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Opinion: Do Turnbull and Trump share a 'common language'?

中国国际电视台(CGTN) 2018-02-26

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flew to Washington on Friday for a four-day visit to the US, and held talks with US President Donald Trump. It was the fourth meeting between the two, and the first they had in the White House.

The two were scheduled to discuss a variety of issues ranging from trade relations, military cooperation, the Korean Peninsula, to possible infrastructure cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, among others.

Turnbull had a very bumpy start with Trump. On the US President’s eighth day in office, Trump abruptly hung up during a phone call with Turnbull over an immigration dispute, which left Australians wondering whether the US under Trump would still be a reliable ally in an increasingly uncertain world.

To make matters worse, Trump’s “America First” mindset and abrupt withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) only exacerbated Australia’s worries about a possible isolated US.

However, the two leaders now seem to have put their discord behind them. In an increasingly contested Asia-Pacific, characterized by a rising China and growing China-US competition, neither Trump nor Turnbull could afford to keep their relationship estranged for long.

For Turnbull, keeping good relations with the US, the only military ally that Australians think can protect them, is a political and military must, which is also a long-established foreign policy tradition of Australia, no matter who is in the White House.

Although Australia’s economic relations have increasingly drawn it into China’s orbit, it has not improved the way Australia views China. Instead it only aggravated Australia’s worries about too much economic dependence on China and reinforced its desire to counterbalance China’s influence with that of the US.

For Trump, how to cope with a rising China has become his No.1 foreign policy priority in the Indo-Pacific, as highlighted by the US' newly published National Security Strategy, which views China as a revisionist power bent on undermining US wealth, power, and influence, especially in the Indo-Pacific. In containing China’s growing influence and footprints in the region, Australia is deemed a good partner and helper.

In fact, the US and Australia, together with Japan and India, have already revived the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known as Quad – a mechanism that the four countries formed a decade ago but went nowhere after then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd withdrew under China’s strong protest.

In November last year, assistant secretary-level foreign affairs officials from the four countries met on the sidelines of ASEAN and East Asia Summits to discuss the restoration of the Quad. Given China’s strong opposition to the framework, restoring it is widely seen as an unfriendly action aimed at Beijing. What’s more, there are also talks of a possible joint regional infrastructure scheme involving the US, Japan, Australia, and India to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Indo-Pacific in an effort to contain China’s expanding influence.

Against this backdrop, Turnbull and Trump do share a common language: both have concerns about a rising China, and want to do something together to cope with it.

However, while Trump views China as a strategic competitor to the US, Australia sees China’s rise as both a challenge and an opportunity and not a military threat. As Turnbull said when leaving for Washington, China's rise has been of enormous value to the region, there's hundreds of millions of people who have been lifted out of poverty. We don't see the region through what is frankly an out-of-date Cold War prism.

Turnbull and Trump don’t see eye to eye either on refugees, bilateral trade and TPP, among other things.

Even though Trump finally promised to honor the refugee deal with Australia, he has a very different idea of refugee and immigration issues from that of Turnbull. The latter also disagrees with Trump’s viewpoint on bilateral trade issues in particular and free trade in general, although he brought with him a large delegation of businessmen to help invest in Trump’s domestic infrastructure project.

As for the TPP, Turnbull is working closely with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to restart the project, while Trump expressed his negative views about it again in his joint press conference with Turnbull in the White House.

Besides, as a Rhodes scholar and cosmopolitan, Turnbull is very much the opposite of Trump who is deemed coarse and loud-mouthed, and always puts “America First”, even though both are very successful businessmen.

Do they really share a common language as some claim? What will the lasting results from their first official meeting at the White House be? And how will their meeting impact the regional dynamics in the long term?

We’ll wait and see.

(Wei Zongyou is a professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.)

Link to the Original Article on CGTN Website:http://news.cgtn.com/news/3151544d35677a6333566d54/share_p.html