AUSTRALIA cannot juggle its relationships with the United States and China indefinitely and must choose a ''godfather'' to protect it, according to a prominent Chinese defence strategist.
The warning by Song Xiaojun, a former senior officer of the People's Liberation Army, comes after Foreign Minister Bob Carr was told by his Chinese counterpart that Australia's close military alliance with the US was a throwback to the Cold War era.
Senator Carr yesterday met the man expected to become China's next premier, Li Keqiang, in Beijing. Discussions centred on more comfortable matters including furthering trade and investment and the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
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But Australia's strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region remains contentious. "Australia has to find a godfather sooner or later," Mr Song told The Age.
"Australia always has to depend on somebody else, whether it is to be the 'son' of the US or 'son' of China," he said. "[It] depends on who is more powerful, and based on the strategic environment."
Mr Song said Australia depended on exporting iron ore to China "to feed itself", but had not done enough to engage. "Frankly, it has not done well politically," he said.
With sensitivity in the Asia-Pacific over Australia allowing the US a permanent troop presence in Darwin, Senator Carr has been keen to emphasise its strong record of military co-operation with China.
Speaking on Monday, he said Australia was one of just two countries with a strategic defence dialogue with China at the chief-of-defence level.
He said Australia was last year the first Western nation to co-operate with China on a joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise and in 2010 the first to hold a joint live-fire exercise with China's navy.
The HMAS Ballarat will moor in Shanghai tomorrow to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
Both Mr Li and Senator Carr were keen to highlight the positives. The senator told Mr Li the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations was "an opportunity to renew and refresh and recommit to the relationship".
Mr Li said: "Forty years ago the two countries decided to establish diplomatic relations. This was a decision made with strategic perspective and laid the foundation for the furtherance of this bilateral relationship."
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