China strategy, Pacific security high on agenda in White House talks

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese are holding talks at the White House.

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese are holding talks at the White House. Photo: Getty

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will discuss maritime and cyber security defence with US President Joe Biden as they co-ordinate their China strategy in an official White House visit.

Australia is a key US ally in the Pacific and the visit comes as crisis rages in the Middle East.

Biden scheduled the visit after cancelling a trip to Sydney in May to stay in Washington and negotiate a government funding crisis.

The visit on Wednesday US time will produce a series of agreements aimed at deterring and competing with China, even as separately the two countries try to thaw relations with Beijing.

The expected deals include launching an undersea internet cable project and maritime wharf infrastructure investment designed to benefit and woo Pacific Island nations whose assistance may be needed to respond to any future conflict over Taiwan or the South China Sea, according to US officials.

Washington and Canberra, already partners in a decades-old collective defence agreement, will also announce wider security co-operation with Japan.

The balancing act of strengthening deterrence against China without offending Beijing too much is made more complicated by a Middle East crisis that has again diverted Washington’s attention away from the Indo-Pacific.

A leadership vacuum in the US House of Representatives has also complicated the approval of a set of laws needed to deliver on Biden’s promise to support the AUKUS defence partnership between the United States, Britain and Australia.

The AUKUS deal includes transferring sensitive US and British nuclear submarine technology to Australia.

Financing and approvals related to AUKUS still need to come from Congress, where Republican lawmakers, who have a narrow majority, have repeatedly failed to line up enough support behind a party candidate to elect a new speaker of the House.

On Friday, the Biden administration submitted a supplementary budget request to Congress that includes measures to support US commitments under AUKUS.

A senior administration official said Biden would reassure Albanese that the United States will follow through on its end of the deal as Australians express private frustrations over the delays in moving ahead on the partnership.

“We’re in close and deep consultations on Capitol Hill,” the official told reporters.

“We are confident that the various procedural steps and budget conditions necessary to move forward with pillar one of AUKUS will move through in a way that will support our larger endeavour.”

The US-Australian efforts, designed to counter China’s territorial claims and reduce trade dependence on the Asian country, come as both countries also work to reduce diplomatic tensions with Beijing.

Albanese will visit China, Australia’s largest trade partner and biggest buyer of its iron ore, on November 4.

White House aides are working to lock down a meeting between Mr Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the November 11-17 Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in San Francisco.

Biden and Albanese will also seek to boost co-operation on cyber security and Australia’s rare earth minerals output to reduce reliance on China, the dominant supplier.

Biden will also announce that a cyber attack on Australia could be taken as an “armed” attack that would trigger US collective defence obligations.

In the event of such an attack, the United States would make a case-by-case decision on whether to invoke the treaty, according to another US official.

Australia has been a major hacking target for China.

Biden will also work on the more intangible parts of the US-Australian alliance.

Albanese, his partner Jodie Haydon and the Bidens will eat a three-course banquet prepared by five-time James Beard Foundation Award nominee Katie Button, set against a canvas of American Monarch butterflies and Australian Cairns Birdwing butterflies.

Nodding to the downbeat politics of the moment, a planned performance by the pop group B-52s at the dinner is being scrapped in favour of music from a US military band.

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