- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia — The United States, Japan and Australia yesterday discussed China’s “aggressive” buying of energy assets in Africa and Latin America, the first time China’s “energy diplomacy” has been examined at an official international forum.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of Japan and Australia, Taro Aso and Alexander Downer, were unable to agree on steps to address the issue.

“It was a constructive conversation over China’s role in the region and its future role in the world, and how to make China a positive force within the international system,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters traveling with Miss Rice.

He said the meeting had not been a “finger-wagging” anti-China session, but he acknowledged that Beijing’s dealings with problematic states — whose actions are often referred to the U.N. Security Council, where China has veto power — were part of the discussions.

The trio did not agree on a solution to the problem, which has been most evident in Beijing’s reluctance to support U.N. action against Sudan over atrocities in its Darfur region, Mr. McCormack said.

Yesterday’s session had worried China, but U.S. and Australian officials insisted there was no conspiracy against the world’s most-populous nation.

“We welcomed China’s constructive engagement in the region and concurred on the value of enhanced cooperation with other parties,” such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and South Korea, the ministers said in a joint statement.

“Supporting the emergence and consolidation of democracies and strengthening cooperative frameworks in the Asia-Pacific region was a particular focus of our attention,” they said.

Mr. Downer said China should not feel that the three allies are “ganging up” on it.

Earlier in the week, Miss Rice sought to assure Beijing that Washington’s efforts to solidify its alliances with Japan and Australia, and to build up India and Indonesia as formidable Asian powers are not aimed at encircling China with pro-U.S. states.

At the same time, she voiced concern over China’s 14 percent increase in its defense budget this year to about $35 billion.

In a separate meeting with Mr. Aso yesterday, Miss Rice asked him “to reconsider the total ban on beef imports” from the United States that Japan has imposed, Mr. McCormack said.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese officials in Sydney as saying that Miss Rice told Mr. Aso that reinstating the ban on U.S. beef was an excessive reaction after a U.S. meat-packing plant mistakenly shipped banned spinal materials in a batch of meat to Japan in January.

Just a month earlier, Tokyo had lifted a previous two-year ban on U.S. beef imports imposed because of mad cow disease fears.

A third case of mad cow disease in the United States was discovered last week, while Japan confirmed on Friday it had found its 24th case and the first in a beef cow.

Miss Rice and Mr. Aso also discussed the repositioning of U.S. forces in Japan.

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