Australia calls for US engagement in region amid China rise

SYDNEY, (AFP): Australia warned Thursday 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 United States 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.”

The report said Australia was “committed to strong and constructive ties with China”, while strongly supporting the global leadership role of the US, a key ally.

“We believe that the United States’ engagement to support a rules-based order is in its own interests and in the interests of wider international stability and prosperity,” it said.

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

Trump was a lone protectionist voice at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 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 between the two superpowers, saying Australia would “encourage the United States and China to ensure economic tension between them does not fuel strategic rivalry or damage the multilateral trading system”.

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”.

It added: “Compounding divergent strategic interests as China’s power grows, tensions could also flare between them over trade and other economic issues.”

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

The US has long been a close ally of Australia, with Canberra sending soldiers to support US missions in Afghanistan and the Middle East, while Darwin has played host to US Marines who use the northern region of the country for training.

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