Speaking in Canada earlier this week, Tony Abbott made waves by calling for a coalition of conservative governments to fight the global carbon-pricing push now being led by the US under Barack Obama.
By the time of the Prime Minister's first major address on US soil yesterday it was back to far safer territory as he told a gathering of the American Australian Association in New York that 'America has no better friend' than Australia.
In praising its traditional ally, the PM showed an obvious indifference for the economic principle of purchasing power parity, proclaiming that in addition to being the world's greatest power and greatest source of new ideas, America still had 'by a large margin' the world's largest economy.
Abbott later went on to speak at length about the nation that is set to overtake the US on those PPP terms any minute now, China. Given the audience, the Prime Minister could hardly have glossed over this behemoth, with which so many Australian and American interests now intertwine – in economic, cultural, political and potentially military terms.
Nonetheless, any in the audience or playing along at home would have been left sorely disappointed if they were waiting for some meaty discussion of recent events off the coast of Vietnam or how other future tensions arising from China's rise might be managed. There was only the briefest mention of the importance of American 'friendship' in addressing developments in the South China Sea, which was listed alongside conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and without reference to any particular antagonists.
Abbott instead chose to focus on China in purely mercantile terms, seeing its rise as good for the wider world because there are 'now so many more people to afford to buy what the rest of the world produces. 'A rich China doesn't mean a billion competitors so much as a billion customers,' the PM said.
This is of course largely in keeping with the PM's pro-development 'Australia is open for business' banner for his overseas tour (and his time in office), but it will still disappoint foreign policy watchers who have queried where the new leader's allegiances lie.
It would of course have been foolish to expect a formal declaration along any particular line, but the lack of any substantial discussion of the changing security dynamics of the Asia Pacific region still seemed a glaring omission. There was not even any mention of what Abbott has in store for those shiny new Joint Strike Fighters, even if he reaffirmed the military alliance between the US and Australia and drew on the requisite historical examples such as Iraq, Vietnam and the American 'doughboys' heading into France in 1918 under an Australian general.
It seems for now that the PM's approach to answering the 'US or China' question is firmly in keeping with his mentor John Howard's view that there is no question. But stay tuned for the next articulation of Abbott's worldview when he meets Obama tomorrow.
Photo courtesy of @TonyAbbottMHR.