U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Sydney at the start of a three-day Australia visit highlighted by security talks with her Australian and Japanese counterparts. Talks will include regional issues including China's emergence as an Asia-Pacific power.
The secretary, on the final leg of a globe circling trip, opens talks here Thursday with Prime Minister John Howard to, among other things, thank Australia for its support for U.S. efforts in Iraq.
With violence increasing amid a danger of an Iraqi civil war, the United States is anxious to retain as many members of the multinational coalition as possible. Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson promised this week the Australian contingent, numbering about 1,300 troops in and near Iraq, will remain well into 2007.
Rice has faced critical questions about Iraq on her overseas trip, which began late last week in Chile and included her first visit to Indonesia, the world's largest majority-Muslim country, as Secretary of State.
In an appearance before an Indonesian foreign affairs group Wednesday in Jakarta, Rice urged patience on the part of the international community for the process of Iraqi democracy-building amid terrorism.
"In Indonesia, you've had a long history of getting to democracy. We owe the Iraqi people our confidence that they're going to be able to do it," she said. "Every time they have been confronted by the terrorists, every time they have been confronted by Zarqawi or by the lieutenants of bin Laden with an effort to break them apart and to start what Zarqawi and his people would like to do, a civil war, the Iraqi's have drawn together, they have not split apart."
In a visit highlighting regional security efforts, the secretary is to be joined by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for a briefing and lunch Thursday aboard the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser the Port Royal, one of two American ships making a port call in Sydney.
Saturday, Rice and Downer will be joined by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso for a meeting of the Pacific allies Trilateral Strategic Dialogue.
The Secretary of State said before leaving Washington that China's military and economic rise will be a focus of the three-way meeting since it is the major force driving regional changes. She said the United States and its allies have a responsibility to try and produce conditions under which China's emergence will be a positive, not negative, force in international politics. She also said the three countries would examine whether China's military buildup is not outsized for its regional ambitions and interests.
The remarks drew criticism from some policy analysts as antagonistic to China. Foreign Ministers Downer said Wednesday the three powers will be looking not at containing China, but making sure that its growing power is harnessed to the advantage of the region.
The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between China and Japan after Foreign Minister Aso this week in a parliamentary committee appearance referred to Taiwan as a country.
China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, condemned the Japanese ministers comment as brutal interference in its internal affairs.