Australia PM Scott Morrison meets Trump for White House state dinner

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jennifer Morrison wave from the White House on 20 September. ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WASHINGTON D.C., Sep 20, 2019, BBC. US President Donald Trump is hosting Australian PM Scott Morrison on a week-long visit which includes a state dinner at the White House. Mr Morrison is due to attend the UN General Assembly meeting in New York and visit an Australian-owned factory with Mr Trump in the US state of Ohio. A state dinner is a rare presidential honour. Some experts say the two conservatives have bonded as friends, reported the BBC.

Mr Morrison arrived at the White House around 09:00 local time (13:00 GMT).

Both leaders heralded the decades-long relationship between their two countries.

“Australians and Americans understand each other like few other people,” Mr Morrison said. “We have done what true friends do: stick by each other.”

The US President’s only other state dinner was hosted for France in April 2018.

How well do the two get on?

The two conservative politicians spent time together at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, in June as well as earlier that month at the D-Day Commemoration Ceremony in Portsmouth, England, leading some to speculate about a budding “bromance”.

During a dinner with Mr Morrison in Osaka, Mr Trump praised his counterpart, and boasted that he had predicted his victory at the ballot box.

“He didn’t surprise me but he surprised a lot of other people. See, I knew him. So I said he’s going to do very well and he did,” Mr Trump told US and Australian officials seating beside them.

Mr Trump has frequently lavished praise on Mr Morrison – who became prime minister in August 2018 and won a surprise re-election in May – as well as his controversial immigration positions.

Mr Morrison has in turn praised the American president as “a strong leader who says what he’s going to do and then goes and does it”.

“I get on very well with him,” he said in a recent interview, adding that they have a “straight up relationship”.

Mr Trump had an initially tense relationship with Mr Morrison’s predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull. After a tumultuous first phone call – which Mr Trump described as “the worst by far” of his calls that day – Mr Turnbull was heard mocking Mr Trump in a leaked audiotape.

Recently polling shows that around 75% of Australians support a strong relationship with the US, but only 25% like Mr Trump personally.

What will Morrison be doing in the US?

The Australian prime minister nicknamed “ScoMo” will visit the headquarters of Nasa, the US space agency, and will travel to Chicago to meet tech entrepreneurs during his visit from 19-27 September.

After a joint press conference on Friday, Mr Morrison and his wife Jenny will be hosted at the state dinner.

On Sunday, he will also travel to Wapakoneta, Ohio, to tour a “new, Australian-owned manufacturing facility” with President Trump, the White House said in a statement.

Two days later, Mr Morrison will travel to New York City for the UN General Assembly meetings to deliver an address that will cover “the protection of the oceans and preventing terrorist use of the internet”, his office said.

Why is the dinner a big deal?

State dinners are rare, largely owing to the months of planning that go into them. They are designed to showcase America’s closest diplomatic relationships with foreign allies.

The last – and only – state dinner hosted by the Trump White House came over a year ago with the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte.

The Trump administration treated 120 guests to a three-course meal of American and French inspired dishes that were personally selected by Mrs Trump, according to the White House social secretary.

This visit is being labelled “official” rather than “state”, CNN reports, because technically Queen Elizabeth is Australia’s head of state.

The last Australian prime minister to receive an official dinner was John Howard in 2006 who dined with then-president George W Bush.

How significant is this to Australia?

Beyond the bromance, there’s plenty at stake. Australia has typically shown steadfast loyalty towards the US, its key strategic ally – a point which Mr Morrison emphasised before his trip.

“We are an alliance partner that the United States knows they can rely on, a partner that pulls their weight in the alliance,” he told parliament this week.

It’s particularly relevant now, experts say, as Australia balances the primacy of its US alliance against its crucial relationship with China, its largest trading partner.

Australia remains economically reliant on China but is openly debating its influence on local society, amid concerns about security and freedom of speech.

The Trump-Morrison discussions are likely to be watched for any mention of Beijing and the US-China trade war, as well as other economic and security matters.

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