U.S., Australia discuss China and Myanmar in first leaders call, White House says

CANBERRA (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed how they can work together to deal with China and a recent military coup in Myanmar, the White House said on Thursday.

The first call between the leaders since Biden’s inauguration comes amid heightened tension between Australia and China and just days after Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The strength of the U.S.-Australia alliance “remains an anchor of stability in the Indo-Pacific and the world,” the White House said in an emailed statement.

Morrison declined to give details of the conversation with Biden about China and Myanmar.

“He said to me again today, he sees the Australia-U.S. relationship as providing the anchor for peace and security in our region,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

The United States is Australia’s key strategic ally, a relationship that Morrison made a priority as ties between Canberra and China, its largest trading partner, soured.

The new U.S. administration’s emphasis on addressing climate change is likely to put pressure on Morrison, who has been hesitant to match Biden’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

Morrison, however, said the call was “warm” and “engaging”.

Morrison’s predecessor Malcolm Turnbull had a testy first phone call with previous U.S. President Donald Trump, who said it was the “worst call by far” according to The Washington Post.

The call turned hostile after Turnbull pressed Trump to honour a previous agreement Canberra made with the Obama administration to accept refugees from Australian offshore detention camps.