- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday sought to assure Beijing that Washington’s efforts to solidify its alliances with Japan and Australia and to build up India and Indonesia as Asian powers are not aimed at encircling China with pro-U.S. states.

Miss Rice, who began a three-day visit to Australia, also tried to narrow a policy gap with her hosts, who perceive China as a lesser threat than the Bush administration does.

“When we have discussions with Japan and Australia, it’s only natural. These are two of our oldest and deepest allies. We share values; we have shared responsibility for defending the Pacific,” she said in reference to inaugural trilateral talks tomorrow that Beijing views as a strategy-plotting session against it.

“I would hope that the Chinese would see that these are transparent discussions,” she told university students at a town hall meeting in Sydney. “We are democracies. I assure you that it wouldn’t be very easy if we wanted to have secret discussions.”

The secretary also said that Washington’s recent boosting of its relationships with India, with which the administration reached a nuclear cooperation agreement this month, and Indonesia, where Miss Rice was earlier this week, should not be seen as a threat to China.

In the same way that China’s military, diplomatic and economic outreach in Latin America has not gone unnoticed in Washington, the Bush administration’s enthusiasm about India and Indonesia, the world’s largest and third-largest democracies, respectively, has been noticed in the region. In Jakarta, Indonesia, Miss Rice praised her hosts for leading a model Muslim-majority country that values tolerance and moderation.

The United States is not trying to contain China, but to engage it, Miss Rice said. A senior State Department official traveling with her insisted that U.S. policy in Asia is “not directed against anybody.”

“What we want is China to be a responsible stakeholder in the international system, because a positive and responsible China is going to be terrific for the world. Not just good, terrific,” Miss Rice said.

But even as she spoke of positive engagement, she voiced concern over Beijing’s 14 percent increase of its defense budget this year to an estimated $35 billion.

“That’s a lot,” she said earlier at a press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. “China should undertake to be transparent about what that means.”

China responded by defending its level of openness about its military buildup.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China publishes papers on its defense, is open about spending and has increased military exchanges with other countries.

“Our national defense strategy is totally transparent,” he said.

Mr. Downer said at the joint press conference with Miss Rice that Australia has no concern “that the United States was pursuing a policy of containment of China.”

Just a day earlier, however, he seemed to suggest otherwise, when he said in a television interview, “We don’t support a policy of containment of China.”

The senior official said the trilateral forum tomorrow, when Miss Rice and Mr. Downer will be joined by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, will focus on the “East Asian architecture,” rather than on containing China.

“The question on our mind is what China would look like in the long term,” the official said.

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