President Joe Biden on Wednesday hosted Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for a pageantry-filled state visit aimed at deepening cooperation and emphasizing unity on issues dominating global attention, including the increased ambitions of China and the gruesome conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine.
Both leaders made a point of acknowledging their shared support of Jerusalem and Kyiv early on in the daylong state visit.
"Together, we're standing with Israel against Hamas terrorism," Biden said. "We're standing with Ukraine against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's tyranny. And we're providing and proving that democracy can deliver on the challenges that matter most to people's lives, from climate change to cancer."
Albanese highlighted those conflicts to emphasize that the two English-speaking liberal democracies hold shared ideals. This was the ninth meeting between the two since Albanese took office last year.
"In today's uncertain world, the alliance between Australia and the United States and the way that we stand steadfast against aggression — whether it be Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine, or whether it be Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel — is something that can be relied upon for us to stand up for our common values," he said.
Those violent conflicts still cast a pall over the lavish state dinner, prompting first lady Jill Biden to tone down the entertainment. Originally, an upbeat, new wave band, the B-52s, was scheduled to perform, but members instead were invited to attend as guests. And the menu, she said, aimed to be suitably "comforting, reassuring and healing," consisting of butternut soup, beetroot salad and braised short ribs.
Biden said the state visit offered the two countries a chance to "double down" on their cooperation, which includes technological, scientific and military endeavors.
The two leaders also cited their efforts to counter a shared adversary — China — with Biden warning Beijing about its recent harassment of Philippine vessels in the South China Sea. Any attacks, he said, would invoke the U.S.'s mutual defense treaty with the Southeast Asian archipelago.
In 2021, Biden forged a trilateral security partnership with Australia and Britain called AUKUS that provides for U.S. nuclear technology to power conventionally armed Australian submarines. On Wednesday, Biden said he was "confident" Congress would fund AUKUS.
"It's overwhelmingly in our interest," he said. "When ... we put together the deal, I was asked by [Chinese President] Xi Jinping were we just trying to surround China. I said, 'No, we're not surrounding China. We're just making sure that the sea lanes remain open.' He doesn't get to unilaterally be able to change the rules of the road in terms of what constitutes international airspace and water space, et cetera. And so, that's what this is all about."
Analysts said all of this was being watched closely not only in Beijing, Canberra and Washington, but also in the region being courted by all three: the many diffuse island nations that dot the Pacific Ocean. Biden hosted many of those leaders last month.
"It's also interesting to see how it plays out in the Pacific," said Gordon Peake, a senior adviser for the Pacific islands at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "Some leaders are lukewarmly for AUKUS. Others are kind of ambivalent towards AUKUS. There's an awful lot of opposition to AUKUS within the region, as well, particularly the nuclear submarines — the fact that they're nuclear-powered but conventionally armed."
Albanese will embark soon on another high-profile visit. He recently announced he would visit Beijing and Shanghai in early November to meet with Xi.