CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd defended his country's relations with China as "robust" on Monday after a WikiLeaks report he advised the United States it may need to use force to contain China if it failed to conform to global standards of behaviour.
The WikiLeaks website last week started releasing U.S. State Department cables exposing the inner workings of American diplomacy. One of the cables refers to Rudd's March 2009 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when Rudd was Australia's prime minister.
Rudd refused to confirm the cable contents, but said Canberra's relations with Beijing were open, and reflected his view that there would be difficulties as China became more integrated with the world.
"The business of diplomacy is not to roll over and have your tummy tickled from time to time, by China or anybody else," he told reporters in Canberra. "This is part and parcel of relations between states."
According to the leaked cable, Clinton sought private advice on dealing with China, whereupon Rudd advocated "integrating China effectively into the international community ... while also preparing to deploy force if everything goes wrong."
In the cable written four days after their meeting, Rudd, a Sinophile Australian who speaks fluent Mandarin, described himself as a "brutal realist" on China and revealed a more hawkish view on how to handle Beijing's ascendancy than Australia's public foreign policy towards its biggest trade partner.
"How do you deal toughly with your banker," Clinton was quoted by the cable writer as asking, telling Rudd that China's growing economic power was causing "deep anxiety" in Washington.
Rudd went on to tell Clinton that Beijing's stance on separatist Taiwan island was both "sub-rational" and "paranoid".
He also described his proposal for an Asia-Pacific community along the lines of the European Union as largely aimed at limiting the growth of Chinese influence and keeping the United States engaged in the region, the U.S. cable said.
Australia's plan to build up its naval power with a new fleet of 12 submarines over the coming decades was largely a response to China's growing military power and reach, he said.
Currency and trade disputes are straining ties between Washington and Beijing. China could overtake the United States as the world's major economy within a decade if current growth of around 10 percent continues. At the moment the $15 trillion U.S. economy outstrips China's $5 trillion worth.
China is also critical to Australia's economy and its voracious resource demand has helped drive the Australian dollar to U.S. dollar parity, with two-way business worth some $82 billion in 2008-09, and China buying more than $25 billion worth of Australian iron ore and coal.
Rudd said the U.S. should beef up security of information.
"There are deep lessons in providing proper protection for such a large volume of diplomatic documents," Rudd said.
"Rule number one for our friends in the United States is, how do you tighten things up a bit? I think that's a fair old question. Maybe two million or so people having access to this stuff is a bit of a problem," Rudd said.
Australia's Attorney-General Robert McClelland said his government, including police, was taking advice on whether WikiLeaks and its Australian founder Julian Assange had broken any laws by publishing the cables.
"I think the focus will ultimately be a United states law enforcement action, and if that is the case the Australian government will provide assistance there," he said.
A global arrest warrant for Assange was issued last week by Interpol for alleged sex crimes committed in Sweden. Assange has denied any wrongdoing.
(Editing by Daniel Magnowski)
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