Saturday, April 30, 2011

Australia to Boost Military Ties With China

Australia will host more Chinese warships and increase live-firing and other defense exercises with the Asian powerhouse in a bid to boost ties, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said April 28.

Speaking to Australian media as she wrapped up a North Asia tour, including her first visit to Beijing as leader, Gillard said she discussed greater military cooperation during "friendly" talks with President Hu Jintao.

"(We) indicated a preparedness to keep discussing defense cooperation," she said. "We have indicated we are open to ships visiting Australian ports (and) there's some prospect that there will be some visiting before the end of the year. It's a few small steps on a journey to better understanding each other's military perspectives."

The U.S. and its allies have expressed concern over the motivation behind the Chinese military buildup and called for greater transparency.

Australia's 20-year defense plan, released in 2009, saw China on track to become Asia's dominant military power "by a considerable margin," but warned that the "pace, scope and structure" of its expansion could create tensions.

Beijing was troubled by the assessment, which was echoed in a foreign policy poll in Australia this week that found 44 percent of respondents believed China would become a military threat in the next two decades.

Of those, 87 percent said this would be because Australia would be drawn into any conflict with China as a U.S. ally.

Gillard said increased military transparency was key to combating tensions by helping to "build understanding about people's military methods and military protocols."

Defense cooperation was already being boosted, she added, "taking the form of discussions between counterparts. It is also taking the form of some shared exercises, including live firing exercises."

"The best way of working through these issues is to, at a step at a time, engage in increased cooperation and links," Gillard said in separate remarks to The Australian newspaper.

China is Australia's largest trading partner, buying mostly raw materials such as coal and iron ore crucial to the Asian giant's rapid industrialization.

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