Malcolm Turnbull has said the US will project “enhanced military power” after a discussion with Donald Trump about his plans to expand the US navy into the region.
The US president-elect and the Australian prime minister spoke on Thursday afterTrump’s upset victory in the US presidential race and Turnbull told reporters he had emphasised the importance of the postwar alliance to maintaining regional security.
Given Trump campaigned on a platform of foreign policy isolationism and protectionism, the Australian government has moved quickly to publicly assert its desire that the US remain engaged in the region.
While Trump questioned the value of several of America’s traditional alliances while on the campaign trail, his advisers have flagged the incoming administration’s desire to expand the US navy from 274 ships to 350 and to deploy more extensively in the region to counter China’s growing assertiveness.
A recent policy paper written by two of Trump’s campaign advisers asserts: “The US navy is perhaps the greatest source of regional stability in Asia.”
The paper says China has outnumbered the US navy in Pacific-based submarines and “the mere initiation of the Trump naval program will reassure our allies that the United States remains committed in the long term to its traditional role as guarantor of the liberal order in Asia”.
If the US steps up its regional naval presence, it seems probable that Australia will be prevailed upon further by the US to take part in joint exercises in the flashpoint of the South China Sea and there could be requests to accommodate more American military assets on Australian soil.
Turnbull told reporters in Canberra he had discussed Trump’s naval plans during their 15-minute conversation. “Can I say to you that Mr Trump’s commitment to expanding the US military is very well-known and we discussed it,” the prime minister said on Thursday.
Turnbull said he had outlined Australia’s plans to expand its naval fleet with new vessels and submarines.
“We discussed that and what his plans were for the US navy,” he said. “But, let me tell you, he is committed to a strong United States, a strong United States with enhanced military power – a strong United States that will be, continue to be that foundation for peace and stability as it has been for many, many years.”
The prime minister said the two leaders had agreed during the conversation “on the vital importance of our strong alliance”.
“Mr Trump recognises the solidarity that Australia has shown the United States and the United States has shown Australia over 98 years, during which we have fought side-by-side with the United States in every major conflict,” he said.
Turnbull also told reporters he had flagged their mutual business background during the conversation, presumably as part of establishing a rapport.
“It was a very warm discussion,” Turnbull said. “I suppose as both being businessmen who found our way into politics, somewhat later in life, we come to the problems of our own nations and, indeed, world problems with a pragmatic approach.
While Australia is continuing to hold out hope that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be ratified by the Obama administration during the looming lame duck session, Turnbull acknowledged on Thursday that it now looked extremely unlikely.“Mr Trump is a deal maker. He is a businessman, a deal maker and he will, I have no doubt, view the world in a very practical and pragmatic way.”
Trump has been vociferous in his opposition to the agreement. “I think his views on that treaty are well-known,” Turnbull said.
Earlier in the day the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, made a bid to counter the shock of Trump’s victory by saying it presented an opportunity for Australia to recast its role in the Middle East and Asia.
She was looking forward to new ideas from a Trump administration on how to break the stalemate in the Syrian conflict, she said.
“It’s been very frustrating that there have been no new ideas or resolutions put forward to actually resolve not only the military conflict but the humanitarian crisis,” she told the ABC.
“So I’ll be looking forward to new ideas and new thinking and hopefully work closely with the new administration to come up with a solution that sees an end to the bloody conflict in Syria that has been raging for years now.”
She said Trump may be able to reboot US relations with the Russian president, Vladmir Putin.
“I hope that there will be a new approach adopted and Australia will certainly take part in those discussions,” she said.
The environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, who recently called Trump a “dropkick”, backtracked on Thursday, suggesting he should have followed the lead of Turnbull and Bishop, and been more measured in his public commentary.
The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, who had expressed sharp criticism of Trump before the US election, said the Turnbull government needed to recognise that growing inequality, and the loss of manufacturing jobs, had fuelled the resentment that had led to popular support for Trump. Shorten said Australia wasn’t immune.
“I think what it shows though is that where you have a divided society, where you have people left behind the pace of economic change, you will see responses and more extreme political outcomes,” Shorten said on Thursday.
“That is why, now, Malcolm Turnbull should take the lesson of Donald Trump and stand up for a strong minimum wage, start looking after blue-collar workers who are dislocated and left behind with the closure of car companies and power stations.”
Shorten said he did not apologise for calling some of Trump’s policies “bonkers” in recent months.
“I certainly said that some of his views were extreme and I didn’t agree with them but the American people have now spoken,” he said. “But I will never resile from standing up for my views. I think people have a right, when they listen to their leaders, to know what their leaders actually think.”
While the major parties have lined up behind the alliance – despite the deep shock in Canberra about the result – the Greens and the NXT leader, Nick Xenophon, have both called on the government to rethink Australia’s relationship with the US after the Trump victory.