Clinton warns Australia against 'false choice' on China

Last updated 15:59 15/11/2012

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US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has warned Australia against making a ''false choice'' between its strong relationship with the United States and its emerging links with China.

Ms Clinton's comments came the day after former Prime Minister Paul Keating accused the federal government of eroding Australia's foreign policy influence by clinging to the United States alliance at the expense of its relationships with key Asian neighbours.

On Wednesday night, Mr Keating said both the Rudd and Gillard governments had made the same mistakes as the former Howard government in weakening Australia's crucial relationships in Asia, particularly with Indonesia.

As a result, he said, Australia had been marginalised in regional diplomacy and the era had passed in which the country was an effective foreign policy activist.

In recent years the relationship with countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia has focused on ''transactional issues of marginal long-term significance'' such as refugees and live cattle exports.

''Policy towards our nearest, largest neighbour, Indonesia, has languished, lacking framework, judgments of magnitude and coherence,'' Mr Keating said.

But Ms Clinton said Australia's relationship with the United States was ''in our DNA''.

''I know there are some who present a false choice, that Australia needs to choose between its long-standing ties to the United States and its emerging links with China,'' Ms Clinton said in Adelaide on Thursday.

''Well, that kind of zero-sum thinking only leads to negative-sum results. We support Australia having strong, multi-faceted ties with every nation in the Asia Pacific, indeed in the world, including China. Just as we seek the same. And I have said repeatedly, the Pacific is big enough for all of us.

''But for both of us, the US-Australia alliance is not a matter of calculation, or cost-benefit analysis, though the benefits are clear. It is much deeper than that. It is in our DNA; it is rooted in shared history and shared struggles to overcome adversity and build a better future for ourselves, our families and future generations.''

Foreign Minister Bob Carr told ABC radio on Thursday that Australia was entitled to build up its military ties with the United States without fear of offending China.

Top officials from Australia and the US wrapped up bilateral discussions on defence strategy at the annual Australia-US Ministerial (AUSMIN) consultations in Perth on Wednesday.

Senator Carr said China was not the focus of strengthening Australia's alliance with the US, adding neither nation was concerned about offending the rising Asian power.

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''We recognise that an increasingly economic China will upgrade and modernise its military,'' Senator Carr said.

''By the same token, in the same spirit, Australia's entitled to look after its own defences as a nation with a relatively small population over a vast territorial spread.

''One way we will do that is by nurturing our treaty relationship with the United States.''

He said China would be assured by the ''predictability'' of Australia's ongoing relationship with the US, especially as the leadership in China undergoes transformation this week

- FFX Aus

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