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Australia's Gillard to US: Don't fear China's rise

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 9, 2011
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday urged Americans downcast by their woeful economy to embrace, not fear, China's explosive growth while pressing Beijing to be "a good global citizen."

"There is no reason for Chinese prosperity to detract from prosperity in Australia, the United States or anywhere in the world," she told a joint session of the US Congress. "Prosperity can be shared. We can create wealth together."

In a friendly but bracing speech, Gillard pleaded for US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and the world, urged cooperation to battle climate change, and vowed unflinching Australian support in "hard days ahead" in the Afghan war.

"Australia will stand firm with our ally the United States," she said, calling herself "cautiously encouraged" about progress in the nearly 10-year-old conflict but warning "we must be very realistic about Afghanistan's future."

Gillard, wrapping up her first official US visit since becoming Australia's first woman prime minister, did not spell out her concerns but warned against a hasty disengagement that could force a return to the strife-torn country.

"We know transition will take some years. We must not transition out only to transition back in," said the prime minister, who stressed that "we have the right strategy in place," the right commander, and "the resources needed."

Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor of troops to the decade-long fight against Taliban militants, with a contingent of some 1,500 soldiers.

And Gillard said she backed President Barack Obama's approach, which calls for beginning a troop withdrawal in mid-2011 and handing Afghans responsibility for their own security by late 2014.

In October, Gillard had predicted that Australian training of Afghan security forces as well as support for civilian-led aid and development would last "through this decade at least."

The prime minister confronted head-on US lawmakers' deep worries about China's rising economic and diplomatic influence at a time when stubbornly high unemployment and lasting overseas conflicts have sown doubts about US influence.

"Like you, our relationship with China is important and complex. We encourage China to engage as a good global citizen and we are clear-eyed about where differences do lie," she said.

US lawmakers charge that Beijing is an economic predator that keeps its currency -- and thus its exports -- artificially cheap, turns a blind eye to or even encourages rampant US intellectual property theft, and favors domestic producers over their foreign competitors in lucrative government contracts.

The prime minister told the joint session that "America has always understood this principle of the economy, that everyone can benefit when everyone competes" and stressed: "The global economy is not a zero-sum game."

Her comments came as Obama nominated Gary Locke as the first Chinese American to be ambassador to Beijing, picking him to replace Jon Huntsman, widely seen as mounting a Republican bid for the White House in 2012.

Gillard reassured her audience that the United States remains an "indispensable" partner and that its "growing engagement" with countries like Japan, India, South Korea and Indonesia was "enormously welcome."

"Be bold," she urged.

Gillard's speech was the 110th address by a foreign leader or dignitary to a joint session of the US Congress, starting with King David Kalakaua of Hawaii in 1874, according to the official House of Representatives web site.

She won standing ovations when she told the audience the United States "can do anything," when she condemned Iran's suspect nuclear program, and paid tribute to a New York City firefighter killed when the World Trade Center collapsed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes.

But observers noted that youthful House pages and staff, rather than lawmakers, made up much of her audience, and one aide called the sparse attendance by elected officials and US media "not our finest hour."

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