Canberra's military concerns 'unfounded'

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-06 06:48

China yesterday brushed aside Australia's concerns over its military development, saying the country is firmly on the path of peaceful development.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang made the remarks in response to Australian Prime Minister John Howard releasing his government's first defense policy update since 2005.

"The pace and scope of its (China's) 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 policy report said.

Qin told a regular press briefing: "China pursues a national defense policy that is defensive in nature, and has repeatedly stated it firmly adheres to the course of peaceful development."

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He also pointed out the discrepancy between Canberra's foreign policy and the defense document, saying they "should be consistent".

He noted that Australian leaders have spoken positively of China's development during meetings with their Chinese counterparts.

When Howard visited China last April, he assured Premier Wen Jiabao that Australia welcomed China's development and appreciated China's positive role in the region and the world at large.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on June 7 during his visit that there is no need to overly worry about China's military expenditure.

"A country's foreign policy and defense policy should be consistent," Qin said.

The new paper has brought Howard's government into closer step with Japan and the United States, both partners with Australia in security pacts, analysts say.

Howard's policy shift comes after pressure from the United States and the upcoming general election in which he will seek a fifth term as prime minister, said Han Feng, a senior researcher on Australia with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"The United States, Japan and China are all of great importance to Australia. However, Australia regards the first two as its allies, and still sees some uncertainties in its relations with China.

"Howard has chosen to reaffirm its steady alliance with the US and Japan as well as to draw support from the latter to balance China's influence in the region," Han said.

The United States and Japan are stepping up efforts to build a joint missile defense system in Asia.

Australia, a steadfast US ally that has about 2,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, is studying whether to participate in the defense shield.

Australia and Japan also signed a security agreement in March.

Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson is scheduled to visit China next Monday where he is likely to explain the newly released paper.

Qin said that China hopes to take advantage of his scheduled visit to clarify China's national defense and diplomatic policies to Australia.

Agencies contributed to the story

(China Daily 07/06/2007 page1)

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