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Southeast Asia caught between US and China
by Staff Writers
Nusa Dua, Indonesia (AFP) Nov 17, 2011

China asks US to 'consider' other Asia powers
Beijing (AFP) Nov 17, 2011 - The United States should consider other regional powers when developing ties in Asia, China said Thursday, after US President Barack Obama declared the region his top security priority.

But the foreign ministry stopped short of criticising Obama after he told Australia's parliament that the US was "here to stay" as a Pacific power.

"When developing state-to-state relations, one should take into account the interests of other countries as well as the whole region, and peace and stability of the region," ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.

Liu was responding to a question at a briefing on Obama's speech in Australia, during which the US President signalled a pivotal US shift to Asia.

"We think we should further deepen and enhance the cooperation between China and the United States, as well as China and Australia, because it is not only in the interests of our three countries, but of all countries in the region," said Liu.

His comments came hours after Obama pledged not to let Washington's budget crunch compromise his expansive vision and military presence in the region.

On Wednesday, the US said it would deploy up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia.

US moves to boost its influence in the Asia-Pacific have been welcomed by some countries in the region rattled by China's rise, but raised hackles in Beijing.

China's official comments have been relatively mild, but the country's state media has gone further, accusing Obama of trying to win votes by using his diplomatic ambitions in Asia to detract from his country's economic woes.

The official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary Wednesday the US had "yet to reassure the region its Asia-Pacific policy would effectively serve regional stability and prosperity".

Indonesia has warned deploying US Marines in Australia could cause regional tensions, highlighting the balancing act nations face as Washington and Beijing jostle for influence in Asia.

China's regional neighbours welcome the United States' diplomatic campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power, and create a counterbalance to the Asian superpower's growing might, but can ill afford to alienate Beijing.

President Barack Obama announced in Canberra on Wednesday that the US would deploy up to 2,500 Marines in the northern city of Darwin, rankling China which termed it "not quite appropriate".

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has fast emerged as a cornerstone ally for Obama's administration but nevertheless echoed Chinese concerns about a US military build-up.

"What I would hate to see is if such developments were to provoke a reaction and counter-reaction precisely to create that vicious circle of tensions and mistrust or distrust," Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on the Indonesian of Bali.

"That's why it's very important when a decision of this type is taken there is transparency of what the scenario being envisaged is and there is no misunderstanding as a result," he added.

Indonesia's frank comments came against a backdrop of a looming confrontation over a maritime dispute between the US and China who will meet at Saturday's East Asia Summit, which follows the Bali talks.

Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said Wednesday that the ASEAN nations do not want to get "caught between the competing interests" of major powers.

And Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said his country, which also has claims over the disputed South China Sea as well as strong economic ties with Beijing, did not back any development that would undermine regional security.

"Our position is we do not want any development that would undermine this region as a region of peace and stability nor anything that would increase tension in the region," Najib told reporters at ASEAN.

"What is important is the role of the US in the region vis-a-vis China, and that has to be managed constructively."

However the Philippines, another South China Sea claimant which has angered Beijing with a push for a joint stand on the strategic issue at the ASEAN summit, welcomed a more robust US presence in the region.

"If you are asking me in general how I view the increased engagement of the US in Australia and in the region, we view the presence here... as ultimately a stabilising force, and we welcome that," said Ramon Carandang, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino.

Earlier this month in Jakarta, Natalegawa had been more welcoming of Washington's new commitment to the region.

There has been "real increased attention, and enhanced attention on the part of the United States to the Asia Pacific region. You can see a very clear upward trend," he said then.

"We would expect the United States to continue to play its stabilising role in promoting peace and stability and prosperity in the region."

Last year Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, sealed a "comprehensive partnership" with the country designed to boost ties across a range of fields, including military, trade and climate change.

Indonesia was a cold war ally of Washington, and relations that had cooled during the long Suharto dictatorship have been improving after his 1998 fall and the country's turn to democracy.

Jason Clare, Australian minister for defence materiel, said Australia had told its neighbours about the US deployment on Indonesia's southern doorstep in recent days, and that it would be discussed at Saturday's summit.

"That's good for trust, good for transparency," he said.

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Obama vows candid cooperation with China
Canberra (AFP) Nov 17, 2011 - US President Barack Obama said Thursday he would seek continued cooperation with China, but vowed to speak candidly about the differences between the two powers, including on human rights.

"The United States will continue our effort to build a cooperative relationship with China," Obama said, addressing the Australian parliament on a Pacific tour which has laid bare divisions between Washington and Beijing.

"All of our nations have a profound interest in the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China -- and that is why the United States welcomes it," Obama added.

"We've seen that China can be a partner, from reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula to preventing proliferation.

"We'll seek more opportunities for cooperation with Beijing, including greater communication between our militaries to promote understanding and avoid miscalculation.

"We will do this, even as we continue to speak candidly with Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people."

On Wednesday, Obama said that the United States did not "fear" China, nor did it seek to exclude it from a nascent pan Pacific trade pact, but that Beijing needed to start observing international "rules of the road."


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US does not fear China: Obama
Canberra (AFP) Nov 16, 2011
US President Barack Obama insisted Wednesday the United States did not fear rising China and was not plotting to exclude it from a nascent and potentially powerful new pan-Pacific trade bloc. Obama bluntly spelled out his evolving policy towards Beijing in Australia on the latest leg of a Pacific tour that has bared divisions between the two giant powers on trade, currency and some geopoliti ... read more

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