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US Australia Japan Focus On Chinas Growing Might In Security Talks

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talks about China with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Mar 16, 2006
China's growing power will top the agenda in unprecedented security talks between the United States, Japan and Australia during a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week.

Rice arrived in Australia Wednesday evening and begins three days of meetings Thursday, culminating in the first ministerial-level Trilateral Security Dialogue with the Australian and Japanese foreign ministers, Alexander Downer and Taro Aso.

The top US diplomat, who will also hold separate talks with Prime Minister John Howard, has said Beijing's military and economic rise would be the focus of the trilateral meeting since it was the major force driving regional changes.

The US and its allies "have a joint responsibility and obligation to try and produce conditions in which the rise of China will be a positive force in international politics, not a negative force," she said.

Downer has played down suggestions that this meant the three countries would embark on a policy of containment of China.

"The Americans share our view that, with the rise of China, we don't want to pursue a policy of containment," he said. "We want to pursue a policy of successful engagement."

Downer also sought to allay Chinese concerns over the trilateral talks, which have previously been held only at the level of senior officials since first being proposed in 2001.

"Of course we're going to sit down and talk to each other," he said, stressing that the US, Australia and Japan were natural and long-standing allies.

"That shouldn't be construed by China as a policy of containment of China or in any sense hostile towards China."

But analysts say Australia's approach to China has diverged from that of the United States and Japan in recent years.

"Japan and the US have both become more cautious of late, if not a bit hawkish, towards China," said Ron Huisken of the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.

"And Australia has rather conspicuously gone in the other direction in the last year and a half or so."

The three countries looked at China "from very different angles," Huisken told AFP.

"For the US it's an arena where basically they've written the strategic script for 50 years and that's clearly going to change and they're wondering how much it's going to change or whether they need to draw lines, if they can."

The Japanese had a long-standing antagonistic relationship with China, while Australia had "the insulation of distance" as well as a growing trade relationship with the booming Asian giant.

China now ranks as Australia's third largest trading partner, importing billions of dollars of Australian minerals and other resources to fuel its expansion.

And Canberra said this week it was close to signing an agreement to supply Beijing with uranium for nuclear power stations after negotiations on preventing its use in weapons.

The United States has indicated it has no objection to the agreement as long as precautions are taken to prevent nuclear proliferation. But it is likely to use the deal as leverage in its bid to persuade Australia also to sell uranium to India.

President George W. Bush signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with India earlier this month but Australia -- which has the world's largest known uranium deposits -- turned down a subsequent request by Delhi for uranium supplies.

While China and India are both declared nuclear weapons powers, Beijing has signed the UN's nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- a condition for sales by Australia -- and Delhi has not.

Rice "will definitely push Australia to sell uranium to India," Huisken said. "It's a toughie for Australia."

He speculated that Canberra, a close ally of the United States, would eventually agree to sell the nuclear fuel to India.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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