President Joe Biden has cancelled a visit to Australia, the second leg of his upcoming Asia trip, due to the slow-motion crisis building in Washington over the US debt ceiling.
Biden is to attend a three-day summit of G7 leaders that starts on Friday in Hiroshima, Japan, and will return to the US on Sunday.
He had been scheduled to make a brief, historic stop in Papua New Guinea, then fly to Australia for a meeting of the Japan, Australia, India and US grouping known as the Quad countries. The Quad meeting has now been cancelled, with leaders to meet instead at the G7.
Biden speaks of ‘devastating’ effect of debt limit failure as he cuts short Asia tour – video
Biden cut his trip short “in order to be back for meetings with congressional leaders to ensure that Congress takes action by the deadline to avert default”, the White House said.
Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said he and Biden had held an early-morning phone call to discuss the change in plans.
“My phone started going at about 4.30am our time,” he told ABC radio Sydney.
“Of course, you have an issue there with a potential hold-up of the budget in their parliamentary process that they have in the Congress and the Senate. The deadline for resolving that impasse about the debt ceiling is 1 June. So, as the president put to me, that week before 1 June will be absolutely critical, which is the coming week, and so he would be postponing his visit to Australia.”
Albanese later said that the “Quad leaders’ meeting will not be going ahead in Sydney next week”.
Quad leaders would instead hold a discussion in Japan at the G7, Albanese told reporters in Tweed Heads, New South Wales.
“I thank prime minister [Fumio] Kishida for his invitation for me to attend the G7, it is appropriate that we talk.
“The Quad is an important body and we want to make sure that it occurs at leadership level and we’ll be having that discussion over the weekend.”
Albanese noted India’s prime minister Modi has “a bilateral meeting scheduled for Sydney as well”. “We’ll make further announcements … but prime minister Modi would certainly be a very welcome guest here next week.”
The postponement of the US president’s visit comes at a delicate time for Australia and the US, as the leaders of both nations seek to reassure the region over the Aukus defence agreement.
Albanese said he would hold a bilateral meeting with Biden in Japan for the G7 this weekend, with the possibility that all four leaders could meet ain Hiroshima.
“We’ll have a bilateral discussion but we’ll also hopefully be able to find a time when the four of us can can sit down,” Albanese said.
“We will have to organise the logistics of the Quad meeting now in Sydney and we’ll be discussing with our partners in the US, but also Japan and India over the next day or so.”
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Albanese will also travel to the US later this year for a state visit, although those dates are still to be finalised.
He said he understood the reason for the postponement. “President Biden emphasised the importance of the Quad,” he said.
“He was very disappointed at some of the actions of some members of Congress and the US Senate. We long ago passed the time where opposition parties tried to hold up supply in Australia, you might recall, you’re old enough like me to recall 1975 and ever since then, of course, we don’t have those supply issues.
“But that effectively is what you’ve got in the US at the moment. And obviously the domestic priority for the president, understandably, is to play a role in resolving those issues.”
John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, had told reporters earlier on Tuesday that the Australian stop was being re-evaluated.
Biden had been due to address the Australian parliament, as the first US president in nearly 10 years to speak to a joint session of MPs and senators in Canberra.
Officials had previously confirmed that Biden would make the speech on Tuesday 23 May, the day before he attended the Quad summit in Sydney.
“These leaders, all leaders of democracies … they know that our ability to pay our debts is a key part of US credibility and leadership around the world,” Kirby said. “And so they understand that the president also has to focus on making sure that we don’t default.”
The treasury department has estimated that the US will go into a crippling default as early as 1 June if Congress does not lift the debt ceiling.