Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden on the Future of the U.S.-Australian Relationship in Asia
Paddington Town Hall
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We have an expression in American politics, as the Prime Ministers know -- that if my mother were she’d wonder who you were talking about and my father would have believed it.
Good afternoon, everyone. And I want to thank you, Simon and Michael, for this warm welcome. And I want to thank everyone at the U.S. Centre at the University of Sydney and at the Lowy Institute for organizing this opportunity for me to speak here today.
And I want to say at the start to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this beautiful land, the First Australians,
the oldest continuous culture in the world, and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.
It is not hyperbole to suggest I’m truly honored that several of your former Prime Ministers are here this morning. My service in government overlaps each of their services -- much less consequential, my service to theirs. But I watched with great interest, pride, and satisfaction how this chain, how this link between the United States and Australia was husbanded by each of you. And it’s an overwhelming testament to your great hospitality here that the three of you would be here to hear me speak.
Prime Minister Hawke, Prime Minister Howard, Prime Minister Abbott, I want to thank you for your contributions to the strengthening of our relationship of our two nations during each of your tenures.
Over the past few days -- both here in Sydney and in Melbourne -- I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Australians from all walks of life. At the stadium, I was with World War II veterans and active duty Australian Defence Forces here; cancer researchers and conservation experts; entrepreneurs striking out to start their own ventures and factory workers contributing to the global manufacturing operation.
1Like Americans, Australians all have different hopes and different dreams, different worries about the future, but there’s something they all have in common. And I’m not talking about the borderline obsession with Australian Rules Football.
The ambassador and I enjoyed our stay there. He kept looking at me like, do I understand what’s going on? (Laughter.) I understood. I had watched matches on television before. I played American college football and in law school, I played rugby. And I turned to one of my granddaughters who was with me, my 12-year-old, and I said -- I had her watch a game before we went to the game. And she said, Pop, it’s kind of like basketball because you bounce the ball when you run. It’s kind of like basketball, soccer, rugby, football. And, Pop, the end of the field is oval -- it’s kind of like ice hockey. (Laughter.) So it is one incredible sport requiring incredible athleticism. And I had a chance to see one of the games.
But that's not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about character. In my view, Australians are defined by their character; by the grit, their integrity, their unyielding resilience that has shaped this nation from the very beginning.
And it’s that character, in my view, which has always drawn Australians and Americans together -- because we recognize it I believe in one another.
In December 1941, besieged by war, facing an advancing enemy, Prime Minister John Curtain issued the now-famous message to the Australian people, a message that declared an intention to close the distance between our two nations and bridge the wide Pacific.
He said: Without inhibitions of any kind … Australia looks to America.
Australia looked to America, and a generation of Americans—including two of my uncles responded. Both in New Guinea -- one killed and one went home badly injured.
Australia opened her hearth and her heart to the 1st Marine Division after Guadalcanal, including Ambassador Berry’s 19-year-old father. And they found rest and embrace in Australia, camping on the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. I read when I spoke to this veterans’ group, I read some of the letters that were written. One of the letters from a Marine who made it off of Guadalcanal onto that field for rest said the thing he looked forward to the most and he appreciated the most was the “love and the embrace” of the Australian people. Not words often used by U.S. Marines.
They spoke of Australia as a second home. And to this day, the 1st Marine Division, a proud, proud division of our United States Marine Corps deploys to Waltzing Matilda.
Over the course of 100 years spent fighting side by side, over 65 years of a formal alliance, although every testing -- through every testing we have faced as a nation, Australians and Americans have built an unsurpassed partnership. Our peoples joined in easy mateship. The history that forged the foundations of our alliance in iron and baptized it in blood has long bound the fortunes of our two nations.
But I didn’t fly all the way from Washington to revel in past glories. And it’s important that nostalgia not be the defining feature of our partnership. I’m here because that partnership is a living connection between our two countries -- as vital in our current era of change and uncertainty as it was a century ago in the trenches of World War I, as it was 75 years ago when together we defeated the forces of fascism. Our alliance has been shaped by progress of our shared home in the Asia Pacific. And it’s been for decades -- underwriting stability, seeding commerce, laying the groundwork for this region to reach its great potential.
And here in the early years of what surely will be the
Pacific century, it’s critical that America and Australia continue to look to one another for mutual support. Because together I am absolutely confident we can write a better future for all our children and for this whole region.
That’s why President Obama came to Australia five years ago once we decided on our policy of rebalance to Asia. In his address to the Parliament in Canberra, he declared before the world: “In the Asia Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in.” The United States is all in.
And we’ve made good on that promise and continue to make good on that promise. We’ve shown our commitment to lead in the region over and over again.
Anyone who questions America’s dedication and staying power in the Asia Pacific simply is not paying attention.
Our commitment to our military strength is unparalleled. We continue to outpace our competitors, spending more on our overall defense than the next eight nations in the world combined. We have the most capable ground forces in the world, an unmatched ability to project naval and air power to any and every corner of the globe and simultaneously. We’ve bolstered our special operations forces, enhanced our cyber and space capabilities, invested in game-changing technologies in order to maintain our qualitative edge for years to come. And we’ve committed to put over 60 percent of our fleet and our most advanced military capabilities in the Pacific by 2020.
At the same time, we’re stronger and more effective when we work side-by-side with our closest and most trusted partners, with those nations who share our interests, our concerns, and our commitment to upholding a rules-based international order.
That means, even as we continue to address the full range of persistent challenges and immediate threats to our shared security, the United States has kept -- and will keep -- a laser focus on the future in the Asia Pacific. We're not doing anyone any favors. It’s overwhelmingly in our interest. Overwhelmingly. It’s overwhelmingly in our interest that Australia continue to grow, succeed, and prosper.
We’ve worked closely with our democratic partners throughout the Pacific to strengthen our historic alliances, to intensify our cooperation with not only Australia, but with Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines.
We’ve upgraded our capacity to address the challenges of our more complex security environment, and we've done it together -- counterterrorism, cyber security, nuclear proliferation.
And today, our partnership with our allies and other security partners in the Pacific are stronger than they have ever been, especially here in Australia, where our military interoperability and our intelligence cooperation -- being part of the Five Eyes -- are at an all-time high. We share everything. We have made unprecedented investments to strengthen our partnerships in Southeast Asia -- joining the East Asia Summit, the region’s premier leaders-level forum for political and strategic issues; supporting a democratic transition in Burma; rebuilding our relationship with Vietnam.
And, since 2010 we’ve invested $4 billion in development assistance in ASEAN countries alone.
Across the region, we’ve worked with our partners to write high-standard trade agreements and to protect the rights of workers, preserve the environment, uphold intellectual property rights -- the kinds of agreements that support broad-based economic growth and keep the engines of our global economy running.
We’ve made important progress to center our growing relationship with China in enhanced cooperation and responsible competition. There is no doubt that the United States of America
is a Pacific nation. I’ve spent a great deal of time with President Xi, a lot of time. I’ve traveled with him five days in China. I’ve probably spent more time with him alone than any world leader. And when he asked me why we were so engaged, I pointed out, we are a Pacific nation. That's who we are. And will maintain that posture as long as we exist.
I made that point, I’ve said President Xi directly what I said to president -- with Prime Minister Turnbull yesterday: Our resolve to play a part in shaping the future of this dynamic region is real. As the President said, we are all in. We are not going anywhere.
And that’s vital, because our presence in the region -- and it sounds terrible to say coming from the lips of an American elected official -- our presence in the region is essential to maintaining peace and stability, without which the economic growth and prosperity I believe would falter. America is the lynchpin. And we want to ensure the sea lanes are secure and the skies remain open.
That’s how to maintain the free flow of commerce that is the lifeblood of this region. And that’s the only way our nations will be able to grow and succeed together. And if we get this right, which we can -- as my grandfather would say, with the grace of God and the good will of the neighbors.
We have an incredible opportunity to shape the future of our world in ways that will make it better for billions of people.
And, by the way, the reason we’re able to make these commitments, is because the United States of America has the strongest economy in the world. I read your editorials. I read editorials around the world. The question was who we are, do we have the staying power? Do we have the economic capacity? This is not being arrogant, it’s just a fact.
Over the past seven-and-a-half years, President Obama and I have led the country from economic crisis to recovery to resurgence. We made some very tough choices, and they’ve paid off. Since the Great Recession, our economy has grown 20 times faster than Europe’s and 100 times faster than Japan. We have created more jobs than every other industrialized nation in the world combined.
I say that not to brag, but to reassure. The United States is going to remain the strongest economy in the world. Because we have solid foundations -- like you do. Our economy is destined to drive sustained growth. We have vast energy resources. The epicenter of energy for the 21st century is North America -- is North America. It’s not the Arabian Peninsula or Nigeria or Venezuela. And we want them to do well. But we have resources like you even greater of human capital.
Our workers are among the most productive in the world. We have the best research universities in the world. And we foster a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation and risk-taking that is unrivaled anywhere in the world. As I said yesterday, a young man when Steve Jobs was speaking at Stanford University said, Mr. Jobs, what do I have to do to be more like you? He said, think different.
Think different. You can only think different where you can breathe free air. You can only think different where you don't worship at the shrine of orthodoxy. That's the similarity we both have.
So if I had to bet on which country is going to lead economically in the 21st century, you might expect me, I’d bet on the United States. But I’d put it another way: It’s never been a good bet to bet against the United States. It’s never been a good bet to bet against the United States.
The partnership between Australia and America is at the core of our vision for the region’s future. It’s not what we can do for Australia. It’s what we can do with Australia. Ours is a partnership of possibilities built on inherent potential that pulses through the veins our people.
We are nations of explorers and dreamers who have never backed down from a challenge. Never ever have your people ever backed down from a challenge, nor have ours. We believe barriers were meant to be broken and frontiers to be furthered.
Your great novelist Patrick White wrote: “The map? I will first make it.”
The map? I will first make it. That's what you all are made of. And it’s that kinship of spirit that shared refusal to be bound by orthodoxy, a belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things if given an opportunity. It’s the nature of our immigrant past and present. I think it’s what makes the United States and Australia natural partners as we take on the biggest challenges of our times.
This is the hundredth-year anniversary of William Butler Yeats’ poem Easter Sunday 1916, and the Rising in Ireland. There’s a line in the poem he used to try to describe the changes that were taking place in his Ireland that I think better describe the world we face together today than it did his Ireland. He said: “All’s changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born.”
All has changed in the last 15 years and how we adapt to that change is going to determine the future of both our nations and the future for our children and grandchildren.
Here in the Pacific, we’ve seen it borne out that commerce and free markets are the most powerful engines for lifting people out of poverty and growing the middle class -- from China to Australia, from India to the Philippines.
On Monday, I visited the Boeing factory in Melbourne where they’re making wing flaps for the 787 Dreamliner, truly high-tech, specialized manufacturing. One hundred years ago -- not long after humans mastered the mechanism of flight -- Boeing started building planes. Not long after that, they started doing business here in Australia. It’s a powerful example of our enduring economic ties. Today, Melbourne is the home to the largest Boeing factory outside the United States. And together we are quite literally building the future of aviation.
But our economic relationship is not just the story of corporate giants. It’s the story of scrappy start-ups and unlikely successes, of ideas that take wing because, instead of asking why?, Australians and Americans ask why not? Why can we not do that?
That’s the story of the Australians I’ve met this week. I met a young man who transformed his experience as an engineer in the Royal Navy into a business that provides funding and technical assistance to help launch other start-ups, including connecting with them with American investors and collaborators.
And as we seek to expand prosperity and opportunity to more people around the world, we will be more successful with more links crossing the Pacific, links that connect Sydney and Silicon Valley, Brisbane and Brooklyn.
In Melbourne, I visited the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, where you invested $1 billion -- a $1 billion commitment to provide the best possible care to patients and at the same time to improve access exponentially to treatments.
I’m very proud that our nations have signed three memorandums of understanding that will increase collaboration between Australia and the United States and accelerate a project very close to my heart, the project the President put me in charge of, our Moonshot Initiative, to end cancer as we know it; to do in five years what otherwise would take 10 to 15 years. Probably every one of you have been touched by cancer -- a family member, yourself, a worker that you work with. And you know every extra day, every extra week, every extra month matters to someone facing a terminal prognosis. Just give me one month to give my daughter way in marriage. Just allow me to stay another six to see my grandchild graduate. Just give me a little more time to finish this business arrangement so my wife or my husband will not be left bereft financially as well as emotionally.
Our enhanced collaboration is going to make data available
on a clinical phenotype for 60,000 cancer patients, while protecting their privacy.
And that means researchers around the world will better be able to understand what causes a particular cancer, how to target those cancers and develop more effective treatments, and how to keep those cancers from returning. We now have access to Big Data. We can do a million billion calculations per second. Let me say that again. We can do as I speak a million billion calculations per second. And within the next three years, our Department of Energy will be able to do a billion billion calculations per second, opening up a vista that was beyond comprehension even 10 years ago.
The research our nations are doing together will quite literally reach the cellular level as we enhance our understanding of how proteogenomics impacts cancer progression and treatment outcomes. That's what you're doing in Melbourne.
And it stretches out billions of miles into our galaxy
as we unlock the mysteries of our universe. Earlier this month, on July the 4th, NASA successfully slipped the Juno aircraft [sic] into orbit around Jupiter. This complex mission, planned in meticulous detail over the course of many years, was only possible because of a critical investment here in Australia -- in collaboration with your science research agency -- to install two new satellite dishes as part of the Deep Space Network.
The Juno mission linked expert engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, with Australian scientists at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex --with the largest planet in our solar system.
This is only the latest example of where Australia and America are charging forward together to the next frontiers as we always have -- with skill, determination, and little bit of luck.
I don’t think any of our leaders could have envisioned how rapidly our technologies, our economies, or our world would change when they signed the ANZUS treaty 65 years ago. But they understood then, as we do now, that our ability to ensure security in this vital region undergirds everything our nations hope to accomplish.
Without secure sea lanes and open skies, commerce cannot thrive. Without peace and stability between our nations, among our nations, cooperation can’t flourish. Without basic human security, girls and boys across the region will never have the chance to achieve their full potential.
Over the past few days, I’ve met with Prime Minister Turnbull, Foreign Minister Bishop, and Labor Party Leader Shorten. We discussed a full range of issues on which
Australia and the United States stand together.
And because of the concerted effort that our two governments have made to prioritize this partnership -- across leaders and political parties -- our alliance is stronger than ever. Built with the foundations laid by the three Prime Ministers sitting in front of me. And it is an alliance that's equipped for the future.
On my way here, I flew to the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier. And I sat in the Admiral’s chair on the flag bridge and observed the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise. It’s the largest, international maritime military exercise in the world, and the world has ever seen, covering scenarios from missile threats, to piracy, from search and rescue, to disaster responses. The full range of challenges together we face in the 21st century.
It exists because 25 years ago, under your administration, Prime Minister, the United States and Canada and Australia understood the importance of meeting the threats to the stability in the Pacific as a united, interoperable front. From that core idea, the exercise has grown to include 27 participating nations -- truly spanning the entire rim of the Pacific -- more than 25,000 military personnel, with Australia continuing to play an anchoring role.
And our cooperation goes far beyond RIMPAC. In fact, when I met with the head of U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, Admiral Harry Harris, the first person he wanted me to meet with in private -- and the first person he wanted me to meet with was Major General Greg Bilton a two-star general in the Australian Army who is embedded in our chain of command. As in, he commands American troops. He has direct command over American troops. It will not surprise you we don’t let that happen very often. (Laughter.) But it’s because of the competence, capability, and the faith we have in the Australian military.
And yesterday, here in Australia, I met with Australian troops on the HMAS Adelaide right out here in Sydney Harbor. I not only spoke to the crew and the commanders, but on board were roughly 30 Australian military troops that had just or not long ago returned from fighting alongside American forces in Iraq and in Syria.
These men and women are not only the pride of our nations, they’re the heart of our enduring commitment to ensure there is
no daylight between our fighting forces. Whether we are taking the fight to al-Qaeda, ISIL, or Daesh, as they say in the Arab countries, or all those and any people who threaten our safety, the safety of our peoples. Whether we are standing together to maintain peace and stability in Asia, or whether we are working side-by-side to provide humanitarian assistance in the Pacific Islands, Australia and the United States have each others’ backs.
And I said earlier that two of my uncles fought with Aussies in the region, in New Guinea. And every time my grandfather Finnegan, the name of Australia would come up, my grandfather who was elderly by this time and lost his son, would literally straighten. You could see him, his body language. He would straighten his shoulders. And three generations later, my son, a major in the United States Army, highly decorated who I just lost, when he talked about who Americans wanted to have their back in 2008, 2009 when he was there, he talked about the Aussies. I thought that was pretty -- on a personal basis a continuum from 1943 to 2012.
Ours is a partnership that reminds us of what is best in ourselves, even as we acknowledges that as nations, we have not always lived up to our best values. Both our nations have characters strengthened by generations of courageous immigrants
who arrived from somewhere else. But their spirit and energy sustains and has sustained us and renewed us as nations since our founding. Both our nations -- America and Australia alike -- continue to grapple with the freighted legacies of racism and exclusion that shaped some of our past, but which still leave behind too many of our citizens. But we've always overcome. We grapple. We strive. We speak out, and we seek change.
And because of the commitment of our citizens to our most fundamental values -- because of you -- we move inexorably forward. So don't worry about our election. (Laughter.) Don't worry about our election. The better angels in America will prevail.
So at a time like this, when the forces of xenophobia, nationalism and demagoguery are once again being trumpeted around the world, including in my country, when reactionary politicians seek to erode those values our nations hold most dear -- tolerance, equality, opportunity for all -- we have to remember who we are as Australians and as Americans, and reflect our best selves back to the world.
We are people who insist with passion and conviction that basic human dignity cannot be denied to any man, or woman, or child on this Earth. That's the core of who we are. We never bend. We never bow.
That’s why, like the United States, Australia is leading a major effort to end the terrible scourge of violence against women. Even at the footy match I attended on Sunday, one of the teams was making respect and family violence prevention a central commitment of their club. It’s a cause that I’ve been leading in the United States for decades. Sadly, we still have a lot more work to do to change the culture in both our nations. But we can and we will.
My father used to have an expression -- and I think he would have the same expression where he an Aussie -- I really mean this. He said, the worst sin a man or woman can commit is the abuse of power -- whether it’s political, economic, or physical. And he’d say the cardinal sin of all sins was a man raising his hand to a woman or a child.
In both Australia and the United States, if you look at our history, our neighborhoods, the abuse of power is viewed with abhorrence by our people. Equality really is the watchword. And though we sometimes stumble, we keep taking steps to extend true equality to more and more people.
I’m extremely proud of the work our administration has done to advance the rights of the LGBT community in the United States, to celebrate the lives and loves of all Americans.
And recently in Australia, both Victoria and New South Wales issued historic apologies for the past mistreatment of LGBT individuals under the law. It’s a powerful gesture that sets the stage to move forward, so that institutionalized discrimination and mistreatment of the community can never happen again.
And both our nations continue to look for ways to expand opportunity and inclusion when it comes to the original inhabitants of our lands -- Native Americans, Indian Nations in America, the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people
of this great continent.
So we not only share the same values, we understand that talk is cheap. In our Constitution we use the phrase “in order to form a more perfect union” -- we mean it. We have a long way to go. But it’s in order to form a “more perfect union”. We've been willing to stand up for our values, make the changes we wish to see in the world a reality.
On this trip, I brought along three of my granddaughters. The two older ones are fully informed. They're 18 and 22. One recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, about to go to graduate school in international relations. The other will be a senior. But I also brought along my deceased son Beau’s 12-year-old daughter. Because I wanted her and them to see firsthand the energy and the spirit of this incredible country. And that's not hyperbole. I’m being literal.
I want them to understand who the Australian people are, and why the partnership between our two proud nations is so strong. When I think about the future we are creating, when I imagine the maps we are first making, I think of them -- like I suspect you do, as well.
Like so many of the young people in this audience today, they’re incredibly bright and curious about our world, a world no longer circumscribed by borders and distance. And it is my hope for them, for young people everywhere is that they never experience any limitations whatsoever on their dreams. They're taught to never, never, never, never, never, never give up. No matter how life intervenes.
That’s the future we’re working together to bring about. And I leave Australia more optimistic than ever about the enormous potential that exists in our world, so much of it right here in the Asia Pacific, to take the arc of history in our hands
And just bend it, just a little bit, just a little bit. Great change only occurs if there’s inflection points. And we're at one of those points right now. I absolutely firmly believe we can bend it to a brighter tomorrow.
As my grandfather would say, I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I’ve been around a long time. Our partnership encompasses all the infinite talents of our people, our drive to achieve and innovate, our commitment to uphold justice and equality, our innate animated conviction that every human being in the planet deserves a fair go.
It’s a partnership of possibilities, a partnership about the future, a partnership about progress. That's what brings us together. And that's what I’ve seen every stop along this trip and what I’ve experienced in my 44-year career. And that's why I know that the great friendship between our two nations will not diminish. It will grow stronger with every generation.
I thank you for your indulgence in listening to me, and I’ll end by saying may God protect our troops because we stand together. Thank you, thank you, thank you.