The Albanian laughed like most others in the room before Biden reached out to shake his hand. “You are a brave man,” he said.
Presidents usually want to fascinate Australian prime ministers. George W. Bush took care of getting along with Kevin Rad when they met in Washington in 2008, even calling him a steel man when everyone knew the president would have preferred John Howard to be there.
More than ten years later, Donald Trump held a state dinner to praise Scott Morrison and took him to an enthusiastic rally with supporters in Wapakanet, Ohio.
Biden also sought to get along with Morrison, even though they were far apart on climate policy.
However, the friendship between Biden and Albanese may be deeper for the simple reason that the couple shares values as Democrat and Labor leaders, including ambitions for climate change.
Albanese wants to hold a Quad meeting in Australia next year and told Biden that he wants to visit the US before that – a proposal the president quickly turned into an invitation.
Albanese also wants Australia to hold a forthcoming United Nations climate summit, creating a time when it will play a central role in trying to force major economies around the world to make deeper reductions in carbon emissions. This would make it a necessary ally for Biden on climate, not just regional security and China.
These ambitions, however, carry risks because they will increase expectations in Australia regarding Labor’s climate policy and will no doubt reinforce calls by Green leader Adam Bendt to gradually halt Australian coal exports.
Albanese will not support the cessation of coal exports and has refused to agree to increased emissions. Can he really take part in the climate summit with such a position?
What Biden wants from Albanese will take time to figure out. At this point, the president has stopped fears about Labor heard by voters during the election campaign. Are Labor trying to adapt to China? Is Labor MP Richard Marles a “Manchurian candidate” ready to betray his country?
Yes, there was an element of theater in the way Biden and Albanese got along. But it was a play with some purpose – so that the president does not worry in the least about the prime minister.
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