Aussie To U.S.: Improve China Relations

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times on the Web
February 23, 2008
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- The U.S. should pursue a more positive dialogue with China, Australia's top diplomat said Saturday at the close of a daylong series of meetings with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other U.S. leaders.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told reporters during a press conference at Parliament House that Canberra's growing trade relationship with China will not hurt its strong and long-standing ties with America.
''It can be a win-win,'' he said, acknowledging that China was a topic of discussion during the meetings. ''We can have a very good economic relationship with China, which doesn't adversely impact upon our relationship with the United States. On the contrary, we encourage the United States to have a good, positive, constructive dialogue with China.''
Smith's comments come as China's military build-up and its impact on the Asia-Pacific region has been a topic of concern among U.S. defense officials. Smith also said he has told Chinese officials they must be more open with the international community about the modernization of its military.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have intensified in recent months, tainted most recently by China's refusal to allow three U.S. Navy ships to dock in Taiwan late last year. And this week Chinese officials expressed somewhat muted concerns about the Pentagon's shootdown Wednesday of a disabled U.S. spy satellite.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who also attended the U.S.-Australia sessions, told reporters earlier that the Americans hope to get some insight from the Australians on China matters, particularly from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, an expert on China.
Gates and Negroponte also agreed that Australia's growing economic ties to China do not present a problem. China has become Australia's largest trading partner, serving as a booming market for its natural resources.
''I don't think there's anything incompatible with developing an economic relationship with China and also managing our bilateral relationship and the alliance,'' said Negroponte. ''We both have important economic relationships with China.''
Gates added that he doesn't believe that Australia, or any government, would ''put its fundamental security interests at risk over an economic relationship.''
Also during the news conference Saturday, Australia's Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said he wanted the option of buying Lockheed's F-22 Raptor, a fighter jet barred by U.S. law from sale overseas.
Gates said he had no objection to the sale, but said Congress would first have to amend the law.
''While we in principle have no objection to it, until the statute is changed, we are not able to sell it to any country,'' Gates said.
This week Fitzgibbon announced a review of the previous government's decision to sign a $5.5 billion contract to buy 24 U.S.-made F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets. While Fitzgibbon has said canceling the contract would put ''some pressure'' on the relationship, he did not expect Gates to raise the issue.
In recent visits to China, Gates and some of his top U.S. military officials have talked optimistically about improved political relations with the communist giant, but little tangible results have been evident.
And in recent days, there has been an undercurrent of suspicion that the Pentagon's satellite strike was a thinly disguised test of its missile defense and anti-satellite technologies. And it could also be seen as a bold comeback to China's shootdown early last year of its own defunct weather satellite.
U.S. officials have drawn distinctions between the two strikes, noting that the Pentagon gave other nations notice of its plans and worked to minimize space debris by targeting the satellite as it neared the Earth's atmosphere. China gave no notice of its shootdown, and destroyed its spacecraft further up in orbit, creating more debris that will circle the Earth for much longer.
The two nations are also at odds over a proposal by the Russians and Chinese for a global ban on space arms, because it would rule out the ongoing plans for a U.S. missile interceptor system in the Czech Republic and Poland. It would, however, exempt Chinese and Russian ground-based missiles that can fire into space.
U.S. defense officials have repeatedly expressed broad concerns about China's expanding military, and called for Beijing to be more open about its intentions as it boosts development of weapons systems.