- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday expressed concern over tensions between Japan and China and urged the two Asian powers to find common ground and overcome their differences for the sake of stability in the region.

“We have encouraged good relations between China and Japan, and even though there are difficulties in that relationship, China and Japan also share a lot of interest and, indeed, a lot of trade and commerce and a lot of economic relations,” the secretary said.

Miss Rice made her remarks at a press conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Sydney, where she is to participate in an inaugural trilateral forum on the Asia-Pacific region with Australia and Japan today.

Beijing views the meeting as a strategy-plotting session against it, but Miss Rice insisted that the United States had a policy of engagement, not containment, toward the world’s most populous country.

Japan and China often feud over a benign view of Japan’s colonial past and a denial by Japanese nationalists that their nation committed atrocities in World War II.

Miss Rice, who visited Indonesia earlier in the week, traveled to the Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, yesterday to thank Australian troops for their participation in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

“It is always good to have friends, but it is especially good to have steadfast friends when you have difficult fights ahead,” she said, noting that Mr. Howard was in Washington on September 11, 2001.

“As we continue to fight the war on terrorism, as we continue to try and supplant that ideology of hatred that has produced terrorism with the hope of democracy and liberty for people around the world, it is wonderful to have a steadfast friend like Australia,” she said.

Mr. Howard signaled that he might be willing to change long-standing Australian ban on exports of uranium to nations that have not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and make an exception for India.

The prime minister visited New Delhi earlier this month, a few days after President Bush, who reached a deal on U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation. The agreement requires legislation in Congress to exempt India from U.S. proliferation laws similar to those in Australia.

On Thursday, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that this is a “good deal and it takes forward this whole process of openness and transparency about at least many aspects of India’s nuclear program.”

But asked about selling uranium to India, as New Delhi has asked, he said: “We don’t have any plans to change our current policy.”

Mr. Howard softened that position yesterday, saying that there will not be an “immediate” policy change and added, “You never say never.”

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