State dinner highlights the enduring importance of US-Australia alliance
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On Sept. 20, Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison will arrive in Washington, D.C., at a moment when the alliance between our two countries is as important and consequential as it has been since World War II. During that global conflict – and particularly following events such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the surrender of the Philippines, and the withdrawal of the British Navy from the Indo-Pacific – Australia was as vulnerable to invasion as any time in its history. Indeed, only a few short months after Pearl Harbor, Darwin, Australia was struck by waves of bombing attacks by Japanese forces. The United States was in a similarly dire position, desperate to maintain a footing in that part of the world. Our countries came together in 1942 to reverse the dire threat posed by Axis powers to all democratic nations, and that effort has stood the test of time for over 77 years. During that period, the United States and Australia have stood together as pillars of a rules-based international order that nurtured open trade, human rights, and the end of colonial rule. Unfortunately today, it is blindingly obvious that the order we’ve worked together to establish is under existential threat.

As co-chair of the bicameral Friends of Australia Congressional Caucus, I joined a bipartisan group of senators and representatives in August on a trip to Australia to meet with our counterparts in the Australian parliament, and to visit joint naval and intelligence installations to deepen our understanding of and commitment to this precious alliance. Over the course of 10 days, we exchanged our various perspectives with comity and ease. And why not? The evidence of our natural connection is palpable – America and Australia share a common heritage of democratic legal tradition, enrichment by immigrant talent from all over the world, and a commitment to a rules-based international order. That formula has worked well in the aftermath of World War II for both countries, and for Asia — most especially China. However, it is that same common, vibrant thread that legislators from both sides believe is subject to new threats in 2019.

Today, both the U.S. and Australia, as well as our neighboring countries, are faced with the growing realization that China, under its new autocratic “President for Life” Xi Jinping, has a completely different approach to the existing “rules of the road” that have afforded so much prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region in the post-World War II era. In response, the U.S. initiated a “pivot to the Pacific” policy in 2011, which saw the deployment of sixty percent of the U.S. Navy’s fleet to Pacific waters, as well as the establishment of a new U.S. Marine Rotational Force (MRF) in Darwin, Australia in 2012 – tangible examples of America’s changing posture. In tandem with the U.S. pivot, Australia is modernizing its Navy fleet and Air Force capabilities. In many ways, it's plain to see that the defense relationship of the U.S. and Australia is as strong as ever, but what our American delegation heard from our Australian counterparts in Perth and Sydney is that our coordinated defense efforts should not be the sole defining characteristic of our alliance. As a country that is right in China's backyard and dealing with its increasingly brazen behavior, we should listen closely to what Australia has said and done in response

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For example, it was Australia who acted first to shield its internet from Huawei’s 5G encroachment. Its government saw clearly and ahead of all others the unacceptable risk posed by unfettered control of its networks by a company with deep ties to the Chinese government. 

Australian leaders have also highlighted the need for our countries to create a stable supply of rare earth minerals that are essential to the technology sector and to critical maritime and aerospace platforms. Today, China has almost monopolistic control of the global rare earth mineral supply chain. In Western Australia, where deposits are plentiful, both nations and other allies have an opportunity to create unimpeded access to critical resources and to significantly mitigate the impact if China chose to limit or cut off access to their own supply to the rest of the world.

The most important advice we heard, though, is that the best way for our countries to strengthen our collective hand in the Indo-Pacific is by tapping into our better angels: to promote an agenda of cooperation, inclusive development, and respect for neighboring countries that will stand in stark contrast to the heavy hand of China’s extralegal territorial claims and “debt traps.” The United States should back away from foreign policy built around transactional benefit. That sort of false diplomacy cheapens and undermines the genius and strength of our international appeal: namely, a freedom-loving, generous posture that will win over any adversary’s purported “long game.”

Prime Minister Morrison’s arrival will be a friendly, happy event – celebrated both here in the Capitol and around the country. After all, there is no shortage of affection and shared history between our respective countries. But once the greetings, well-wishes and introductions conclude, we should all get to work to reignite the American-Australian alliance which, in past moments of crisis, has been so instrumental in keeping a civilized, rules-based order strong and enduring.

Congressman Joe CourtneyJoseph (Joe) D. CourtneyHouse passes bill tackling workplace violence in health care, social services sectors This week: Round 2 of House impeachment inquiry hearings State dinner highlights the enduring importance of US-Australia alliance MORE represents Connecticut’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, and the co-chairman from the House Friends of Australia Caucus.