09/12/2020 - 15:00

US investment a sign of trust in Australia

09/12/2020 - 15:00


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Australia should consider the importance of US investment alongside trade with China when weighing its economic relationships, according to Washington's top diplomat in Canberra.

US investment a sign of trust in Australia
Arthur Culvahouse has served as the US ambassador to Australia since 2018. Photo: Jordan Murray

Australia should consider the importance of US investment alongside trade with China when weighing its economic relationships, according to Washington's top diplomat in Canberra.

That follows ongoing trade disputes between Australia and China in recent months, with China slapping a series of punitive tariffs on the country’s exports of lamb and timber in the past 24 hours.

China, which purchases about 25 per cent of all Australian exports, had previously tariffed Australia’s wine exports in late November.

Addressing an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia this morning, US Ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse, conceded that China was by far Australia’s largest trading partner.

He argued though that investment was just as important an indicator of the economic relationship between countries, saying the assertion that Australia relied on China for economic prosperity was wrong.

“I submit to you that that’s a narrative that’s not just simplistic, it’s fundamentally nearsighted,” he said.

“It overweights trade to the detriment of investment, and thus sells both of our countries short.”

He acknowledged this argument was provocative, given WA’s resources sector is highly dependent on Chinese buyers; however, he pointed to projects such as Chevron’s Gorgon Stage 2 project on Barrow Island as evidence of how much the US has invested in the state.

Gorgon Stage 2 carries an estimated cost of $5 billion, according to Data & Insights, while Chevron employs about 2,000 people in Australia overall.

Elsewhere, he cited US investment and trade as contributing to about 7 per cent of Australia’s overall GDP in 2019, as evidence of how closely the Australia and the US are tied economically.

“Trade is important, of course, but it’s largely transactional,” Mr Culvahouse said.

“Investment, by contrast, is a sign of confidence, trust and of shared values in the long term.”

Today’s comments come days after a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry published a falsified image that purported to show an Australian solider slitting the throat of an Afghan child.

That image was in reference to allegations made in the Brereton Report, which alleged multiple instances of war crimes perpetrated by Australian Defence Force soldiers.

Mr Culvahouse had criticised the photo almost immediately after it was released.

He repeated his criticisms this morning, arguing China ought to pay attention to its own alleged human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.

He likewise praised Australia’s role in pushing for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and urged China to support an international investigation into the subject.

“Spreading disinformation through fabricated images and disingenuous statements that incite further violence is not appropriate diplomacy,” he said.

“The United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and other countries agree that it exceed the bounds of acceptable diplomatic discourse.”

Ambassador Culvahouse’s comments come as US president-elect Joe Biden is set to take office on January 21.

Mr Biden had campaigned for president in support of confronting China, with both he and President Donald Trump critiquing each other’s stance towards the country’s government.

He has nominated Antony Blinken, who has previously advocated for multilateral action towards China, to succeed Mike Pompeo in the post of secretary of state.

Mr Pompeo has served as secretary of state since 2017 and is thought to be one the loudest voices in favour of aggressive action towards China in the current administration.

Ambassador Culvahouse today reaffirmed that US support for Australia was bipartisan, noting that, although his appointment is a political one and he could not comment on the machinations of the incoming administration, Australia should wait until after January for partisan rhetoric to cool down.

He offered praise to Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s incoming national security adviser, as an example of the bipartisan support Australia will have going forward.

“There’s total respect and support for Australia,” he said.

“We stand with Australia.”


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