Fri, Jul 06, 2007 - Page 1 News List

US, Australians wary of China's military build-up

DEFENSE WHITE PAPER Canberra's report cited security of the world's oil supply for the first time as one of the major reasons to keep troops in Iraq

AGENCIES , ABOARD THE USS `KITTY HAWK', AND CANBERRA

US Rear Admiral Rick Wren, right, presents a cap to Australian Prime Minister John Howard aboard the USS Kitty Hawk in Sydney yesterday. The battleship's arrival in Sydney Harbor yesterday coincided with Howard's release of a new defense strategy paper that raised concerns about China's military expansion.

PHOTO: AP

The US is wary of China's rapid military buildup and will continue to expand its military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region as it interprets Beijing's intentions, a senior Navy officer said yesterday.

Rear Admiral Rick Wren, the commander of the Japan-based aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk's battle group, said that Washington wants China to become a stabilizing force in Asia, but that it has some reservations about Beijing's military expansion.

The Australian government, meanwhile, warned in a new defense strategy paper that China's military expansion risked causing greater instability in the region.

The paper's release coincided with the arrival in Sydney of the US battle group led by Wren.

"Certainly we are a bit wary of China," Wren said aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. "They seem to be fairly opaque in communicating what they intend to do with this large military buildup."

"We need the Chinese to be a strong and stable partner in the global economy, as they already are," he said. "Certainly we need them to be a stabilizing force in this region. But until we can actually define that, we will continue to practice our skills and be ready for whatever the president calls on us to do."

Wren, whose ships have just finished major military exercises with Australia, said multi-country alliances in the Asia-Pacific were "very important" to the US.

Australia's new paper brings Prime Minister John Howard's government into closer step with Japan and the US on China's military and economic development.

"The pace and scope of its military modernization, particularly the development of new and disruptive capabilities such as the anti-satellite missile, could create misunderstandings and instability in the region," the paper said of China's rapid military expansion.

"Australia has no closer nor more valuable partner in the region than Japan," it said. "Japan's more active security posture within the US alliance and multinational coalitions is in keeping with its economic and diplomatic weight."

Howard said the military must rebuild for operations far from Australia, including anti-terrorism and humanitarian missions.

The government has committed to a A$51 billion (US$43 billion) military modernization including two new amphibious assault carriers, missile destroyers, tanks and advanced strike aircraft.

"It must also be capable of conducting substantial operations in our immediate region, whether alone or as the leader of a coalition, and of making meaningful military contributions as a member of coalitions further abroad," Howard told a security conference in Canberra, where he launched the report.

Howard also committed to keep Australian soldiers in Iraq as part of the US-led coalition.

The paper for the first time cited security of the world's oil supply as one of the major reasons to stay on in Iraq.

"Obviously the Middle East itself, not only Iraq, but the entire region is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world," Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said in comments backed by Howard.

Nelson also said Australia supported China's emergence and he would travel to Beijing soon to explain the new document.

"I don't think anything should be read into the defense update as far as China is concerned," he said.

But Hugh White, a defense expert at the Australian National University, said the emphasis on so-called trilateral defense ties with Washington and Tokyo was the biggest shift.

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