SYDNEY: President-elect Donald Trump is committed to enhancing US military power and maintaining its presence in Asia, Australia’s prime minister said Thursday after “warm and frank” talks with the maverick tycoon.
Under President Barack Obama, the United States has pursued a foreign policy “pivot” towards the Asia-Pacific, including stationing marines in Australia, against the background of Beijing’s increasing assertiveness.
But there has been concern about what direction bombastic Republican Trump will take in foreign policy after he trash-talked US alliances during his acrimonious election campaign against Hillary Clinton.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who like Trump has a business background, said the billionaire was “a deal maker and he will, I have no doubt, view the world in a very practical and pragmatic way.”
During a telephone conversation, the pair “discussed the vital importance of the United States’ continued strong presence in our region.
“Nations have enduring national interests and I have absolutely no doubt the commitment of the United States to the alliance, its presence in the region, its commitment to its allies and our neighbors will continue,” Turnbull said.
“We agreed that that presence has been an absolutely essential foundation of the peace and stability that has enabled the remarkable growth and prosperity, the remarkable economic growth we have seen over the last 40 years.”
Turnbull added that Trump, who will take control of the world’s sole superpower in 10 weeks, was committed to expanding the US military as he faces up to security threats around the world.
“He is proposing a very substantial investment in the United States navy,” he said.
Trans-Pacific trade deal doomed
While the two allies found common ground on security matters, it seems the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which Australia supports, is doomed.
The deal between 12 Asia-Pacific countries has been signed but not yet ratified by lawmakers in the US and with Trump running his campaign on an anti-free trade message, Turnbull admitted it did not look good.
“We did discuss, briefly, the TPP and I explained why Australia supported its ratification to him,” he said.
“We agreed that we could refer to the fact that we had had the discussion but I think his views on that treaty are well-known.”
The United States is Australia’s largest foreign direct investor and its second biggest trading partner.
Japan’s lower house of parliament on Thursday passed the contentious TPP free trade deal, a move largely viewed as an empty gesture due to opposition from Trump.
Besides Australia, Japan and the US, the TPP includes 9 other countries: Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. If it came into full force it would account for an enormous 40 percent of the global economy.
The TPP is seen as a counterweight to China, as Beijing expands its sphere of influence and promotes its own way of doing business – seen as often running counter to largely Western-set global standards that emphasize transparency and respect for human rights and the environment.