SYDNEY – US Vice President Mike Pence was due to arrive in Australia on Friday evening for the last leg of his Asia-Pacific tour, with regional security, the fight against terror, and trade set to continue dominate talks.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the Syrian conflict will also figure in talks during Pence’s two-day visit.
Pence is the most senior US official to visit Australia since US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.
Speaking to Channel 7 shortly before Pence’s arrival, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said they would discuss a range of issues, but that “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. Also of course, the global battle against terrorism.”
The Australian leader also thanked the new US administration’s promptness in sending its vice president to Australia, interpreting it as a sign of close Washington-Canberra ties.
“We’re really appreciative that so early in this new Trump Administration, the Vice President has come out to the region and visited Australia,” Turnbull said.
The visit could help make a fresh start after a much-publicized strained telephone conversation between the two leaders shortly after Trump assumed office.
US media had reported that Trump abruptly cut short the call due to differences over a refugee resettlement agreement that Australia had signed with the Barack Obama-led US administration, dubbed a “dumb deal” by the new US president.
Observers say the Pence visit seems to want to revitalize relations with Australia, historically a strong US ally.
Both countries view their alliance as being of vital importance for security in the Asia-Pacific region, and the visit is expected to help resolve differences over the costs of rotation of US marines and their use of military bases in northern Australia.
Besides Turnbull and Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Pence will also meet Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, opposition leader Bill Shorten, and members of the armed forces.
On Monday, he will fly to Hawaii to conclude his 10-day official tour of the Asia-Pacific.