WASHINGTON D.C., Sep 21, 2019, SCMP. US President Donald Trump treated Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison to a lavish White House visit on Friday celebrating their countries’ “unbreakable bond”. Meeting on the South Lawn under clear blue skies, Trump promised Morrison a state dinner later that will “be quite something”, reported the South China Morning Post.
An honour guard, military band and 19-gun salute kicked off the visit, with the two leaders and their wives watching from a podium, before walking up to the White House’s South Portico balcony.
“Australians and Americans understand each other like few other peoples,” Morrison replied to Trump, adding that he and the Republican president had also “established a very early understanding”.
This was only the second state-level visit to the White House granted under Trump and the first for an Australian premier since John Howard in 2006.
Trump on Friday said only a “complete” deal with China on trade would be acceptable, and his tough approach won support from Morrison.
“I’m not looking for a partial deal. I’m looking for a complete deal,” Trump told reporters during a joint news conference with Morrison at the White House.
Trump denied that he was under pressure to resolve the massive trade dispute between the world’s two main economic powers, saying “I don’t think I need it before the election” in 2020.
Morrison said he backed the US push to force China to reform on issues that include routine violation of foreign companies’ intellectual property.
“We need to make sure that we all compete on the same playing field,” he said. China can’t have “special rules”.
Morrison’s supportive stance contrasted with worries he expressed in June about smaller economies suffering collateral damage in the US-China standoff and the global system coming “under real pressure”.
Later, the United States Trade Representative’s office issued a statement announcing that deputy-level US and Chinese negotiators had completed “productive” talks in Washington on Thursday and Friday. Top level talks are expected in October.
In addition to Friday’s festivities, Morrison and Trump are due to reunite on Sunday for a visit at a new Australian-owned factory in Wapakoneta, Ohio, that the White House says will “demonstrate the strong trade and investment relationship”.
Trump and Morrison agree on much, with Australia joining the US-led patrols of the Strait of Hormuz off Iran and following Washington’s lead to exclude China’s Huawei from its 5G phone market.
Trump has defied controversy over his push to prevent illegal immigrants and asylum seekers from crossing the Mexican border. Similarly, Morrison, a former immigration minister, has worked to make Australia less attractive to would-be asylum seekers.
His Liberal-National coalition also has much in common with Trump’s climate change skepticism, rejecting overwhelming scientific warnings to encourage lucrative fossil fuel industries. Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter.
One area that Trump especially appreciates is trade where the United States enjoys a surplus. The trade conflicts proliferating under Trump have bypassed Australia.
The administration official said that cooperation between Australia’s space agency and Nasa on a return to the Moon and joint efforts to ensure “stable and secure” access to rare earth metals were on the agenda Friday.
The relationship gets more complicated over how to deal with China.
Under Trump, the United States has embarked on what some are comparing to a new Cold war. Huge trade tariffs and growing competition in the military-strategic sphere are sending ripples through the entire Pacific region.
As China rises, there are even worries in some quarters that Australia may not always be able to rely on its US security umbrella.
A hard-hitting report from the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney in August said the US military is an “atrophying force” that is “dangerously overstretched” and “ill-prepared” for a confrontation with China.