US Vice-President Mike Pence, a man considered by Australian officials to be the “calm, sane and measured” presence in President Donald Trump’s White House, will arrive in Sydney tonight for a visit that is expected to focus on regional security concerns and trade.
Mr Pence is wrapping up a tour of Asia reassuring allies of America’s commitment to the region under the new Trump administration.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said North Korea is also expected to be at the heart of discussions between he and Mr Pence.
“We’ll be talking about a range of issues but obviously top of the agenda will be regional security. North Korea is going to be right at the top of the agenda,” Mr Turnbull told the Seven Network on Friday.
Acting US Ambassador to Australia, James Carouso, says the Vice-President’s visit to Australia underlines the importance of this country to America.
“His purpose is basically to meet with our allies and close partners in the region as part of the new administration reaching out and getting the benefit of the views and insight of our partners about the region,” Mr Caruso said.
“His goal really is to reassure Australia of the closeness of the relationship, the value that the United States puts on this relationship, and that this is something the new administration intends to work on going forward.”
A senior Australian official involved in this weekend’s talks predicts recent tensions on the Korean peninsula will provide a “lively” background to the discussions, after the US initially “mishandled” the crisis.
“He is a sane, measured person, and lacks the flamboyance of Trump,” the official said.
The official also added that he believed military tensions in the South China Sea and on the Korean peninsula would feature prominently in discussions, as would the general security environment in east Asia.
The Acting US Ambassador says discussion on remaining trade barriers between Australia and the United States will also be an important aspect to Mr Pence’s visit.
“They are pretty few and specific. Australia has certain restrictions on things like pork, the US has other restrictions on certain agricultural imports from Australia,” Mr Carouso said.
“I think the ‘big thing’ is if we could talk about taxes, and how we each tax each other’s companies — that might be useful”.