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Paul Bongiorno: Can America Give Australia the Assurances It Craves?

The Prime Minister said that this visit is very important because “it comes at a turbulent time for the world”, and then he added the well-worn formula: “But the good thing about Australia and the United States is that the strength of the relationship means it provides that stability, that security and that comfort with each other that comes from our common values.”

However, as a well-mannered guest Albanese did not mention that the turbulence buffeting the world is in no small way being matched by the turmoil grinding American governance to a halt.

The inability of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to elect a replacement Speaker – after sacking one for the first time in history for the crime of being willing to co-operate with the Democrat President – is keeping the machinery of government from working.

Besides the embarrassing inconvenience of this impasse cancelling Albanese’s planned address to both houses of the Congress, more significantly it means President Biden’s $106 billion military aid bill is stalled.

Internal troubles

That’s the bill which would, among other things, see over $61 billion going to Ukraine, $14 billion to Israel, as well as $3 billion to boost America’s ship-building capacity.

This last amount is a sop to Congressional opponents of the AUKUS submarine deal on the grounds it would leave the United States navy short to sell any to Australia.

What is worrying is the disruption is being caused by a rump aligned with former president Donald Trump who question the ongoing bankrolling of the Ukraine defence effort and who, although they are not alone in this, have doubts about the feasibility of the AUKUS submarine deal.

The Trump element drives the partisan divide in America into dangerous and unpredictable territory.

The former president’s undermining of key alliances in Europe and Asia and his “America first” trade war with China – which came at great cost to Australian exporters – is a concerning precedent for a repeat performance.

Trump inspires dread

Trump is facing a whopping 91 criminal charges which could involve prison time, and not the least among them is his role in the January 6 insurrection that rocked the very foundations of American democracy.

The fact that the former president can command such fealty among Republicans and is the party’s frontrunner candidate by a country mile for the 2024 presidential election inspires more dread than confidence for allies like Australia.

We, of course, have no option but to press on – which our ambassador in Washington, Kevin Rudd, has been doing in preparation for Albanese’s visit.

Rudd on Monday morning television said he was “always inspired by the level of bipartisan support” for the AUKUS submarines and the creation of an Australia-US defence science and technology industry.

The ambassador said he thinks the negotiations to win necessary congressional support are “on track”, but in what sounds like a case of diplomatic understatement he added, “there are still some hard roads to be crossed”.

An Australian lobbyist with high-level contacts in the American capital, and who has just returned from a business trip to Washington, tells me he found the mood there sombre.

The expectation of the US being involved in globally significant military conflict is escalating with the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, the tinderbox that is the Gaza-Israel conflict, and the 2027 deadline Xi Jinping has set to reintegrate Taiwan into China, all nominated as potential triggers.

The lobbyist got the impression that Australia is well down the list, with one politician telling him: “Hey buddy, we’ve got a lot on our plate.”

Commitments queried

A Congressional research paper, which raised eyebrows in Canberra when it was released earlier this month, expressed doubts about Australia’s willingness to join forces with the US in a war against China over Taiwan.

The report cited Defence Minister Richard Marles’ comments earlier this year that the AUKUS deal didn’t include any pre-commitments to America over potential conflict with Taiwan.

The next three days will certainly be a test of Albanese’s mettle as he juggles Australia’s relationship with its greatest ally, the United States, and our biggest customer China.

In just over two weeks he will be the first Australian prime minister in seven years to be invited to Beijing and meet Xi Jinping for an official visit.

So far, the Albanese government has been up to the task with the relationship stabilising and trade sanctions slowly easing, despite leaving no doubts whose side we are on in the contest for influence in the Indo-Pacific.

But even deft, diplomatic prime ministers can get caught out tripping over double speak.

In Canberra, just before he departed for America, Albanese announced the dates for his Beijing visit and described the Asian giant as “our most significant trading partner” – no surprise, we sell more to China than we do to South Korea, Japan and the US combined.

But on the footpath in front of the White House, Albanese described the United States as our “most important two-way trading partner”.

The jet-lagged media pack didn’t ask for a clarification, but the bigger question hovering over everything is: How stable going forward will the United States be in honouring its key commitments to allies like Australia?

Source : TheNewDaily