Australian Prime Minister’s US Visit Marred by Awkwardness and Disappointment, Highlights Challenges in US-Australia Relations
In a state visit marked by awkwardness and disappointment, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s journey to the United States from Monday to Thursday garnered mixed reactions and raised questions about the strength of the US-Australia alliance. Chinese analysts observed that the trip failed to yield substantial results, highlighting the challenges facing these two allies in aligning their strategies, even as the Biden administration actively courts Canberra to align closely with its efforts to counter China.
President Joe Biden, keen to demonstrate his commitment to countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific, hosted Prime Minister Albanese at the White House for a series of high-level meetings amid the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. The Wall Street Journal reported on the significance of these meetings, emphasizing that China-related issues remain at the forefront of the US agenda despite the Middle East crisis. The Biden administration has identified Australia as a linchpin in its strategy to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
However, mainstream Australian media presented a different perspective, expressing concerns about the ambiguous and mixed reactions from the US during Albanese’s visit. Unlike past claims of a close alliance between the US and Australia, ABC News remarked that “Albanese is walking a diplomatic tightrope between the US and China.”
Chen Hong, the director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University, characterized Albanese’s US trip as “awkward and disappointing.”
One notable event that added to the complexities of the visit was Albanese’s planned speech in the US Congress, which coincided with the House of Representatives emerging from a weeks-long internal stalemate. On Thursday morning, a new Speaker of the House was finally elected. ABC News reported that “the US Congress was doing little this week to show its priorities laid with the Indo-Pacific, AUKUS, the Australian prime minister, or anything other than its own infighting.” The absence of a House Speaker until Thursday meant that an invitation couldn’t be extended in time for Albanese to address a joint sitting of Congress.
The AUKUS agreement, a major topic for Albanese during his US trip, has faced criticism for failing to deliver substantial outcomes since its announcement in 2021, leaving it as what some call an “empty promise.” Albanese expressed hope to solidify the AUKUS partnership and turn it into something meaningful. However, resistance within the US Congress has been an ongoing hurdle. Some members argue that the US military production capacity has reached its limits, especially given the significant effort devoted to the Ukraine crisis and the Palestine-Israel conflict. These challenges cast doubts on whether Australia’s needs can be accommodated in a timely manner, according to analysts.
In addition to discussions on AUKUS, the two leaders announced agreements involving US companies launching into space from Australia, cooperation on critical minerals, and artificial intelligence. “Critical minerals” emerged as a focal point of Albanese’s US visit. Analysts noted that this concept is a recent development by the US, aimed at restricting China’s access to minerals essential for its economic development and technological progress. The US seeks to rally its allies and partners to join efforts in limiting China’s access to such minerals. Australia, however, presents a unique challenge in this regard as it boasts the world’s largest known reserves and production of lithium, much of which is exported to China. Given their economic interests, Australia may be hesitant to fully align with the US on the critical minerals issue.
With differing calculations and interests between the two allies, analysts believe that the Australian Prime Minister’s US trip is unlikely to yield substantial results. Furthermore, Albanese’s upcoming visit to China adds another layer of complexity to the situation. According to the Prime Minister of Australia’s website, Albanese is set to become the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China in seven years when he travels to Beijing and Shanghai on November 4-7. China has expressed its welcome for Albanese’s visit to attend the 6th China International Import Expo (CIIE), with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning extending warm greetings.
Chen Hong remarked on Australia’s historical lack of an independent foreign policy and emphasized the centrality of the US-Australia alliance. Nevertheless, Albanese appears to be seeking to carve out a more independent foreign policy space for Australia in the international arena. As the delicate dance between Australia, the US, and China continues, the global community will closely watch the outcomes of these diplomatic endeavors.