The United States and Australia pledged Saturday to tighten security ties and work together to influence the behavior of an increasingly assertive China.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said their countries would enhance their military and defense cooperation by expanding joint exercises and the use of each other’s training facilities.
They also agreed to cooperate in trying to push China to take a more positive approach in its backyard.
The comments came at a joint news conference ahead of annual talks between the U.S. and Australia set for Monday. Joining Clinton and Rudd will be U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith.
Neither Clinton nor Rudd offered details of the expanded defense relationship. Rudd said Australia would “welcome the United States making greater use of our ports and our training facilities, our test-firing ranges. That has been the case in decades past and will be the case for decades in the future.”
Both emphasized the importance of a responsible China to regional and global stability.
“We want to see China’s rise be successful, bring benefits to the Chinese people but to take on greater responsibility and a rules-based approach towards all of its neighbors,” Clinton told reporters.
Rudd, a former prime minister and diplomat who is fluent in Mandarin and served in China, agreed. He said the diplomatic work the U.S. and Australia are doing in the Asia-Pacific, along with their projection of power, is critical to maintaining a strategic balance in the region.
“This is very important in shaping rules-based order and habits of cooperation and predictability of behavior within the Asia-Pacific region that is in our common interest to underpin our stability and our security for this new century,” he said.
China’s smaller neighbors have grown steadily concerned about what they perceive as bullying from Beijing as it expands its influence and seeks to assert authority over large swaths of disputed maritime territory. Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and others have competing claims with China over islands in the East and South China Seas.
Clinton noted that the United States would continue to press for peaceful resolutions to those claims as it has a national interest in securing maritime safety and freedom of navigation in crucial international shipping lanes. China rebuffed a proposal Clinton made last week to host talks between China and Japan over one such dispute.
Clinton also said she wanted to work with Australia to diversify sources of rare earth minerals that are key to the global high-tech industry. China is the source of about 97 percent of those metals and caused alarm last month when it appeared to begin restricting their export to Japan in the midst of the maritime dispute.
Chinese officials last week assured Clinton that China would remain a reliable supplier of rare earths. But Clinton made clear that countries like Australia and the United States, which largely abandoned rare earth production in favor of cheaper exports from China, need to act to protect the supply.
“The slowdown or the potential (of a slowdown) of the supply coming from China … raised questions in many of our minds,” she said. “It does have direct military and defense pertinence how best we can work together to ensure that there is a broad-based global supply of these critical minerals.”
Australia is the final foreign stop on Clinton’s seven-nation trip to the Asia-Pacific.
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