World News

Australia, China to launch security talks next year

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia and China plan to launch bilateral security talks next year despite lingering human rights issues, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Wednesday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer (L) speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during meetings between U.S. President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Sydney September 5, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed

The decision comes after Japan proposed an alliance of Asian democracies that would also include Australia and India, viewed by some analysts as an attempt to contain China.

This month, too, the navies of the United States, India, Japan, Australia and Singapore are staging exercises in the Bay of Bengal.

“China is a good partner of Australia. Whatever the differences there are between us in terms of our political systems, human rights issues, China is a very important part of the strategic architecture, the security architecture of the Asia-Pacific region and it’s important we have good forums to discuss any issues of that kind with them,” Downer said.

“So, having some sort of annual security talks I think makes good sense between Australia and China.”

He told reporters it would be “appropriate” for the ministerial-level talks to start in 2008.

“We have security talks with a range of different countries. My own view is that that usefully be extended to include China.”

China’s military modernisation, which has included the purchase and domestic development of major weapons platforms, has raised questions among its neighbours about its intentions.

China’s military is the world’s biggest, but also one of the most secretive.

Some political analysts have said the United States has been sacrificing its relationship with allies in Asia to focus on the Middle East and Iraq, but U.S. President George W. Bush denied that China would dominate the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting going on in Sydney.

“I know there has been speculation in the Australian press, well is this a China summit?” Bush said during an interview with reporters on Air Force One after leaving Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq to head to Sydney.

“The answer is absolutely not. This is a summit of nations that share the same values, same concerns about the world in which we live and we’ll discuss a variety of topics.”