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‘We’re a Pacific nation’: Biden’s pledge to Australia on China

US President Joe Biden has revealed he told Chinese President Xi Jinping America would continue to engage with Australia because the US was a “Pacific nation”.

In off-the-cuff remarks as he greeted Australia’s Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, in the Oval Office, Mr Biden gave some insight into the depth of Chinese anxieties over the strength of the alliance between Canberra and Washington.

Anthony Albanese and Joe Biden meet in the Oval Office. Alex Ellinghausen

“I was asked by Xi Jinping a couple of years ago why I was working so hard with your country,” Mr Biden told Mr Albanese.

“And I said, ‘Because we’re a Pacific nation’. He looked at me, and I said, ‘Yeah, we’re a Pacific nation – the United States’. We are, and we’re going to stay that way.”

Asked at their joint press conference about China’s re-engagement with Australia ahead of Mr Albanese’s trip to Beijing next week, and whether China can be trusted, Mr Biden responded: “Trust but verify is the phrase”.


“China is having their own internal and external difficulties right now,” Mr Biden said, citing a stagnant economy and the Belt and Road Initiative to provide infrastructure around the world that had turned into a “debt noose” for most of the countries signed on.

“We’re going to compete with China on every way according to international rules, economically, politically and other ways, but no, I’m not looking for conflict.”

Joe Biden and Anthony Albanese inspect a military honour guard. Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Albanese said he looked forward to a “constructive dialogue” when he met Mr Xi, adding that dialogue helped defuse tensions.

“We want a peaceful and secure region,” Mr Albanese said. “But we want one as well that’s based upon the rule of law and where national sovereignty, including issues such as the South China Sea and the right of passage in that important waterway there, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Straits, is respected.”

Mr Albanese was greeted with full pomp and ceremony as he was welcomed to the White House, with a 21 gun salute, a full military brass band and inspection of an honour guard of dozens of American military personnel.


A crowd the White House estimated at almost 4000 greeted Mr Albanese and partner Jodie Haydon on the South Lawn.

The two leaders released a “fact sheet” outlining the next generation of innovation and partnership between the two countries.

A military band performs as part of the White House welcome. Alex Ellinghausen

They confirmed a new space agreement between the two countries that would allow US commercial satellite launches in Australia. A revamped Technology Safeguards Agreement will provide a fresh legal framework allowing US commercial space rockets to be launched from Australia in a manner that “protects sensitive US launch technology and data in Australia”.

This will require ratification from Australia’s parliament.

The leaders also agreed that a cyberattack against Australia and the US could “constitute an armed attack” under the ANZUS treaty and invite a response. China and Russia have repeatedly been identified as persistent cyberattackers.


“A decision as to when such a cyberattack would lead to the invocation of Article IV would be made on a case-by-case basis through close consultations between Australia and the United States,” the fact sheet said.

The leaders also announced they would collaborate with Japan on developing unmanned aerial systems, including combat aircraft. Australia and the US will fund connections to undersea communications cables for Pacific nations.

Other announcements are a $US6.2 million ($9.8 million) boost for new artificial intelligence co-operation between the US National Science Foundation and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

There is also an agreement to collaborate on clean energy supply chains beginning with a “battery supply chain working group”, which will explore a “deepening of both countries manufacturing capability and work on battery technology research and development”.

Joe Biden and Anthony Albanese during the arrival ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. Alex Ellinghausen

There is also an agreement to expand research and development collaboration on critical minerals that involves the CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, and the US Geological Survey (USGS) lifting critical minerals production and processing capabilities to support energy, manufacturing, and defence supply chains. An expansion of access to finance for Pacific Islands for governments and the private sector has also been raised.


Jon Gray, president and chief operating officer of Blackstone Group, the world’s largest alternative asset manager with $US1 trillion in assets under management, confirmed his attendance at the state dinner.

Blackstone has been instrumental in advising the Biden administration on matters in the Indo-Pacific, including financing for Pacific Island countries. In March, Blackstone’s former president and chief operating officer, Tony James, was appointed by Mr Biden to the White House’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

In his speech at the welcome ceremony, Mr Albanese warned that American leadership could not be taken for granted as he praised Mr Biden as the right person for turbulent times, including endorsing his handling of the Middle East crisis.

“American leadership is indispensable – but it is not inevitable,” Mr Albanese said.

“It takes a leader to deliver it. It takes wisdom to show empathy, courage to provide humanitarian assistance – and true leadership to seek peace.

“Because protecting innocent people is not a show of weakness – it is a measure of strength.”


But Mr Albanese also provoked a strong reaction with a couple of personal references. He quoted Mr Biden’s late son, Beau, who said, “You know when there’s an Australian with you, they’ll always have your back” about his time serving in Iraq. Mr Albanese also referred to an Irish poem that Mr Biden repeatedly cites, saying: “Let us pledge to make this a time when ‘hope and history rhyme’.”

Mr Biden responded that Mr Albanese was “very kind”.

Andrew Tillett writes on politics, foreign affairs, defence and security from the Canberra press gallery. Connect with Andrew on Facebook and Twitter. Email Andrew at
Matthew Cranston is the United States correspondent, based in Washington. He was previously the Economics correspondent and Property editor. Connect with Matthew on Twitter. Email Matthew at

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