Trump, backed by Australia's Morrison, talks tough on China

Washington, United StatesUpdated: Sep 21, 2019, 10:12 AM IST

File photo: US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump (R) pose with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (2nd L) and wife Jenny Morrison. Photograph:(AFP)

Story highlights

'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.'

President Donald Trump said Friday that only a "complete" deal with China on trade will be acceptable and his tough approach won support from visiting Australian Prime Minister Scott 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, enjoying an unusually lavish reception and state dinner, 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 the deputy-level US and Chinese negotiators had completed "productive" talks in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

Top-level talks are expected in October.

'Dinner under the stars'

This was only the second state-level visit to the White House granted under Trump and the first for an Australian premiere here since John Howard in 2006.

In a shift from tradition, and taking advantage of perfect end-of-summer weather, the dinner was served under the stars in the Rose Garden.

Pale yellow tablecloths and floral arrangements decorated the tables, bathed in a golden glow from the outdoor lighting.

Trump gave a toast praising the "free and proud spirit" shared by the two nations.

Earlier, Morrison and his wife were greeted with an honour guard, a military band and 19 gun salute on the South Lawn.

"Australians and Americans understand each other like few other peoples," Morrison said, adding that he and the Republican US president had also "established a very early understanding."

In addition to Friday's festivities, Morrison and Trump are due to reunite 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."

'Conservatives club'

Trump's relations with the previous Australian premier, Malcolm Turnbull, got off to a bad start.

But Morrison has already cemented his place in a growing conservative club also including the likes of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson drawn into Trump's orbit.

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 excluding 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 scepticism, rejecting overwhelming scientific warnings to encourage lucrative fossil fuel industries. Australia is the world's largest coal exporter.

This is "one of our strongest and most enduring relationships anywhere in the world," a senior Trump administration official said Thursday, asking not to be identified.

One area that Trump especially appreciates is a 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.