US alliance key to Aust facing challenges

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Two former prime ministers say the alliance with the United States will remain key to Australia's future, especially as concerns continue about China.

John Howard and Julia Gillard took part in an online panel discussion with former top diplomat Dennis Richardson for the US Studies Centre on Wednesday, to mark the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty being signed.

Mr Howard said the US alliance would be "hugely important" as Australia faced its greatest foreign policy challenge - dealing with a more "belligerent" China.

He said he would be surprised if China launched a full scale attack on Taiwan.

"There would be a massive retaliation from the US and they would almost certainly come off second best," he said.

The former Liberal leader said China's 400 million middle class would develop less tolerance for the government over time and make it "increasingly difficult for the Chinese leadership".

He said in dealing with China, Australia needed to stick to its values and he was pleased with the approach being taken by the Morrison government.

But at the same time it was important to continue to value China as an economic partner.

Ms Gillard said Australia would need to engage in "deep reflection" with the US after the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

She said it was appropriate for the two countries to think about what went right and wrong and "how to hold faith with the people of Afghanistan", using a range of tools including aid, development and sanctions.

The Labor leader said the rise of China and the emergence of a "bipolar world", in geopolitical terms, would have "consequences in every direction".

She said it would be important to work with the US and other nations on the challenges of climate change, including its security implications and how it could lead to more refugees.

And the COVID-19 pandemic required global solutions in terms of health and future preparedness.

"All of that work needs to be done at a time when multilateralism is an anaemic thing and needs to be rebuilt," she said.

Mr Howard described the US alliance as "the most natural thing in the world", providing a sense of stability and security.

However, he spoke of his "disappointment" when he asked former US president Bill Clinton for ground troops to support the mission in East Timor and was knocked back.

A subsequent TV interview in which the then foreign minister Alexander Downer slammed the US decision sparked a phone call from Madeleine Albright, which then led to the Clinton administration agreeing to provide logistics and intelligence support.

Ms Gillard said it was a "vital and enduring friendship", based on shared values and hope for the future.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting