Thu, May 18, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Downer's position on Taiwan irritated US, papers show


Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's comment in 2004 that Australia would not necessarily come to Taiwan's aid in case of a Chinese attack -- despite defense treaty commitments with the US -- prompted a flurry of cables between Washington and Canberra on Australia's stance, an Australian newspaper reported yesterday.

The Melbourne-based Age daily released details of documents obtained under freedom of information provisions pointing to the extent of US concern over Downer's comments.

The initial communication from Washington requested an immediate clarification from Australia. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) replied that "some media reporting had taken elements out of context," the Age quoted the document as saying.

The document also defended Downer's use of the word "symbolic" to describe the Australia-US-New Zealand defense treaty (ANZUS), the Age said.

"Mr Downer had not described the ANZUS treaty as `symbolic' in the sense of merely symbolic, as some media reports suggested," the Age quoted the document as saying. "Rather, Mr Downer had noted the centrality of the alliance in our relationship with the United States ... Prime Minister [John] Howard and Mr Downer had worked hard to maintain the vitality of the alliance. There should be no doubt of the strength of Australia's commitment to the United States."

According to the DFAT Web site, Downer originally stated: "Well, the ANZUS Treaty is a treaty which of course is symbolic of the Australian alliance relationship with United States, but the ANZUS Treaty is invoked in the event of one of our two countries, Australia or the United States, being attacked. So some other military activity elsewhere in the world ... does not automatically invoke the ANZUS Treaty."

The Age noted that this comment was in defiance of Article IV of the ANZUS agreement, which includes attacks on US interests in the Pacific as a trigger for invoking the treaty.

Not all material from the six cables and one e-mail exchanged between the US and Australia was released, the Age said.

Some of the material was blocked by Canberra on the grounds that it "could damage Australia's international relations and divulge information communicated in confidence by another government," it said.

The DFAT document added that Canberra had informed Taipei that "any proclamation of [Taiwanese] independence would be provocative" and possibly "create very substantial upheaval," the Age reported.

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