Increased openness about China's military will prevent "misunderstandings and instability," Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said yesterday, while stressing a US-Japan missile defense system in Asia was not designed to contain Beijing's growing global influence.
Nelson was in Beijing to explain a defense strategy paper launched by Prime Minister John Howard on Thursday.
He said there was an increase in details about China's military, the world's largest standing army, although many countries have called for Beijing to show greater transparency about its military aims.
"Australia particularly welcomes the growing level of detail in Chinese defense white papers as an example of the sort of openness that should serve to prevent misunderstandings and instability in the region as Chinese capabilities develop," Nelson said in a speech at Beijing's National Defense University.
Earlier this year, China announced a 17.8 percent annual rise in defense spending to about US$45 billion, but specialists believe actual spending may be much higher.
Nelson downplayed reports in the Australian media that the country's possible cooperation on a joint US-Japan missile defense system in Asia was a way to limit China's rise.
"Let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth," Nelson said. "Australia supports the development of ballistic missile defense ... as a defensive measure specifically for rogue states and other actors in the region."
Australia, a steadfast US ally that has about 2,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, is studying whether to participate in the defense shield, partly as a bulwark against regional threats such as a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Australia has regularly distanced itself from concerns in Washington that China's military and economic rise was likely to stir regional conflict. But the defense paper said China's military buildup "could create misunderstandings and instability in the region."
Beijing has worked carefully over the past decade to play down security concerns among Asian neighbors over China's growing strength. But it has persisted in boosting military spending, chiefly to acquire capabilities to intimidate Taiwan and ward off any US intervention in the case a conflict should arise.
Nelson called China a "regional partner" whose help was needed to defuse North Korea's nuclear weapons plans, terrorism and other threats.
"Australia and China share a vital interest in a stable global environment and regional order in which to pursue further economic development," Nelson said, noting cooperation in fighting terrorism and peacekeeping and a planned visit to Sydney by two Chinese naval ships in September.
In a defense policy paper issued on Friday, Japan also voiced concern about the lack of transparency on the Chinese government's burgeoning military spending.
Beijing has not given a detailed reaction to the Australian paper.
Asked about it at a regular briefing last week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang (
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