SYDNEY - China has criticized Australia’s plans to increase the number of U.S. military personnel stationed in the Northern Territory. Australia is hosting the troops as part of the Obama administration's strategic shift toward the Asia-Pacific. Beijing says Canberra is revisiting Cold War alliances as Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr makes his first visit to China.
Canberra has insisted that China has nothing to fear over the presence of 2,500 U.S. Marines in Australia’s Northern Territory by 2017. But the issue has dominated Carr’s first visit to Beijing. He has held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, and Lieutenant General Wei Fenghe, the deputy chief of the general staff.
Carr said he has told his hosts that Australia’s military ties with Washington are the bedrock of his nation’s security.
"In each case they raised the issue of Australia's increased defense ties with the United States, and I took an opportunity to put them in the historic context and explain why they were effectively a cornerstone of Australian foreign policy," said Carr.
He said that senior Chinese officials had insisted that the time for 'Cold War alliances' has long since passed.
Canberra believes that the United States has helped to guarantee peace in the Asia Pacific region, where stability has fostered great economic development for countries, including China.
Katherine Morton, a senior fellow at the Australian National University, however, said Beijing is increasingly worried about a U.S. military build-up in the region.
"The general feeling, I think, coming from Canberra is that having [a] U.S. presence in the region is a good thing, is a positive thing, and that particularly recently has caused a lot of concern from the Beijing side," said Morton.
Australia’s dilemma is how to balance its critical alliance with the United States with its burgeoning economic relationship with China. Its demand for natural resources, most notably iron ore, is underpinning Australia’s prosperity when many other developed nations have been in recession.
Morton said while such diplomatic challenges are problematic, Australia faced similar difficulties under former conservative Prime Minister John Howard.
"It is very delicate, very difficult, and I think it is really important not to underestimate just how concerned Beijing is about this. In a sense it goes back sort of a long time. It is not something that has simply suddenly erupted. We had sort of a lot of difficult diplomatic encounters during the Howard administration," said Morton.
Foreign Minister Carr also has been discussing a China-Australia free trade deal. China is Australia’s biggest trading partner.
Carr also addressed cases involving Chinese-Australians who have been jailed recently in China.