The announcement on Wednesday that US President Joe Biden had canceled his trip to Australia is a blow to Australia’s Labor government and the US-led anti-China campaign across the India-Pacific region.
Biden was due to take part next week in Sydney in a meeting of the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (Quad) which brings together the United States, Australia, Japan and India in a de facto alliance directed against Beijing. He will travel to Japan again for a G7 summit this weekend. This is where a side meeting of the Quad will be held.
The reason given for this cancellation is that Joe Biden must be in the United States during the debt ceiling crisis. In its own way, this underscores the historic decline of US imperialism.
Even as it wages a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine and prepares for conflict with China, seen as its main economic threat, American capitalism is plagued by ongoing internal political and economic turmoil that threaten to increase instability.
As the WSWS explained, the debt ceiling crisis is largely fabricated. The cap issue has been popping up every two years for decades. A solution is invariably found. The debt ceiling is being used to lay the groundwork for an outright attack on social programs and the living conditions of American workers, in the interests of the trusts.
Joe Biden’s trip to Japan also shows that he is hardly chained to his White House office in the midst of debt ceiling negotiations.
The cancellation was not revealed in a delicate and well-orchestrated way, but in a rather brutal way that tarnished the reputation of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
For weeks, Albanese and other senior Labor ministers have touted the importance of the Quad meeting. She was to highlight Australia’s increasingly central role in US foreign policy in the India-Pacific region, as well as the close relationship of the Labor government and the Biden government.
At 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, Albanese had announced to much fanfare that Biden would address a joint session of both houses of Australia’s parliament during his visit. Then, the next morning, the whole trip was canceled.
It seems that major American publications like the New York Times may have been informed of this cancellation before Albanese. Australian media have since reported that Albanese received a phone call from a US official announcing the cancellation of the visit before 5 a.m. Wednesday. It seems unlikely that information from this morning call was leaked to the press by Albanese or his team.
There are no doubt many reasons for the cancellation of Biden’s visit. But the way it was arranged undoubtedly looked like an affront to the Labor government.
Reports in the Australian press give an idea of some of the factors at play. The official media, deeply rooted in the American and Australian military and intelligence apparatus, have engaged in a great deal of questioning.
The Australian published a revealing article by Peter Jennings, a senior fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and former executive director of that institute. ASPI is funded by the US and Australian governments, as well as major arms manufacturers. He is the most outspoken spokesman for US imperialism in Australia.
Jennings noted the various factors that led to the cancellation of Biden’s visit. Among these are the political crisis in the United States, the need to manage national public opinion at such a time, and the advanced age of the president.
He further writes, “What is truly unfortunate about the cancellation of the visit to Sydney is that relations between Australia and the United States could hardly be in better shape.”
As Jennings points out, the Labor government, in place for only a year, has dramatically accelerated Australia’s frontline role in US preparations for war with China. Albanese and other Labor ministers have undertaken what they call “activist diplomacy,” aggressively pushing the US line across the region and demanding that other nations fall in line with Washington’s confrontation with China.
In March, Albanese was alongside Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego, where the three announced a $368 billion deal for Australia to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. . Dubbed “Ocean Predators,” these would conduct offensive operations against China throughout the India-Pacific region.
This is only the centerpiece of a much larger military rearmament. As Labour’s Defense Strategic Review (DSR) published last month points out, the military will move from nominal defense of the Australian mainland to “hard-hitting projection” across the region, in preparation for a armed conflict.
This is in line with the war policy of the United States. But people like Jennings have repeatedly worried that Australia’s military buildup is not fast enough under conditions where some senior US military officials predict a likely conflict with China within the next three years.
Jennings says those frustrations may have played a role in Biden’s visit being canceled. “After promising the biggest defense overhaul in decades, the government’s fanciful version of a Strategic Defense Review has delivered no new funding for the next four years, yet another overhaul of the US surface fleet. navy and a botched overhaul of the army aimed at saving money rather than modernizing the force”.
“Australia’s closest supporters in Washington will be mystified by this development,” adds Jennings.
“Washington constantly assesses whether Australia truly lives up to the demands of AUKUS cooperation. The lack of funding for our defense rhetoric will have been noticed. This type of complacency does not attract presidential visits when other priorities are pressing,” he wrote in particular.
Similar insinuations have been made by other commentators, but usually in less explicit terms.
There is no doubt that the Labor government is in the grip of powerful forces. It totally aligns with the United States war campaign.
But at the same time, a minority wing of the ruling elite continues to voice its opposition to AUKUS and the submarine program. This layer is not anti-war. Rather, it fears the consequences of an all-out war with the country’s main trading partner. Its representatives include some of Australia’s most prominent politicians such as former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating and Labor leader Bob Carr, former Australian Foreign Secretary and Premier of New South Wales for ten years. .
Earlier articles showed that Keating’s speeches, in particular, were closely watched in Washington. The Albanese government did call Keating’s statements “outdated”, but they could not silence him or convincingly refute his claims.
What is more concerning is the genuine and widespread anti-war sentiment among ordinary people. News of the AUKUS deal and its enormous cost caused considerable shock and anger. For more than a decade, preparations for war had been carried out largely behind the backs of the people.
In an attempt to stifle these feelings, the Labor government fraudulently presented its May budget as an exercise in cost-of-living relief. Measures that are tiny compared to the more than 50 billion dollars allocated to military spending next year. But most AUKUS-related funding has been deferred to the future, and the government has actually kicked in the sidelines.
The fate of imprisoned WikiLeaks editor and Australian citizen Julian Assange has also risen to prominence. This forced Albanese to make very conditional statements that the government wanted the Assange case ‘closed’. Biden is overseeing the US attempt to extradite and prosecute Assange for exposing US war crimes.
Given the country’s geographic isolation and the central role of the US alliance, visits by US presidents have always been major events in Australian political life.
The canceled visits also mattered. In 2010, then-US President Barack Obama postponed a planned tour of Australia, only to cancel it altogether.
The first postponement took place in March and the second in June. In late June, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was ousted in a backroom coup. This took place overnight, behind the backs of the population and even of part of the Labor Party leadership. The eviction was carried out by Labor and union apparatchiks, who were later unmasked as confidential informants of the US Embassy.
The WikiLeaks cables that revealed their condition also showed that the United States was extremely hostile to Rudd’s call for Washington to try to reach a modus vivendi with China in the India-Pacific region. A timid course and in no way anti-war but which went against American preparations for a total confrontation with Beijing. Rudd had also expressed reservations about the Quad.
In 2011, after the appointment of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, Obama went there and announced from the Australian parliament the “pivot” of the United States towards Asia, an unprecedented military reinforcement. Gillard approved and announced the opening of a US Marine base in Darwin.
The US-sponsored coup against Rudd is never openly discussed, but it is undoubtedly fresh in the minds of those who frequent the corridors of power, including Albanese, who was a minister in the Rudd government.
Albanese did everything he could to prove that his government would not waver as Rudd’s appeared to do. But amid a growing war frenzy, his government and military performance are, as Jennings noted, under constant scrutiny by Washington.
(Article first published in English on May 19, 2023)