Anthony Albanese has compared notes with the US president ahead of Joe Biden’s landmark meeting with Xi Jinping on Monday at the G20, and discussed Aukus and climate cooperation in a warm catch-up spanning 40 minutes.
Australia’s prime minister met Biden on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit on Sunday in Phnom Penh. That catch-up followed Albanese speaking on Saturday night with the Chinese premier Li Keqiang – which is the first leader-level contact between Australia and China in three years.
Biden’s meeting with the Chinese president in Bali will be the first time the two leaders have met face-to-face since his election to the White House. Biden has reportedly said Monday’s meeting with Xi, which comes amid tensions over Taiwan and a host of other issues, will establish “what the red lines are”.
During their catch up on Sunday, Albanese and Biden canvassed progress on the Aukus joint agreement with the United Kingdom on nuclear submarines – which remains a deeply contentious issue in the Asean region given the escalating tensions – and Albanese also invited Biden to address federal parliament next year when the president visits Australia for a meeting of the Quad.
With the United Nations-led climate talks also under way in Egypt during the international summit season, Albanese told reporters the two leaders talked about climate action, “and the link between it and economic growth and job creation”.
The substantial catch-up followed Albanese on Sunday addressing both the Asean global dialogue and the East Asia Summit. Albanese used his remarks to address the challenging geo-strategic environment.
The Albanese government is currently attempting to execute a complex diplomatic rapprochement with China that began shortly after Labor won the May election – at the same time as spearheading a diplomatic offensive in the region to repel China’s soft power offensive in the Pacific.
Albanese’s ice-breaking small talk with the Chinese premier at the Asean summit’s gala dinner in Phnom Penh on Saturday night could be a precursor conversation leading to a more substantial meeting with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, at the G20.
During their chat spanning a few minutes, Li reminded the prime minister he had sent a note congratulating him after Labor’s election victory. Albanese later told reporters he was glad the exchange had happened, but he was coy about the prospects of meeting Xi at the G20.
Albanese addressed regional concerns about the Aukus pact during his contributions to the summits on Sunday. He underlined Australia’s commitment to advancing the nuclear-powered submarine agreement while stressing that Australia remained committed to the principles of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Australia’s near neighbours, like Malaysia and Indonesia remain concerned Aukus will fuel a lethal arms race in the region. Indonesia, a close ally of Australia, has warned repeatedly it does not want to be caught in the crosshairs of a great power competition. But the Aukus partnership is also critical to Australia’s security alliance with the US.
The prime minister also used Sunday’s interventions to confront Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Albanese later told reporters he castigated the foreign minister for the “enormous human toll” of the illegal invasion in Ukraine, and rebuked Russia for the ensuing energy price shock that is fuelling runaway inflation in countries around the world.
Albanese will be spending his last evening in the Cambodian capital on Sunday. After the close of the summits, Albanese was scheduled to launch the National Museum of Australia’s Walking Through a Songline exhibition which is travelling through south-east Asia.
The prime minister leaves Cambodia for the G20 summit in Bali on Monday morning.