Saturday, April 05, 2014

First time for everything: China under Australian wing in military drill led by US: Report

China under Australian wing in military drill led by US: Report

Published on Apr 04, 2014

SYDNEY (AFP) - China has asked to operate under Australian command when it takes part in a major international military exercise led by the United States later this year, a report said on Friday.

Beijing's reported decision comes as Australia leads the arduous Indian Ocean search for missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 which was carrying 153 Chinese when it vanished.

The Sydney Morning Herald said it understood that the request from China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) was expressed through defence channels last week, without quoting any sources.

Until recent years, China rarely took part in international military exercises and the newspaper said it was the first time the PLA would operate under Western command in such a drill.

China wants Australia to lead joint military manoeuvres

    April 4, 2014

John Garnaut

Breakthrough in military relations: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: AP

China's People's Liberation Army has asked to operate under Australian command in the largest international exercises it has joined, smoothing the path for Tony Abbott's most challenging international excursion as leader.

The breakthrough in military relations follows close co-operation in the search for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which is believed to have disappeared off the coast of Perth with 153 Chinese nationals on board.

And it demonstrates that Beijing has shelved, for now, its frustration at Canberra's deepening military ties with Washington and also the fury it vented at Canberra's support for Tokyo late last year. Leaders in Canberra and Washington are coming to the view that China's muscular advances into its maritime periphery cannot be resolved, or reversed, but only managed.
Australian Minister for Defence David Johnston.

"China has a central role to play in contributing to regional stability: Australian Minister for Defence David Johnston. Photo: AFP

Western military leaders welcomed a PLA decision last year to join humanitarian rescue components of the US-led ''Rim of the Pacific'' maritime exercises in July, in which the navies of more than 20 nations will converge around Hawaii for warfare drills.

And they are likely to welcome the PLA's request - which it is understood was communicated through defence channels last week - to operate in those exercises under the direct command of the Australian Navy.

''China has a central role to play in contributing to regional stability,'' Defence Minster David Johnston said, while declining to directly comment on the most recent Chinese overture, which is yet to be fully processed through political channels.

The US ambassador to Canberra, John Berry, said the US supported Australian co-operation with China because it did not view its own relationship with China as a ''zero-sum'' contest.

''We seek to work with China on areas of common interest and concern but are prepared to speak out when we have differences,'' he said.

Late last year Mr Abbott broke from past precedent to side publicly with Japan by naming it as Australia's ''best friend in Asia'' and also an ''ally''.

Chinese disquiet broke into open fury when the government publicly protested China's surprise declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone over disputed airspace.

''I have never in 30 years encountered such rudeness,'' the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs north Asia division, Peter Rowe, said of the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi's confrontation with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Chinese diplomats further castigated Canberra for failing to robustly protest Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni shrine in December, which they say was symbolic of resurgent Japanese ''militarism''.

By January, however, high-level talks between Australian and Chinese military leaders had been rescheduled and the diplomatic fury appeared to have evaporated.

In recent weeks Mr Abbott has recalibrated his language, made adroit moves to support Chinese search-and-rescue efforts over MH370 and delivered a comprehensive statement of priorities in Asia.

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