China Seeks Closer Defense Ties with Australia

By Rod McGuirk 11 July 2012

CANBERRA, Australia—A Chinese official called on Tuesday for closer defense and economic ties with Australia and warned against what he said was a growing “Cold War mentality” in the United States.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai made a veiled criticism of Australia’s deepening military ties with Washington after attending annual talks on human rights in the Australian capital Canberra.

Beijing has condemned a plan announced by President Barack Obama in November to send US military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to the Australian city of Darwin to create a training hub to help allies and protect American interests across Asia, calling it a throwback to the Cold War.

“China and Australia need to work together with other countries in this region to promote common security, peace and stability in this region; in particular, we should guard against the resurgence of a Cold War mentality,” Cui told reporters.

China is Australia’s most important trading partner. Its demand for Australian iron ore and coal helped keep Australia out of recession during the recent global economic crisis. But Australia’s 61-year-old defense treaty with the United States is a source of tensions between Canberra and Beijing.

China has accused the US of attempting to contain its rise as an economic, political and military power. The US says it has no intent to contain China, while affirming its determination to remain a Pacific power.

Washington has been forging closer military ties with other Asian countries and has announced that 60 percent of the US Navy’s fleet will be deployed to the Pacific by 2020, up from about 50 percent now.

Indonesia, a neighbor of Australia, has shared Chinese concerns about the new US military configuration in the region.

While not specifically naming China, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in March that “the management or the containment of a rising country, we believe, would see the return of old-style Cold War power politics.”

The Australian government has rejected claims that the increased US military presence on Australian soil is aimed at containing China and says it remains open to Chinese participation in joint exercises in Darwin in the future.