Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull  and Donald Trump Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Trumpism Down Under

For decades, Australia has maintained a close partnership with the US, not least on security matters. But President Donald Trump's antics have lately put a heavy strain on the bilateral relationship, with potentially serious consequences, particularly for the Australian authorities' effort to curb Chinese political meddling.

SYDNEY – Thirty years ago, a colleague of mine in the British government who had ministerial responsibilities in Africa and Asia hung the world map in his office upside down. Placing what was then called the Third World at the top, he claimed, improved his understanding of those countries’ problems and perspectives. But, for the British, the real “down under” – the country you would reach if you turned the world on its head – is Australia.

Schoolchildren used to be taught that, if you dug a straight tunnel through the planet, Australia is where you would end up. Their seasons were the opposite of ours, as were the days – a point that was driven home when, in the early morning hours, we listened to cricket commentaries from Brisbane or Adelaide. While Britain slept, the Aussies played in the sunshine.

Australia is a beautiful and prosperous country, with a grand landscape and fine cities, most notably Sydney and Melbourne. It is a rumbustious democracy with a profound appreciation of the rule of law, a free and open society that has provided a haven for immigrants and refugees from all over the world. While its past treatment of its indigenous population has undoubtedly been problematic, it has had the courage and maturity to acknowledge unpleasant truths.

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