Amid China’s rise, Canberra calls for US engagement

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Australia releases first foreign policy white paper in 13 years

SYDNEY: Australia warned yesterday against American disengagement from Asia at a time of rising Chinese power as traditional US allies grow nervous about President Donald Trump's isolationist tilt.

In a major Foreign Policy White Paper - the first to be issued by the Australian government in 13 years - Canberra outlined its approach to the "Indo-Pacific" region amid "changing power balances".

"The US has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia's post-Second World War history. Today, China is challenging America's position," the 136-page document said.

"Navigating the decade ahead will be hard because, as China's power grows, our region is changing in ways without precedent in Australia's modern history."

Beijing said the white paper offered "an objective look" at Chinese-Australian relations but also contained "some negative" statements, and in particular "irresponsible" remarks on the South China Sea.

"We believe that the US' engagement to support a rules-based order is in its own interests and in the interests of wider international stability and prosperity," the report said.

"Without sustained US support, the effectiveness and liberal character of the rules-based order will decline."

Mr Trump was a lone protectionist voice at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam earlier this month, where he dished out more of his trademark "America First" rhetoric. His withdrawal from American-led moves to open up global trade has seen China seeking to fill the gap.

Canberra cast itself as a middleman, saying Australia would "encourage the US and China to ensure economic tension between them does not fuel strategic rivalry or damage the multilateral trading system".

The US has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post- Second World War history. Today, China is challenging America’s position.An excerpt from Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper

The report said Beijing and Washington have a mutual interest in managing the strategic tensions between them, "but this by itself is not a guarantee of stability", adding: "Compounding divergent strategic interests as China's power grows, tensions could also flare between them over trade and other economic issues."

China's foreign ministry criticised the report's passages on the disputed South China Sea.

The document says Australia is "concerned by the unprecedented pace and scale of China's activities" in the sea and opposes the use of artificial structures for military purposes.

"We hope that Australia will stop issuing irresponsible remarks," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

China is Australia's largest trading partner, with Beijing's hunger for commodities helping the resource-rich nation avoid a recession for 26 years. - AFP