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‘Dangerous’: Australia’s Trump challenge

Supplied
Questions remain about how the Albanese government would manage a Trump presidency. Picture: Supplied.

The Albanese government must urgently guardrail its strategic interests to avoid falling victim to Donald Trump’s “unpredictability” if he successfully retakes power at the end of 2024, a former Turnbull advisor has cautioned.

Donald Trump officially launched his bid for a second presidential term after he clinched the Republican Party’s nomination on March 13, pitting him against current US president and Democrat rival Joe Biden.

The 77-year-old quickly established his tone in his plans to maintain a US alliance with Canberra after threatening to have Australia’s ambassador Kevin Rudd thrown out of Washington in response to being described as “nuts” and “the most destructive president in history” by the former Labor leader.

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While polling results vary, Mr Trump has taken a narrow lead ahead of Joe Biden in the majority of US surveys making the prospect of his re-election far from unlikely.

A second Trump term could see him cut alliances with NATO countries, withdraw military assistance from Ukraine, and embolden Beijing to act against Australia, according to former Turnbull national security adviser and executive director of the Australian Policy Research Institute Justin Bassi.

“If Trump wins there would be unpredictability which can have advantages, particularly with countries like China, as they won’t know how Trump will act,” he said.

“But that is not positive when it comes to allies and partners and what it means for Australia is that we have to remain absolutely crystal clear on what our strategic objectives are – and that’s not simply keeping Donald Trump happy.

QUESTION TIME
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

“It’s about ensuring Australia isn’t a victim of Trump’s transactional nature either directly, because he feels the US isn’t getting a fair deal from Australia, or indirectly, because he’s cutting a deal with other countries in ways that have indirect consequences for Australia.”

Anthony Albanese should first and foremost bake the first and second key pillars to the AUKUS security pact to deter fears that Mr Trump would sink the deal if he returned to the White House in November, Mr Bassi said.

Australia has insisted that the $368bn landmark deal to develop nuclear submarines with the US and the UK would go ahead despite concerns over the former US president’s “America first” approach to foreign relations.

Citing the now-infamous phone call between the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Trump in 2017, which saw the two leaders exchange terse words over refugee policy, Mr Bassi suggested that whoever came to deal with the Republican should come to negotiations with one key objective in mind.

“My advice would be don’t go into the meeting trying to have as your goal as a rapport of friendship. It’s got to be one of respect – even if that means some disagreement,” he said.

“I think the classic case there is Turnbull. The personality clash there clearly demonstrates that it is a far better strategy to gain Trump’s respect rather than rather than try to be liked by him and the way that Turnbull was able to maintain the refugee deal shows that if the approach had been simply trying to survive and maintain initiatives by getting Trump to like you, that’s not going to be successful.”

Malcolm Turnbull  White House
Former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull described Mr Trump as a ‘bully’ in his 2020 memoir. Picture: Nathan Edwards

Speaking about efforts to maintain a stable relationship with China, Mr Bassi said a Trump re-election could also trigger a US withdrawal of military assistance from Ukraine and embolden Beijing and Russia to increase aggression towards allied nations.

Mr Trump told a rally in South Carolina in February that he would withdraw US help to NATO and encouraged Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” with countries that fell behind defence spending targets.

He also speculated that he could have dissuaded Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine in 2022 raising fears that he would pull the plug on military assistance for Kyiv if he assumed power, effectively ending the war with Russia.

Mr Bassi said a US withdrawal from Europe would send a significant message to Beijing and therefore lead to “dangerous” implications for Australia.

“Beijing already uses its propaganda machine to demonise the US in the region and if the US pulled out of Europe it would feed into the narrative that the US is a temporary and untrustworthy nation, so resistance is futile,” he said.

“This would be very dangerous for our region so countries like Australia and Japan should continue supporting Ukraine but importantly advocating to the US why security in Europe is not separate from security in the Indo-Pacific.”