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When Turnbull meets Trump

1 May 2017

Executive summary

What is the problem?

Donald Trump’s election as US president is accelerating a profound global transformation that has huge consequences for Australia. Unlike his predecessors, Trump is less willing to defend the liberal international order that has been of immense benefit to Australia’s security and prosperity. If fully implemented, the US president’s protectionist agenda would be a direct threat to Australia’s economic interests. And the US alliance is coming under unprecedented pressure from China in the region. At home, there are an increasing number of Australians who see a growing gap in both interests and values with a Trump-led America.

What should be done?

Turnbull should go into the meeting with US President Donald Trump on board the USS Intrepid with three objectives: to add his voice to those of other US allies urging Trump to play a constructive leadership role internationally; to imbue the president with a deeper appreciation of the value of the alliances in general and the Australia–US alliance in particular; and to encourage him to support a US accommodation with China that reduces the possibility of a full-blown conflict in Asia but pushes back against Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea.

The key to achieving these three objectives will be to convince President Trump that Australia matters. We are not free-riders but a tried and trusted ally and a nation of lifters, not leaners — precisely the kind of friend that the United States needs in these difficult times. How Turnbull delivers these messages is as important as their content.

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