KEY ISSUES FOR AUSTRALIA’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE US
1. REGIONAL SECURITY
The foreign policy ‘pivot’ by the US to Asia under President Barack Obama tightened the bonds between American and Australia and experts believe Hillary Clinton would continue down this path as president. However while she was deeply involved in developing the strategy, James Brown, adjunct associate professor at the US Studies Centre at Sydney University, says it’s unlikely to be her top priority. ‘It’s going to be tough for her to push the rebalance because there will be many other things competing for her time, not only domestic issues, but Syria, Russia and North Korea,’ he said.
If Donald Trump moves into the White House, however, any change in America’s policy towards Asia could be disruptive for Australia. ‘We would have to be more cautious in how we cooperate and collaborate with the US in Asia,’ Assoc Prof Brown says. ‘I think we would be more worried about the way the US would support us in any sort of security situation so it might lead us to take another look at our defence strategy.’ Mr Trump has criticised alliances the US has with Japan and South Korea, saying he would consider letting them develop nuclear weapons so they didn’t have to rely on US protection against China and North Korea. Experts say if the US reduces its presence in the region under Trump, China could be more assertive and step up its controversial activities in the South China Sea, a key trade route for Australia and its neighbours.
Neither Mrs Clinton nor Mr Trump are fans of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation pact between countries including Australia, the US, New Zealand and Japan. While Mrs Trump initially called it the ‘gold standard’ of trade deals while visiting Australia as secretary of state in 2012, she now opposes it because of potential risks to American jobs and wages. Mr Trump has branded the TPP a ‘catastrophe’.
Mr Trump also wants to rip up international free trade deals signed by the US, replacing them with ‘really good ones’ and slapping hefty tariffs on imported goods from China and Mexico. But the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics in September warned that would inflame tensions with China and disrupt the alliance with ‘longtime ally Australia’. National Australia Bank economist Tom Taylor warns Australia would be in an ‘unenviable position’ if tensions heighten between the US and China as both are major investors here and signatories to free trade deals with Canberra.
Australia has close defence ties with the US, with the allies having fought alongside each other in every major conflict since World War One. It is also number three on Islamic State’s list of Western target countries, behind the US and France, according to the US Homeland Security committee. Mr Trump claims Mrs Clinton and President Obama are to blame for creating ISIS, which he has vowed to ‘ knock the hell out of’. He’s controversially advocated using waterboarding as a form of torture and wants US forces to ‘take out’ the families of ISIS members. Experts are concerned that the application of such stark, and likely illegal policies, would be counterproductive to wider military efforts. ‘Australia will need to weigh very carefully a request from either a President Trump or Clinton to contribute further military forces to the Middle East,’ Assoc Prof James said.
Mrs Clinton wants to be ‘much smarter’ about defeating ISIS by collaborating with Muslim nations and allies like Australia to dismantle networks that supply radical jihadists with money, weapons, and fighters. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met US intelligence and security chiefs in Washington in September and came away upbeat about the possible battlefield defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. However he warned the threat from lone-wolf terrorists in the US and Australia would get worse before it got better.
There’s been speculation that Australia is close to finalising talks with third countries, possibly including the US, about resettling 1800 refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru. Mr Turnbull in September announced Australia would take refugees from a resettlement centre in Costa Rica as part of a US program. Tens of thousands of people have fled Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras since 2014 amid rising violence, poverty and organised crime. Many flooded over the Mexican border and into the US, which was unprepared for the influx. Mr Trump’s solution is to build a wall along the Mexican border, expel large numbers of illegal immigrants and slap a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants. In contrast, Mrs Clinton says it’s unrealistic to shut down US borders and that comprehensive immigration reform is needed, including a path to full citizenship.