US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last met at the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum in the Philippines last November. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last met at the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum in the Philippines last November. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Trump rolls out red carpet for PM

MALCOLM Turnbull will enjoy red carpet treatment from Donald Trump this week, as the Prime Minister leaves behind the domestic drama surrounding Barnaby Joyce.

The Prime Minister flew to Washington, DC, overnight to begin a four-day visit focused on strengthening economic ties between Australia and the US.

Mr Turnbull and his wife Lucy will receive a ceremonial welcome from the President and First Lady Melania Trump on Friday morning, US time, which has been described as the most significant honour bestowed on an Australian PM since John Howard visited in 2006.

 

The ceremony is an indication that the two leaders have moved past the famously rocky start they had to their relationship in January 2017 when the newly elected President ended a phone call abruptly with the Prime Minister.

A leaked transcript of the call revealed that the two clashed when Mr Turnbull urged Mr Trump to fulfil and agreement struck with the Obama administration to take 1250 asylum seekers from Australia.

The President fumed down the phone line that he "hated" the deal, before begrudgingly agreeing to honour it.

"I think it is a horrible deal, a disgusting deal that I would have never made. It is an embarrassment to the United States of America," Mr Trump said at the time.

"As far as I am concerned that is enough Malcolm. I have had it. I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous."

When asked about their fiery first meeting before flying out of the country on Wednesday, Mr Turnbull insisted "we get on very well".

"As Greg Norman said, he's a great friend of both of us. We've got a great relationship," he told Sky News.

With trade and national security at the top of the agenda, Australia and America's divergent views on the rise of China could prove a point of contention.

When releasing his national security strategy in December, Mr Trump said China was a "rival power" and a threat to "American influence, values and wealth".

Malcolm Turnbull snaps a selfie with Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. Picture: Twitter
Malcolm Turnbull snaps a selfie with Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. Picture: Twitter

As China is Australia's largest trading partner, our diplomatic language on the rise of China is much more positive.

"We do not see any hostile intent from China … so, we do not describe China as a threat," Mr Turnbull told Sky News.

"China's rise has been of enormous value to the region; there's hundreds of millions of people who have been lifted out of poverty. We don't see the region through what is frankly an out-of-date Cold War prism.

"Neither, by the way, does Donald Trump. President Trump has a long experience in this part of the world as a businessman. He understands the significance, the economic significance of China's rise and its opportunity.

"Of course there are issues between Washington and Beijing, there always will be. But the two leaders - and I've had the privilege of being with both of them [Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping] - they see those issues and they address them in a very clear-eyed and candid way."

Mr Turnbull will have a packed schedule in the US capital, with back-to-back meetings and engagements before he flies home on Saturday.

The centrepiece of the trip will be a one-on-one meeting with Mr Trump inside the Oval Office on Friday morning, followed by a working lunch between the two leaders.

Meanwhile, Mrs Turnbull will enjoy a White House lunch with Mrs Trump.

Mr Trump and Mr Turnbull will then hold a joint press conference in the White House's East Room.

It will be interesting to see how much of the discussion is focused on US-Australian relations or whether the journalists steer the conversation towards each of the leaders' respective domestic dramas.

MORE: Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion break silence in first interview

In the same way that Mr Joyce has dominated headlines in Australia, Mr Trump's agenda has been derailed in the US by the gun control debate after last week's mass shooting in Florida as well as the revelation of how Russia meddled in the US election.

Mr Turnbull's other high-level one-on-one meetings will include a sit-down with Vice President Mike Pence, breakfast with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a cyber dialogue with National Security Agency director Mike Rogers and a bilateral meeting at the Pentagon with Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Joseph Dunford.

Most of Australia's premiers and chief ministers will join Mr Turnbull on the trip, along with a delegation of business executives.

Mr Joyce, the Nationals leader, has been benched from being Acting Prime Minister in Mr Turnbull's absence due to the scandal over his relationship with his former staffer Vikki Campion. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann will take on the acting role, as deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop is also out of the country.



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