New Australian Leader Makes Debut 05/24 06:09
TOKYO (AP) -- Hours after being sworn in as Australia's new prime minister,
Anthony Albanese found himself fresh off a jet and thrown into the glare of a
global spotlight Tuesday. He was rewarded with a warm welcome, as well as a bit
of a gentle ribbing, from U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders at an
international summit in Japan.
"You were sworn in and got on a plane, and if you fall asleep while you're
here, it's OK," Biden joked as the leaders met at the Quad, an Indo-Pacific
security and economic coalition meant as a counterweight to China's growing
influence in the region. Biden marveled at Albanese's stamina. "I don't know
how you're doing it. But it is really quite extraordinary, just getting off the
campaign trail as well."
The weekend election win for Albanese, from the center-left Labor Party, was
a vivid change in Australian politics, ending nine years of conservative rule,
the last several under former leader Scott Morrison.
Albanese has described himself as Australia's first-ever political candidate
with a "non-Anglo Celtic name." He and Malaysian-born Penny Wong, Australia's
first foreign minister who was born overseas, were sworn into office Monday
just before they flew to Tokyo for the meeting with Biden, Japanese Prime
Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Albanese's election came after a hard-fought campaign during which he got
COVID-19. Because his predecessor set the election date a week later than
expected, Albanese had little time to prepare for the Tokyo summit.
For his efforts, however, he received friendly greetings from other leaders.
Kishida, in his opening remarks, took note of Albanese's tight schedule,
offering his "heartfelt appreciation for coming all the way to Japan right
after the elections." Modi said Albanese's presence in Tokyo within 24 hours of
his swearing-in "demonstrates the strength of our friendship within the Quad
and your commitment to it."
At the summit, Albanese stressed Australia's unwavering commitment to the
regional forum and stressed his country's efforts to deal with climate change
and look for greater engagement with Southeast Asian countries. He did not
mention aggressive security moves by China, which many countries in Asia view
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wrote to congratulate Albanese on his election
victory, in what Australian media described as a thawing of relations after
years of tension over Australian laws designed to outlaw covert foreign
interference in politics, which many see as aimed at China.
"It is an honor that this is my first act as prime minister to attend this
important Quad leaders' meeting here in Japan," Albanese said in his opening
remarks at Tuesday's summit at the Japanese prime minister's office. "We have
had a change of government in Australia. But Australia's commitment to the Quad
has not changed and will not change."
After what has been a smooth diplomatic debut, he will face a spate of
domestic demands when he returns home Wednesday and attempts to fulfill his
campaign promises. On the list are tackling climate change, affordable child
care and strengthening Medicare.