Fearing emerging conflict or kowtowing to appease the giant rising power of China are both unproductive approaches, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says.
Mr Rudd, who is visiting Beijing, said for many years the debate in western countries centred on being in emerging conflict with China or having to kowtow and agree with everything it said to move forward.
“I don’t think either of those paths are productive,” Mr Rudd told ABC Television on Wednesday.
“I think there is a rational third way to proceed and I believe that can be done through a comprehensive, political and economic relationship where we agree on our common interests both in the region and on the world stage and bilaterally as well.
“But also not walking away from those areas we disagree.”
Mr Rudd said it was natural as China became wealthier and its GDP rose that its military budget would also rise.
But the foreign minister said there were continuing questions about its military capabilities and its intentions, as well as military budgeting transparency.
“That’s where we need to see progress and that’s where we are engaging directly and frankly with our Chinese friends.”
Historically China’s military force had been based on having to use military force to have Taiwan rejoin the People’s Republic of China, but it was not an immediate prospect, Mr Rudd said.
“As China acquires that capability, what happens is it also acquires capabilities which are more able to be deployed beyond the Taiwan contingency,” he said.
“And that’s why we need greater transparency with the Chinese, greater common exercising with the Chinese so we don’t have accidents, mishaps or misconceptions at sea between our respective navies and those of the United States.”
A core challenge for Australia, China and other regional allies was to work together to gain a common sense agreement to avoid conflict in the wider east Asia and west Pacific region, Mr Rudd said.
Climate change was the highest global priority, followed by the phenomenal growth of China, it economic power and footprint, he said.
The former prime minister refused to comment on widespread reports he said the economic powerhouse was “ratf*#king” countries involved in the Copenhagen climate change talks last year.
“I’m not going to comment on that one bit,” Mr Rudd said, adding it was an off-the-record briefing to a whole bunch of Australian journalists.
Mr Rudd blamed a failure to agree to a global emissions trading scheme during the talks on not ensuring enough pre-agreement in advance between major countries.