U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper arrived in Auckland on Monday, Aug. 5, to meet his New Zealand counterpart Defense Minister Ron Mark, after Esper attended the Australia-US Ministerial meetings in Sydney over the weekend with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

During the meeting, the two defense chiefs highlighted the long-standing commitment between the United States and New Zealand.

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Esper stated that his visit demonstrated the priority that the United States placed on countries in the Pacific region. He commended the military support from New Zealand.

The United States “greatly value New Zealand’s contributions to a free and open Pacific,” said Esper, who continued, “Since the Washington Declaration in 2012, our militaries have made significant strides in defense cooperation.”

Esper told his host that the U.S. and New Zealand shared a mutual vision for the future and reiterated America’s commitment to the region.

“New Zealand and the United States share a vision of the future based on values of sovereignty, peaceful conflict resolution, international rule of law and freedom of navigation,” said Esper. Then he added, “And so we are committed to this future in our words and in our actions.”

The New Zealand defense chief welcomed his U.S. counterpart and underscored the longtime friendship between the two countries.

“I’m particularly pleased that you’ve been able to make this journey so quickly after your appointment,” said Mark.

“We’ve had a very long relationship based on respect and the pursuit of freedom, democracy and prosperity, and values, very much values,” stated Mark.

During the meeting, Mark formally conveyed condolences to the United States over the two separate mass shooting incidents in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend, in which at least 31 people were killed in the shootings.

Mark said New Zealanders know the anguish from having endured the Christchurch mosque shootings earlier this year in March.

Over the weekend, Esper and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial meetings in Sydney, Australia.

Both top U.S. officials met their Australian counterparts Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds for talks.

Pompeo stated it is timely for mutual cooperation between Australia and the United States, “Let me be clear, the United States is a Pacific nation,” said Esper, who continued, “We care deeply about what happens here. And we are here to stay.”

Speaking at the joint news conference, Pompeo said, “I want all Australians to know, they can always rely on the United States of America.”

“We think of this is an unbreakable relationship,” said Pompeo, akin to “a special relationship” with Britain.

Pompeo expressed concern about China’s militarization in the South China Sea and assures Australia that the United States is “here to stay.”

Also speaking at the ministerial meetings in Sydney, Esper stressed that the United States will not tolerate any aggression from China.

“We also stand firmly against a disturbing pattern of aggressive behavior, destabilizing behavior from China,” said Esper. Then he continued, “The United States will not stand by idly while any one nation attempts to reshape the region to its favor at the expense of others.”

Both top U.S. officials visited Australia, New Zealand, and other countries in Oceania to discuss encroaching military intimidation from China and to reassure the Oceanic and Asia-Pacific countries of U.S. presence and support.

As Esper was in Auckland, New Zealand, Pompeo held a news conference in Micronesia on Monday with Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo, Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, Palau Vice President Raynold B. Oilouch.

During the meeting, Panuelo told Pompeo that while his country has an economic and technical relation with China, the relationship with the U.S. comes first and foremost.