US encourages improved ties between China, Japan
SYDNEY, Mar 17: The United States today urged Japan and China to improve strained ties, but insisted that weekend security talks with Australia and Japan will not focus on Washington's wariness of China's rise as an Asia-Pacific power.
Yet the inaugural top-level talks, to be held in Sydney tomorrow, have highlighted a difference of opinion between close allies Canberra and Washington, with Australia seeing China more as an economic opportunity than a potential negative force.
As part of what analysts see as a difficult diplomatic balancing act, Australian Prime Minister John Howard met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today, just weeks ahead of an expected visit to Australia by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
At a news conference with Howard, Rice said China's rise needed to be positive and urged Beijing and Tokyo to work on their ties, strained over a range of disputes mainly stemming from Japan's occupation of much of China from 1931 to 1945.
''There's a lot to work with in the Japan-China relationship and we have encouraged that relationship to get better and better,'' Rice told reporters.
''We want a region in which China is influential and is going to be more influential over the next several years, is more open in domestic policies and is more open in its face in the world.'' Howard made no comment on the emergence of China and, while Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has shown support for the US bid to manage the Asian giant, he has also assured Beijing it should not view this as an attempt at containment.
''PLENTY TO TALK ABOUT''
Rice said the trilateral security talks were also likely to cover Iraq -- where all three countries have troops -- and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, adding that there was ''plenty to talk about''.
''It would be wrong to leave the impression (that China) is the only thing on the agenda when Japan, the United States and Australia get together, because we share values, we share responsibilities, not just regionally but globally,'' she said.
''We want a region in which the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is not a problem. We need to be able to deal, for instance, with the problems of a state like North Korea, which is clearly outside now its obligations in the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferaton Treaty).'' Although not a party to the six-way talks aimed at persuading North Korea to scrap its nuclear programmes, Australia has used its alliance with the United States and rare diplomatic ties with Pyongyang to encourage negotiations.
The nuclear crisis erupted in late 2002 after the United States said isolated North Korea had admitted to developing highly enriched uranium for weapons. North Korea denies having such a programme.