Melbourne: The United States and Australia pledged on Saturday to boost existing security ties and work together to prod a rising and increasingly assertive China to behave responsibly in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Washington and Canberra would enhance already strong military and defence cooperation by expanding joint exercises and the use of each others training facilities. And, they agreed to join forces to push China to take a more positive approach in its backyard.
The comments came at a joint news conference ahead of their participation in annual strategic talks between the US and Australia to be held here on Monday. Hillary and Rudd will be joined at those talks by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
Neither Hillary nor Rudd offered details of the expanded defence relationship to be discussed on Monday. However, Rudd said Australia would "welcome the United States making greater use of our ports and our training facilities, our test-firing ranges. That has been the case in decades past and will be the case for decades in the future."
At the same time, both stressed the importance of a responsible China to regional and global stability.
"We want to see China`s rise be successful, bring benefits to the Chinese people but to take on greater responsibility and a rules-based approach towards all of its neighbours," Hillary told reporters.
Rudd, a former prime minister and diplomat who is fluent in Mandarin and served in China, agreed. He said the diplomatic work the United States and Australia are doing in the Asia-Pacific, along with their projection of power, is critical to maintaining a strategic balance in the region.
"This is very important in shaping rules-based order and habits of cooperation and predictability of behaviour within the Asia-Pacific region that is in our common interest to underpin our stability and our security for this new century," he said.
China`s smaller neighbours have grown steadily concerned about what they perceive as bullying from Beijing as it expands its influence and seeks to assert authority over large swaths of disputed maritime territory. Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and others have competing claims with China over islands in the East and South China Seas.
Hillary noted that the United States would continue to press for peaceful resolutions to those claims as it has a national interest in securing maritime safety and freedom of navigation in crucial international shipping lanes. China rebuffed a proposal Hillary made last week to host talks between it and Japan over one such dispute.
Hillary also said she wanted to work with Australia to diversify sources of rare earth minerals that are key to the global high-tech industry. China is the source of about 97 percent of those metals and caused alarm last month when it appeared to begin restricting their export to Japan in the midst of the maritime dispute.
Chinese officials last week assured Hillary that China would remain a reliable supplier of rare earths. But Hillary made clear that countries like Australia and the United States, which largely abandoned rare earth production in favour of cheaper exports from China, need to act to protect the supply.
"The slowdown or the potential (of a slowdown) of the supply coming from China ... raised questions in many of our minds," she said. "It does have direct military and defence pertinence how best we can work together to ensure that there is a broad-based global supply of these critical minerals."
In addition, Hillary and Rudd agreed that the United States and Australia would step up assistance to help fight violence against women, particularly in the South Pacific where some nations have sky-high incidents of rape and domestic abuse.
Australia is the final foreign stop on Hillary`s current seven-nation trip to the Asia-Pacific that has taken her to Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. She is to make a brief stop in American Samoa on Monday before returning home.