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Australia, US leaders on Pacific Ocean infrastructure, critical minerals – October 24, 2023 at 9:54 am

Australia, US leaders on Pacific Ocean infrastructure, critical minerals – October 24, 2023 at 9:54 am

When Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visits Washington this week, Australia and the United States will announce plans to strengthen critical minerals and Pacific island infrastructure, a senior Biden administration official said.

Albanese’s White House schedule begins Tuesday, Washington time, and will focus on how Australia’s defense alliance with the United States is expanding into an economic and technological partnership, he told reporters in Washington on Monday.

In addition to a $5 billion investment from Microsoft in Australia, the two leaders will work out details on further cybersecurity cooperation, a Biden administration official said.

While several announcements, including an infrastructure plan, will highlight US-Australia cooperation in the Pacific, the official said it is “imperative” that both leaders focus on the Pacific Islands, even as the US crisis in the Middle East takes hold.

A key minerals task force to boost private investment in Australia’s rare earth industry and reduce global dependence on China will be central to Albany’s agenda on Tuesday. Albanese said Australia wanted to work with US companies.

“We are in a strong position as the world’s largest supplier of lithium, cobalt, vanadium, copper and nickel. Australia has a significant amount of minerals that will power the Earth in the 21st century,” he told reporters in Washington on Monday.

No announcements on contracts with the US Department of Defense are expected this week. Australian analysts said the US auto and defense industries are big buyers of rare earths, and a long-term sales deal would reduce risk for investors in developing Australian processing.

Albanese will visit China, Australia’s largest trading partner and largest buyer of iron ore, on November 4.

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Washington this year signed a defense cooperation agreement with Papua New Guinea, north of Australia, and opened USAID offices in the region after China struck a defense pact with the Solomon Islands.

Albanese and Biden will also discuss the South China Sea, where tensions are rising between China and the Philippines.

He said he would meet US lawmakers every day in Washington to emphasize the need for AUKUS defense technology cooperation with the US and Britain. The partnership aims to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia and build new types of submarines in Australia by 2040.

The deal faces hurdles in Congress and US export controls that could delay its implementation. On Friday, the Biden administration submitted a supplemental budget request to Congress that includes measures to support U.S. obligations under AUKUS. (Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)