Donald Trump has declared China is a threat to the world “in a sense” and raised the spectre of Australia joining a coalition of military action against Iran as he characterised his ally Scott Morrison, as a “man of titanium”.
Following a ceremonial welcome for Morrison on Friday Washington time attended by more than 4,000 guests, Trump praised Morrison’s personal fortitude, describing him as “a man of real, real strength, and a great guy”.
The American president signalled he would raise with Morrison a possible military contribution in Iran beyond the current freedom of navigation commitment in the Strait of Hormuz, but later in the day indicated he had not, in fact, raised the issue during a bilateral meeting at the White House.
The Australian prime minister made a point of praising the president’s restraint in relation to Iran to date and made no commitment beyond saying the government would consider any request from the administration on its merits.
Asked for his view on China, Trump told reporters “well, obviously, China is a threat to the world in a sense, because they’re building a military faster than anybody, and, frankly, they’re using US money”.
The president indicated he wanted to settle the damaging trade dispute between Washington and Beijing that is casting a shadow over Morrison’s first visit to the American capital as prime minister, but said, in order to do that, he needed a “complete deal” from president Xi Jinping, not a partial deal.
Morrison said Australia was keen that America and China settle the tit-for-tat trade dispute which is imperilling global growth but he said Trump was attempting to safeguard important principles and set new benchmarks that would ultimately “put global trade on a stronger footing”.
Trump said: “China wants to make a deal. I think we want to make a deal. We’ll see what happens.”
The president played down the negative impact of the trade dispute on the Australian economy, declaring the economy was performing strongly. He said if the US settled the trade dispute, the Australian economy would perform even more strongly.
Early on Friday, during remarks in the Oval Office, Trump held out the prospect of a military strike against Iran, including, possibly, with nuclear weapons, although the president later backtracked, and indicated his preference was for restraint.
Trump said he was interested in building a coalition for military action with Australian participation, but then told reporters at a subsequent press conference Iran wasn’t discussed, and Morrison then described Australia’s possible participation as “moot”.
Morrison has used the visit to emphasise Australia’s reliability as an American ally and the shared values between the two countries.
Friday’s White House program will culminate with a state dinner outdoors in the Rose Garden at the White House. The state dinner is the first offered to an Australian prime minister since the Howard era, and Trump will also accompany Morrison on a side visit to a new Australian-owned paper recycling mill in Ohio owned by the billionaire box maker Anthony Pratt later in the week.