Saturday, Vice President Pence visited Australia, and the events of the day indicate that little will change regarding the US/Australian alliance during the Trump administration.
President Trump continues to fully utilize Mike Pence’s diplomatic abilities. This weekend, the Vice President spent the day in Australia. Many worried that early in, Trump was hurting relations with many of our most solid allies, including Australia.
However, as Trump settles into his role as “Leader of the Free World”, it was an appropriate time for Pence to make a productive visit to Australia and smooth things over, while the US-based media is busy with Syria.
VP Pence began with a joint press conference with Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. According to Turnbull, “this is the earliest visit to Australia of any Vice President in a new administration.” Turnbull continued to give a speech highlighting the history of the US/Australian alliance since World War I, and emphasizing the cause of “freedom”, and emphasizing Australia’s loyalty. This emphasizes that Australia strongly supports the US as leading the free world.
Prime Minister Turnbull also expressed his full support for the recent US strike on Syria:
Mr. Vice President, we also stand with you and with President Trump in condemning the behavior, the criminal, abhorrent use of chemical weapons in Syria by President Assad’s regime. We welcomed and endorsed and supported the quick and calibrated and proportionate response of the United States in answer to that shocking crime.
The Prime Minister also promised Australia’s continued support America’s N. Korea policy, including pressuring China to use their strong leverage to get N. Korea to end their “reckless and dangerous conduct”, which among other things, refers to nuclear proliferation.
Vice President Pence’s speech followed and echoed many of the same points. The underlying purpose of this visit is clearly to smooth over relations with Australia, which are normally friendly. However, candidate Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric worried allies like Australia that the US would become less engaged in leading the free world, possibly creating a power vacuum. As Australia is close to China, the emerging superpower, this is of grave concern to them.
VP Pence spent the rest of the day making his rounds of important Australian officials to discuss the intricacies of US/Australian relations on the economy and military goals. These officials included: Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove in Sydney, Australia.
While this story is unlikely to gain much news coverage, it is important. The rise of Trump has raised many questions about many perceived truths, ranging from electoral politics to foreign relations, and even seemingly solid alliances like this one have been called into question.
This meeting does indicate that Trump is unlikely to make any significant changes to US relations with Australia, and sending VP Pence further shows how much President Trump, and the US, will continue to value the alliance with Australia. As stated before, Trump’s approach to foreign policy is two-pronged. Pence will be his diplomat to western allies (which included Australia despite not being technically “western” geographically), and Tillerson will be his diplomat for Russia.