A senior American military official has called on Australia to confront China’s growing influence if it wants stronger ties with the US.
US Army Assistant Chief of Staff Colonel Tom Hanson told Australian radio on Thursday that Canberra should make a choice between Beijing and Washington, the Reuters reported.
“I think the Australians need to make a choice … it’s very difficult to walk this fine line between balancing the alliance with the United States and the economic engagement with China,” Hanson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio.
“There’s going to have to be a decision as to which one is more of a vital national interest for Australia,” he added.
Hanson specifically urged Canberra to take a tougher stance against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, which channels more than $5 trillion in global trade each year and is believed to be rich in oil and gas.
China has long claimed sovereignty over the sea but those claims are disputed by the US and a number of countries that border the contested waters such as Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The US accuses China of undertaking land reclamation program in the disputed waters and has sent several of its warships to the region to protect what it calls “freedom of navigation.”
Australia, a staunch ally of the US, has drawn fire from China for conducting surveillance flights over a series of Chinese artificial islands in the sea.
To add insult to the wound, Australia has also blocked Chinese investment bids, seemingly on national security grounds.
In late July, China lashed out at the United States, Japan and Australia for issuing a joint statement on the South China Sea, saying it was only “fanning the flames” of regional tensions.
The foreign ministers of the three countries expressed “strong support” for Southeast Asian nations in territorial disputes with China.
“Clearly China believes that they have an opportunity and they feel empowered to flout that, and a demonstration by Australia would be welcome,” Hanson said.
This is while China is Australia’s biggest trading partner and acts as a large source of foreign investment, spending $11.1 billion on Australian assets