obviously, ASEAN, and I echo Secretary Blinken's words. We welcome ASEAN-U.S. comprehensive strategic partnership. We are committed to expanding that partnership, including in practical ways through Mekong region, Mekong Safeguards Program.
And thirdly the Pacific, where we have been very active since we have been elected. And we welcome the work – we're working with the U.S. on initiatives such as the Partners in the Blue Pacific Initiative – which I think was the last time we might have seen each other, Tony – to the funding for an increased disaster risk reduction, including through prepositioning of responses to humanitarian disasters, and the offer from the U.S. Coast Guard to participate in the Maritime Security Program – maritime security being such an important part of the Pacific's interests.
We welcome the discussion. We welcome the friendship, and we welcome the work we are doing together to meet the challenges of these times. So, thank you again for hosting us, and we look forward to hosting you at the next AUSMIN in 2023.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Lloyd.
SECRETARY AUSTIN: Thanks. Good afternoon, everyone. Deputy Prime Minister Marles and Minister Wong, thank you for traveling to Washington to join us today. It has been a real pleasure hosting you here along with my good friend and colleague, Secretary Blinken.
Now, we call the relationship between the United States and Australia the unbreakable alliance and for good reason: Australia and the United States have stood shoulder to shoulder in every major conflict for more than a century. The bond between our democracies and our peoples have been forged by shared sacrifice, shared values, and shared history. And as we look to the future, those bonds are stronger than they've ever been.
That was clear throughout the outstanding discussions that we had today. We covered a lot of ground. We spoke about the complex and changing security environment that we face. We discussed our strong strategic alignment. And we committed ourselves to concrete steps to deepen our cooperation in both diplomacy and defense.
The United States and Australia share a vision of a region where countries can determine their own futures, and they should be able to seek security, prosperity free from – and prosperity free from coercion and intimidation. Unfortunately, that vision is being challenged today. China's dangerous and coercive actions throughout the Indo-Pacific, including around Taiwan, and toward the Pacific Island countries and in the East and South China Seas threaten regional peace and stability.
And meanwhile, Russia's cruel and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is also an attack on the rules-based international order that makes countries everywhere more secure.
In the face of these challenges, the United States and Australia stand united and determined to be a force for stability and to work with likeminded partners for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Today, we agreed to deepen our defense cooperation in several important ways, including enhancing our force posture cooperation. And based upon today's talks, we will increase rotational presence of U.S. forces in Australia. That includes rotations of bomber task forces, fighters, and future rotations of U.S. Navy and U.S. Army capabilities.
We'll also expand our logistics and sustainment cooperation, and that will deepen our interoperability and create more agile and resilient capabilities. We'll also continue to find ways to further integrate our defense industrial bases in the years ahead. And we agreed to enhance trilateral defense cooperation and to invite Japan to integrate into our force posture initiatives in Australia. These efforts just don't demonstrate the closeness of our alliance; they also show the work that we're doing together to deliver tangible results toward our common vision. I'm proud of what we've accomplished, and I'm excited about we'll get done together in the near future.
So let me close by saying that I know that our bond, our mateship, will serve as a bedrock of peace and security for many years to come. And so, Deputy Prime Minister Marles and Minister Wong, thank you again for our discussion today and thank you for all that you do for our enduring alliance. Thanks.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES: Well, thank you, Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin. Let me start by saying the pleasure that both the foreign minister and I have felt being in today's discussions; and thank Lloyd and Tony for the hospitable way in which they have been – we've been hosted, the generosity of spirit which has underpinned the discussions that we've had today, and the familial spirit which has underpinned those discussions. I think on a number of occasions as we spoke today there were – we reiterated the idea that this was a conversation amongst family, and it definitely underpinned the character and the frankness of those conversations.
Australia's most important relationship is its alliance with the United States. It is central to our worldview. It is completely central to our national security. It is, lasting now for more than 70 years, one of the oldest alliances which exists in the world today. And the history of that, the weight of that, has been a basis upon which we have conducted our conversations today.
There is a huge sense of alignment that we feel between the Biden administration and the Albanese government in the trajectory of the alliance. And there is an enormous sense of gratitude and pleasure that we have in the way in which America is engaging in the Indo-Pacific, its presence – not just in terms of attendance at the various gatherings in the Indo-Pacific, but what America is bringing to those tables. It is as good as we have seen in a very, very long time.
And for us, that represents an opportunity – an opportunity that has underpinned the discussions that we've had today to be ambitious in the way in which we can work together to promote the alliance and to promote both of our national interests in the world. But it's really important that we take that opportunity right now, because as Secretary Austin has just described, we face a world in which the strategic environment is as complex and precarious, really, as any point since the end of the Second World War.
We see the pressure that the global rules-based order is being placed under with Russia's appalling, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, but we see a pressure being placed on the global rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific as well. So, we have all felt the responsibility of taking the opportunity at this moment, but the need to take it because of the significance of the time.
Today, we have taken real steps forward, as Secretary Austin said, in greater defense force posture cooperation between our two countries; which will see an increased level of activity between our two countries across all domains, which is – will be really important. We're also looking at increased force posture cooperation in enhancing the capacity of facilities in Australia.
As Secretary Austin also pointed out, it's really important that we are doing this from the point of view of providing balance within our region and involving other countries within our region. And we look forward to being able to have more engagement with Japan in terms of that force posture cooperation.
Later this week, the foreign minister and I will be in Tokyo conducting our 2+2 meeting with Japan. And it is a great outcome of today's meeting that we can go to Japan at the end of this week with an invitation for Japan to be participating in more exercises with Australia and the United States.
Today, we have also taken steps to create a more seamless defense industrial base between our two countries. We need to be working closer together to enhance our military capability and to develop new technologies. But for all of that to happen, it's really important that we do everything we can to break down barriers which exist in regulation between our two countries. And we couldn't be more pleased in the sense of shared commitment that there has been on the part of both the U.S. and ourselves, in relation to making real steps forward in terms of breaking down those barriers to create that seamless defense industry environment.
And finally, the most important capability that Australia is seeking to pursue right now is of course a nuclear-powered submarine capability. We are very mindful of the significance of the United States, working with the United Kingdom through the AUKUS framework, in providing Australia with that capability. That is a huge step that America is taking. It will transform Australia's strategic posture. It will increase our capability dramatically. And we are deeply grateful for the work that we've been able to do with the United States in developing that. And tomorrow, with Ben Wallace, our counterpart from the United Kingdom, Secretary Austin and I will be meeting with him in the first AUKUS defense ministers meeting.
All of this speaks to the ambitious agenda that I've described. There is, I think, an energy in the way in which we have gone about the discussions today, which has been really free-flowing – a sense of a genuine discussion between two countries which could not be closer. And we're excited by that, and we very much look forward to hosting AUSMIN next year in Australia.
MR PRICE: We will now turn to questions. We will start with Nancy Youssef of The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Austin, is there any hard data that supports or refutes Representative McCarthy's claim that the vaccine mandate is hurting readiness? And Secretary Blinken, as you know, there were drone strikes over the weekend on Russian bases. Putting aside who was behind those specific attacks, do you personally think the Ukrainians are morally justified in carrying out strikes inside Russian territory? Thank you.
SECRETARY AUSTIN: In terms of – thanks, Nancy – in terms of Mr. McCarthy's statement, I would refer you back to him for his data, but – that he's using. I've not seen any hard data that directly links the COVID mandate to an effect on our recruiting.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And Nancy, with regard to Ukraine and Russia: first, of course, we've seen the reports of those strikes. I don't have any more detailed information than that. To put it in context, what's happening every single day and every single night in Ukraine is strike upon strike coming from Russia and now trying to take out the civilian infrastructure that is allowing people to have heat, to have water, to have electricity – what we've called weaponizing winter. That is the daily and nightly reality in Ukraine.
We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia. But the important thing is to understand what Ukrainians are living through every day with the ongoing Russian aggression against their country and our determination to make sure that they have in their hands, along with many other partners around the world, the equipment that they need to defend themselves, to defend their territory, to defend their freedom.
MR PRICE: Matt Cranston, Australia Financial Review.
QUESTION: Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken, if I can address you two first. Almost to the day last year we were told in this same room that there would be increased rotations of U.S. personnel, of fighters, bombers, navy, to Australia. And really, there hasn't been a significant increase in that time. Could you please provide some quantification of what you've agreed on today? And do you get a feeling or do you have any anticipation of what – the message that might send to China?
SECRETARY AUSTIN: Yeah, so what we've agreed to do is to increase rotations of our air, land, and sea forces to – and these are rotational forces, obviously – to Australia, to – and that helps, obviously, with our interoperability, and the presence in a theater will certainly help. The details of those rotations will be worked out by our staffs and announced later; we don't have specifics to announce to you today, but we do have a commitment between our two countries to in fact do what we just described.
MR PRICE: Kylie Atwood, CNN.
QUESTION: Thanks. Okay, I've got a few questions.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Multi-part, multi-person.
QUESTION: That's right. And you're the principal here, so you'll get two.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh boy. Thank you, Kylie.
QUESTION: According to a poll out this morning, Secretary Blinken, there appears to be a softening in support for – from the American public for continued support for the Ukraine war without any end state in mind. So how does the American public opinion impact the administration's Ukraine policy? And this is of course just one poll that we're looking at, but if American public opinion turns against continued support for Ukraine in a widespread way, will the administration pull back?
And then my second question is Taiwan and Ukraine-related, given I expect Taiwan was a major topic of discussion today. Senator Hawley wrote you a letter today arguing that Taiwan is more important for U.S. national interests than Ukraine, and arms transferred to Ukraine are impeding the U.S. ability to supply Taiwan with the weapons it needs. How do you respond?
I'll go through all the questions and then you can answer, I guess.
Secretary Austin, building on Nancy's question, is the United States proactively working to prevent Ukraine from gaining access or developing its own long-range weapons, including drones that could be used to hit inside Russia to deeper military targets?
And then, Foreign Minister Wong, what would be your message to the incoming Republican congressional leadership on the House side if they consider a trip to Taiwan, given what we saw happen with China's military response to Speaker Pelosi's visit in August? Do you think that would be a good idea, or would it make the situation in the region more dangerous?
And deputy prime minister, last question. You spoke about enhanced discussions on military capabilities, and I wonder if you've received any assurances today from the Biden administration that they will push forward in terms of greenlighting additional military supply chains in Australia for weaponry that's made by U.S. companies.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Kylie, thank you. Let me start. With regard to the poll you cited, I haven't seen it, so I can't speak to it specifically. But I can say this: First, we don't do policy by polls. We do policy based on the interests of the United States, and the interests of the United States are clearly in supporting and helping Ukraine defend itself against this aggression from Russia.
First and foremost, I think Americans across the board care about a situation in which one nation is trying to bully another and to do terrible damage to the country, to its to its people that we're seeing. But beyond that, I think there's an understanding that what's at stake in Ukraine are vitally important principles that go to peace and security around the world – the notion that one nation can't simply try to redraw the borders of another by force, subjugate it to its will by force.
And I think Americans know and understand that if we let something like that go with impunity, then we're likely to see a Pandora's box open where aggressors around the world will get a message that they are free to proceed and do exactly the same thing. And that's a world that will be much more difficult, much more challenging for America, for its interests, as well as its values.
Of course – and President Biden has said this many times – no foreign policy can be effectively sustained without the informed consent of the American people. So, it's always important for us to make sure that we're communicating and that we're hearing from Americans. And of course, we do that as well with our engagements with their representatives, the members of Congress. But the hallmark to date of our efforts in support of Ukraine have been very strong bipartisan support. I don't see signs of that ending.
With regard to Taiwan, look, I can't speak to weapons systems, et cetera. But I think in fact it's exactly the opposite, in the sense that China is watching very carefully what's happening in Ukraine – watching very carefully the response of the United States and countries around the world to the Russian aggression. And what they've seen are countries coming together in extraordinary ways to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself, to put tremendous pressure on Russia to end its aggression, and as well to make sure that, in the case of NATO, we're strengthening our own capacity to defend ourselves in case that aggression were to spread. And I think that has to have an impact on China's thinking about the future and about what it may be looking at in terms of Taiwan.
We have a strong stake in preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. This has been the status quo for decades; we're determined to preserve it. It's one of the issues of course that came up in the important discussions that President Biden had with President Xi a few weeks ago. But the Secretary of Defense is certainly welcome to address the specific question of weapons systems.
SECRETARY AUSTIN: So, your question was: Is the U.S. working to prevent Ukraine from developing its own long-range strike capability? The short answer is no, we're absolutely not doing that. As you've seen, we've spent well over $19 billion in providing security assistance to Ukraine. We have, in addition to that, engaged allies and partners routinely to get them to provide assistance as well, security assistance as well.
As you know, we stood up to Ukraine Defense Contact Group. That group meets every month. And when I meet with the – with our colleagues there, I am encouraged by the level of commitment and by their resolve. So, they – and we met as recent as last month, and their resolve was really impressive, and so we'll work to sustain that.
But the answer to your question is no, we are not working to prevent Ukraine from developing their own capability.
FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: First on Taiwan, then if you'll forgive me, I might add something on Ukraine. In relation to Taiwan, I echo Secretary Blinken's comments, which is we have a – we, collectively, have a strong stake in preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. And Australia has made its view clear about the importance of not – there being no unilateral change to the status quo. I won't comment on what your Congress does; I can comment on what Australians do. And we value our longstanding, unofficial relationship with Taiwan, reflected in – underpinned by cultural, economic, and people-to-people ties, and that's how we'll continue to engage, in a manner that is consistent with a longstanding and bipartisan "one China" policy.
May – if I may, be so bold as to respond from Australia's perspective on Ukraine, and as someone who is – we are ministers of a middle power, and we operate in a region where this comes up. And the point I make, whether I'm in ASEAN forums or the East Asia Summit, or in bilateral meetings, or in the Pacific is that, actually, Ukraine matters to everybody. Because the peace that has endured since the conclusion of the – of World War II, and the settlement that nations came to, has been underpinned by a commitment to various rules and principles, including in the UN Charter. And if there is no – if there is not sufficient response to Russia abrogating that charter, we are all less secure. That is what underpins Australia's position, bipartisan position on Ukraine, and why we commend the administration and the American people for your leadership on Ukraine.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES: Yeah, and if I might just add, we see on Ukraine the need for the world to stand with Ukraine, for as long as it takes, in order to put Ukraine in a position where it can see the end of this conflict on its own terms. It's fundamentally important that we do that. And from an Australian perspective, we are completely committed to standing with Ukraine for as long as it takes.
In respect of your question to me, we are really encouraged by the conversations that we've had today around working hard to remove barriers to create a seamless defense industrial base between our two countries. It's really important. It's really important for a couple of reasons. I think the U.S. sees that our defense industry does produce technologies which are very useful for the collective use of all of us. And it's important that they are developed. And a much closer defense industrial base between our two countries empowers or leverages the United States power to help see those technologies be developed much faster.
I think there is also a sense that, from an American point of view, that we need to be utilizing the full benefit and – that the Australian defense industrial base can provide, and that means seeing a significant uplift to the Australian defense industrial base. And that goes across the board in terms of all the capabilities that are worked on within Australian defense industry.
And that really gets to the nub of where we're at right now. In the past, these questions might have been seen through a prism of defense industry from various countries, competing with each other. Given the strategic circumstances that the world finds itself in now, we're beyond that. We're at a point now where we need to be building as much cooperation as possible. There's a term in this country of "friendshoring" which we really like, which speaks to the idea of how important it is that we get past old notions of competing in respect of defense industry, but that we are really working together and that if we do see an uplift in Australian defense industry, that makes a contribution to the capability of our collective effort, and that's really been the kind of idea which has underpinned the conversations that we've had today.
MR PRICE: We'll take a final question from Annelise Nielson of Sky News.
QUESTION: Thank you. I also have a few parts to the questions, if you'll bear with me. Secretary Austin, Australia is facing a capabilities gap with the nuclear submarines not likely to come online before the 2030s. Is there any appetite to be selling specifically the B-21 bombers to Australia in any kind of close timeframe? And, also, should we be reading at all into Japanese engagement? Will that mean that they're going to be involved with AUKUS at all?
Secretary Blinken, you've stated on quite a few occasions that America won't leave Australia alone on the field when dealing with China. In particular, we've had a bit of a thaw in diplomatic relations, but we're still facing some pretty severe economic coercion. What's the U.S. doing in practical terms to help Australia with the economic coercion with China? And specifically, why is the U.S. blocking an appellate court at the World Trade Organization that would be able to adjudicate issues like that we've seen with Bali and wine?
Minister Wong, there is a room at the new Australian embassy that will be named after the first female ambassador to the United States. We've never had a female ambassador to the United States before. You've been an advocate for women in leadership, particularly in foreign policy. Will you be the one who appoints our first female ambassador to the United States?
And Minister Marles, will all the AUKUS submarines be built in Australia? Thank you.
SECRETARY AUSTIN: So, on your first question, regarding potential capability gaps, we set out on this project 14 months ago. We dedicated 18 months to – for a period of consultation, and during that period our goal is to design the optimal pathway for Australia to get a nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarine as quickly as possible. We recognize where Australia is and how – when its capability begins to diminish, and, of course, we will address all of that in that pathway that we create. And so, we will not allow Australia to have a capability gap going forward.
Regarding the B-21, we did not discuss the sale of a B-21 to Australia. I'd like to get the first B-21 tested and fully outfitted, before we have those kind of discussions. And as you know, we have a ways to go before we do that. But since you asked about that platform, it is a very, very capable platform, and I think it will provide tremendous capability to our joint and combined efforts.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me just start by correcting, if I may, your question. I did not say we will not leave Australia alone on the field, I said we will not leave Australia alone on the pitch. (Laughter.) Just wanted to set that straight at the outset.
FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: She Australian-ized it. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And, of course, we're not. First, when it comes to Chinese economic coercion, Australia has done an extraordinary job of standing up to that coercion and coming out in a better and stronger place. I think in a general sense as well as in a specific sense, we're of course part of that. We're Australia's most important economic partner. Our trade and investment contributes about seven percent of Australia's annual economy and, obviously, thousands and thousands of jobs in both countries, in both directions. Our – this trade and investment relationship is one of the most powerful foundations that we both have, and I think it contributes to Australian resilience when it comes to any kind of economic coercion.
At the same time – and you've heard us talk a little bit about this today, but we're working on this every day – we are all building different kinds of resilience against coercion, including, for example, by working on diversifying supply chains; friendshoring, as Richard said; and making sure that it is difficult for any country to use what economic leverage it has against either of us. So that's part and parcel of the work that we're doing every day.
With regard to the WTO case, I'm afraid I'm just not familiar with it, but I'm happy to come back to you on it. Thanks.
FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: It was a good try, but no, I'm not going to announce anything like that here. But I would say two things. One is we will appoint somebody who is a – is the right person for the job, whether it's in relation to this post or any other. Your broader point about the representation of women – I think you have seen, and you will see whilst I have the opportunity to hold this office more women appointed into senior positions.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES: So, let me on – I think on the B-21 you didn't ask me that question, but I think we've got to give America a little bit of a break on that in that Lloyd has literally just unveiled it earlier this week. That said, it is a very cool-looking aircraft, and – but I think it – I mean, what it does actually for me is give a sense of confidence about American preeminence in military technology and in aviation technology. So, I think the announcement that we've actually seen from America in relation to the B-21 is a really exciting announcement.
In answer to the question that you asked me, in some ways it goes to what – my earlier answer about the importance of uplifting the Australian defense industrial base for its contribution to the combined effort. I mean, we are going to need to develop a capability in Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines, and we're going to need – and that will be in our lane. And we're going to need to do that as quickly as we possibly can. It is a massive endeavor.
Yesterday, I was at Electric Boat in Rhode Island and saw just something of the size of the endeavor involved in building nuclear-powered submarines. Of course, Australia has built submarines in the past; indeed, in Adelaide with the Collins class. But it – for, if you like, the combined effect across the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia, it's going to be really important that that capacity is developed in Australia, and I've made that clear.
Secretary Austin pointed – answered your question around capability gap about saying that the U.S. wouldn't allow that to occur for Australia. We really appreciate those comments. I mean, what has been underpinning the conversation that we have been having in – under the AUKUS framework is to look at, if there are capability gaps, how we make sure we plug them so in effect there are none. And all of that will form part of the announcements that we make next year, early in the first part of next year, in respect of the optimal pathway in relation to our subs. And we are really confident that the work that has been undertaken, which has been extensive, is on track and we'll be in a position to make those announcements. And obviously tomorrow's AUKUS defense ministers meeting is a really important step along that path.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Your Excellencies.