By Lalit K Jha
Washington, Jan 24 (PTI) US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his counterparts from Japan, Britain, and South Korea, the Pentagon has said.
During his interaction with Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, Austin reiterated America's commitment to the US-Japan alliance and emphasised on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.
“Austin and Kishi discussed a broad range of security issues in the Indo-Pacific and exchanged views on ensuring the readiness of the alliance despite the challenges posed by COVID-19,” Kirby said.
They also discussed the need to continue implementing US force realignment initiatives including continued efforts regarding the construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility in Henoko, he said.
Austin affirmed that the Senkaku islands are covered by Article V of the US-Japan Security Treaty, and that the United States remains opposed to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, he added.
Kishi congratulated Austin on his appointment, Kirby said.
“Austin thanked Kishi for Japan’s continued leadership in implementing United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding North Korea and encouraged minister Kishi to strengthen Japan’s contribution to the role that the alliance continues to play in providing security in the Indo-Pacific region,” Kirby said.
Austin also spoke to the UK secretary of state for defence Ben Wallace and reaffirmed the importance of the special relationship between our two countries, Kirby said.
The secretaries discussed views on confronting strategic issues of mutual interest, including the COVID-19 response, concerns from a rising China, threats from Russia, and ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Austin congratulated the UK for the recent announcement of its largest increase in defence spending in 30 years, noting the importance of that spending to our shared security and the collective security of the NATO alliance, he said.
Austin noted the significance of the recent joint declaration for the Carrier Strike Group 2021 deployment.
The deployment will include US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft deployed aboard the UK aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time, as well as the inclusion of US Navy destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) as part of a combined carrier strike group.
He noted the significance of this deployment to our bilateral ties and interoperability, Kirby said.
The secretary expressed his appreciation for the UK’s commitment to our defence partnership and highlighted the US' commitment to the NATO alliance, he said.
Austin also called South Korea's Minister of National Defense Suh Wook to reaffirm the "ironclad alliance" between the two countries while emphasising on the importance of close cooperation between them, Kirby said.
Austin underscored the US' commitment to defend South Korea through both the US-South Korea combined defence posture and the US extended deterrent, he said.
Suh congratulated Austin on his appointment, he added.
Austin and Suh addressed a broad range of defence-related issues and exchanged views on the security environment on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, Kirby said.
Both sides noted the need to maintain the readiness of alliance combined forces, affirmed the importance of maintaining the rules-based international order, and agreed to enhance cooperation on shared threats, he said. PTI LKJ RHL