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President Joe Biden has welcomed Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to the White House for a private dinner with their partners, in a rare personal discussion before a day of formal meetings.
Biden and his wife, Jill, met Albanese and his partner Jodie Haydon, at the south entrance of the White House after the prime minister’s motorcade arrived at the residence.
Jodie Haydon and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pose for a photo with the President of the United States, Joe Biden, and Jill Biden, on their arrival for a private dinner at the White House on Tuesday.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“Welcome to the White House,” Biden said as he greeted the guests.
When a reporter called out a question about whether Biden should urge Israel to delay its ground invasion of Gaza, the president said Israel would make its own decisions. The two leaders made no other remarks to the media before going inside.
The private dinner was held on Tuesday night in the White House after a day of meetings that included a $2 billion Australian pledge on finance for miners who export critical minerals and a $20 million Australian commitment for military help for Ukraine.
The next phase of the state visit will be a formal meeting between the prime minister and president on Wednesday, a press conference and a state dinner with more than 100 guests to be held on the south lawn of White House.
White House officials emphasised the importance of the personal ties between Biden and Albanese when the US focus on the Indo-Pacific region was “right at the top of the list” of American priorities.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Australian visit this week was a sign of the importance of alliances in the Indo-Pacific, adding strategic competitors such as Russia and China could not match the US in building partnerships.
“They’re not even close to the alliances and partnerships that we have,” Kirby said in a briefing with reporters at the Australian embassy in Washington DC.
“I don’t think even many Americans completely fully remember that five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Indo-Pacific region. The president takes that very, very seriously.
US President Joe Biden greets Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as he arrives for dinner at the White House on Tuesday night.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“And the president believes in relationships, personal relationships, personal diplomacy.
“Of course, he values all the work that our professional diplomats do around the world, but he believes it’s important for him to actually be there and to have conversations with people one-on-one. You can’t phone in trust and confidence.”
The White House meetings come at a time of tension between the US and China, with US authorities releasing video footage of Chinese fighters “buzzing” US surveillance aircraft in the South China Sea, but an easing of tensions between Australia and China after several years of trade sanctions and diplomatic friction.
Albanese will visit China from November 4 to 7 to meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing and attend a business expo in Shanghai, as well as marking 50 years since the Australian government under Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam recognised the People’s Republic of China after decades of formal recognition for Taiwan.
In the US, however, the White House describes China as a “strategic competitor” and turns to allies including Australia to help in maintaining regional security.
“It’s a competition that we mean to succeed in,” said Kirby.
“And that means being able to cooperate where we can, communicate where we must, and obviously, as appropriate, work to counter some of the PRC’s intimidation, coercion, excessive maritime claims.
“I mean, so we’re taking a holistic view of this relationship. We believe that again, more open lines of communication with China is a good thing.”
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.
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