Malcolm Turnbull has invited Donald Trump to visit Australia as early as this year after a groundbreaking visit to Washington in which the two leaders committed to stronger action against North Korea and the need for robust US military engagement in the Asia Pacific. During talks in the White House at the weekend, the Prime Minister extended an informal invitation to Mr Trump and Melania Trump to visit Australia.
It is understood the President told Mr Turnbull he would like to accept the offer, although no firm commitments were given or dates discussed.
It raises the possibility Mr Trump could visit Australia in November if he chooses to attend the APEC Leaders Summit, which is being hosted in Papua New Guinea in mid-November, shortly after the US mid-term elections.
The invitation came as Mr Turnbull said Australia would co-operate with efforts by the US to tighten sanctions on North Korea, including the interception of ships trying to take oil to the rogue nation in defiance of UN sanctions.
But Mr Turnbull did not say whether this could include the Australian navy, following reports the US has been talking to regional powers, including Australia, about co-ordinating a stepped-up program of ship intercepts.
“We have discussed a number of means of sanctions enforcement against North Korea and one of the most significant ways in which North Korea is seeking to evade sanctions is through exchanging goods — oil in particular — at sea, so we need to be acutely alert to that, which we are,” Mr Turnbull said. “We need to co-operate and do everything we can to tighten the vice of those sanctions. That is the way to bring North Korea to its senses without conflict.”
At the weekend the US slapped what Mr Trump described as the “largest ever” set of sanctions on North Korea, targeting more than 50 shipping and maritime companies in a bid to stop the illicit trade of oil and goods into North Korea.
Speaking in Washington at the end of a three-day visit, Mr Turnbull also declined to say whether Australia would agree to Mr Trump’s call for Australian navy ships to join US ships in freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea.
“Australia defends the right of freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the world, but we do not speculate on operational matters,” Mr Turnbull said.
Mr Trump said he would “love” to see Australian ships carry out joint patrols with the US Navy through the disputed waters.
“We would love to have Australia involved and I think Australia wants us to stay involved,” the President said.
Australia has so far baulked at holding freedom-of-navigation exercises with the US for fear of angering Beijing.
Mr Turnbull said his visit to the US — in which he met with the President, vice-president Mike Pence and senior members of the Trump administration, as well as intelligence chiefs, business leaders and military heads — had confirmed the relationship was at “a real high point”.
“President Trump has demonstrated a commitment to a strong American presence in our region and around the world, and that is vitally important,” Mr Turnbull said.
Mr Trump was effusive about the state of the alliance, saying the US had no better friend than Australia. “Over the last 100 years, our partnership has thrived as a bulwark of freedom, security and democracy,” he said.
In a speech to about 40 US state governors at the National Governors Association conference yesterday, the Prime Minister said he did not see a decline of American leadership in the world.
“Your national defence strategy signals a reinvestment in American hard power and the alliance system which amplifies its reach,” Mr Turnbull said.
“President Trump’s nomination of Admiral Harry Harris as ambassador to Australia underscored this message.”
Mr Turnbull said the US tax cuts, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent, increased pressure on Australia to implement its own company tax cuts for larger businesses.
“The International Monetary Fund has lifted its global growth forecasts after the Trump administration cut the US company tax rate to 21 per cent, and we cannot deny that the need to be competitive increases the urgency with which we are pursuing similar tax cuts in Australia,” he said.
He called on Australian and US firms to team up on infrastructure deals as the President seeks to implement a $US1.5 trillion ($1.9 trillion) infrastructure package.
“I’d also like to see US and Australian infrastructure companies working together in other countries, in places like Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands,” he said.