Australian Defense Minister Attempts to Soothe China’s Concerns

Seeking to assure his Chinese hosts that Australia’s increasing military cooperation with the United States and Japan was not aimed at containing China, Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson stated that “Australia stands ready to work more closely with China” (China Daily, July 10). In a speech at China’s National Defense University, Nelson reiterated that Australia’s support for U.S. and Japanese development of a ballistic missile defense system was motivated only by concerns regarding North Korea, which “remains a key threat to regional and international stability” (AFP, July 9). Following talks with his Chinese counterpart Cao Gangchuan, Nelson proposed the increase of bilateral military exchanges and announced that Australia, China and New Zealand would hold their first-ever joint maritime exercise in September. The drill, held off the Australian coast, will involve search-and-rescue exercises with the explicit goal of building confidence between the three militaries. Conspicuously absent from Nelson’s public discussions with the Chinese, however, was Australia’s recently released defense policy paper, Australia’s National Security: A Defence Update 2007, in which China’s military modernization, “particularly the development of new and disruptive capabilities such as the anti-satellite missile,” was noted with much concern. When first published on July 5, the paper’s claims were tactfully dismissed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang as “unfounded” (Xinhua, July 6). Since then, there has been little discussion in the Chinese media of Australia’s defense paper, perhaps reflecting a conscious decision by Beijing to gingerly avoid issues of potential bilateral contention.