Hours after being sworn in as Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese found himself fresh off a jet and thrust into the global spotlight on Tuesday. He was rewarded with a warm welcome, as well as a bit of kindness, from US President Joe Biden and other leaders at an international summit in Japan.
“You took an oath and got on a plane, and if you fall asleep while you’re here, it’s fine,” Biden joked as the leaders met at the Quad, an Indo-Pacific economic and security coalition meant to balance out China. growing influence in the region. Biden marveled at Albanese’s stamina. “I don’t know how you do it. But it’s really quite extraordinary, just out of the election campaign too.
The weekend election victory for Albanese, of the centre-left Labor Party, was a sea change in Australian politics, ending nine years of Conservative rule, the last under former leader Scott Morrison.
Albanese has described himself as Australia’s first-ever political candidate with a “non-Anglo-Celtic name”. He and Malaysian-born Penny Wong, Australia’s first foreign-born foreign minister, were sworn in on Monday just before flying to Tokyo to meet Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the Prime Indian Minister Narendra Modi.
Albanese’s election came after a hard-fought campaign in which he caught COVID-19. Because his predecessor set the election date a week later than planned, Albanese had little time to prepare for the Tokyo summit.
For his efforts, however, he received friendly greetings from other leaders.
Kishida, in his opening remarks, took note of Albanese’s tight schedule, offering his “sincere gratitude for coming all the way to Japan right after the election.” Modi said Albanese’s presence in Tokyo within 24 hours of his swearing in “demonstrates the strength of our friendship within the Quad and your commitment to it”.
At the summit, Albanese underscored Australia’s unwavering commitment to the regional forum and highlighted his country’s efforts to address climate change and seek greater engagement with Southeast Asian countries. He did not mention China’s aggressive security measures, which many Asian countries view with concern.
During the summit, Chinese and Russian strategic bombers conducted joint flights near Japan, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said, calling it an “increased level of provocation” and threat to the Quad.
Chinese H-6 bombers joined Russian TU-95s over the Sea of Japan and flew to areas over the East China Sea, but did not violate Japanese airspace, it said. said Kishi. Separately, a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft was spotted flying off the northern coast of Japan.
Kishi said Japan had raised “serious concerns” with Beijing and Moscow.
China’s Defense Ministry said the Chinese and Russian armies are carrying out joint strategic air patrols over the Sea of Japan, East China Sea and Western Pacific.
In a meeting later Tuesday, Albanese and Kishida shared their concern over China’s new security pact with the Solomon Islands, Japan’s foreign ministry said. They also agreed to strengthen cooperation on defense, a new US-led regional economic framework, clean energy and supply chain resilience, he said. added.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wrote to congratulate Albanese on his election victory, in what Australian media described as a thaw in relations after years of tension over Australian laws aimed at banning covert foreign interference in politics. which many consider to be aimed at China.
“It is an honor that it is my first act as prime minister to attend this important Quad leadership meeting here in Japan,” Albanese said in his opening remarks at Tuesday’s summit at the office of the Prime Minister. Japanese Prime Minister. “We had a change of government in Australia. But Australia’s commitment to the Quad hasn’t changed and won’t change.
In a separate meeting with Biden, Albanese recounted that the US government paid him to visit the Las Vegas gambling center during a program he attended in his twenties, prompting laughs.
“I’m not sure where that fits in, but it was a really good trip,” he said. “And of course my government is very committed to the alliance.”
Albanese said he would travel to Washington to see Biden again before hosting the upcoming Quad summit in Australia.
After a smooth diplomatic start, he will face a series of domestic demands when he returns home on Wednesday and tries to deliver on his campaign promises. On the list are tackling climate change, affordable child care and strengthening health insurance.
McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia. Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Tokyo and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.