Pacific News Minute: U.S. Secretaries of State, Defense On Pacific Tours

Aug 7, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are both visiting American allies in the Pacific. For Esper, it’s his first foreign trip since being confirmed as Secretary of Defense.

Both secretaries issued hawkish statements criticizing China at an annual ministerial meeting in Sydney. After a prominent Australian security analyst said that Canberra should not follow Donald Trump into a confrontation with Beijing the United States was unlikely to win, Secretary Pompeo replied, “You can sell your soul for a pile of soy beans, or you can protect your people.” 

At that same news conference, Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds pointedly declined to join the U.S. effort to escort oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and said Australia had not been asked to host new American medium range missiles. Secretary Esper says he wants to deploy conventionally armed intermediate range missiles in the Pacific sooner rather than later, but has not said where he hopes to base them.

On his visits to Japan and South Korea, Secretary Esper may have a hard time explaining President Trump’s dismissal of recent North Korean missile tests as “very standard,” when both Tokyo and Seoul see them as a direct threat.

On Monday, Secretary Pompeo became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the Federated States of Micronesia. He met with leaders of the FSM, the Marshall Islands and Palau and announced the start of negotiations to renew the Compacts of Free Association, but he then struggled to address the three countries’ existential concern over climate change, which President Trump has dismissed as a hoax.