SYDNEY, Australia – U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said Friday that China's recent anti-satellite weapons test and rapid military buildup were "not consistent" with its stated aim of a peaceful rise as a global power.
In a speech in Sydney after visiting Japan, Cheney also expressed wariness about North Korea's commitment to a landmark deal on ending its nuclear programs.
As anti-war demonstrators clashed with police outside the hotel where Cheney was speaking, the vice president also expressed gratitude to Australia for sending troops to the Iraq war, which he said must be won or terrorists would be emboldened worldwide.
Cheney praised China for playing an "especially important" role in the negotiations that resulted in the North Korea deal, under which the North is to seal its main nuclear reactor and allow international inspections in exchange for fuel oil.
"Other actions by the Chinese government send a different message," Cheney told the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue, a private organization that promotes ties between the two countries.
"Last month's anti-satellite test, China's continued fast-paced military buildup are less constructive and are not consistent with China's stated goal of a peaceful rise," he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cheney's remarks. Many government offices were closed Friday for the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday.
Beijing previously said its Jan. 11 firing of a missile into a defunct weather satellite was for scientific purposes, but the test was widely criticized as a provocative demonstration of China's growing military clout.
Washington says the test — which made China only the third nation after the United States and Russia to use weapons beyond the atmosphere — undermined efforts to keep weapons out of space. Beijing countered by saying the United States is blocking a possible global treaty that would ban weapons in space.
China's military has grown rapidly along with its economy in recent years, prompting concern that the balance of military power in the Pacific could start to shift away from the United States.
China said in late December it was strengthening its military to thwart any attempt by Taiwan to push for independence, but vowed it was committed to the peaceful development of its 2.3 million-strong military, the world's largest.
Regarding the North Korea deal, Cheney said it represented "a first hopeful step" that would "bring us closer" to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula — but he also sounded a note of caution.
"We go into this deal with our eyes open," he said. "In light of North Korea's missile test last July, its nuclear test in October and its record of proliferation and human rights abuses, the regime in Pyongyang has much to prove."
Cheney, a key backer of the Iraq war, praised Prime Minister John Howard for sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, saying Australians had won the respect of the world through their support of the fight against terror.
"The notion that free countries can turn our backs on what happens in places like Afghanistan or Iraq or any other possible safe haven for terrorists is an option that we simply cannot indulge," he said.
He said that if the U.S.-led coalition leaves Iraq before domestic forces can handle security, violence among rival factions would spread throughout the country and beyond.
"Having tasted victory in Iraq, jihadists would look for new missions," joining the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan and spreading "sorrow and discord" across the Middle East and further afield, he said.
"Such chaos and mounting danger does not have to occur, it is however the enemy's objective," Cheney said. "For the sake of our own long-term security, we have a duty to stand in their way."
Outside, about 100 protesters waved placards saying "Go home Cheney" and "Bring the troops home." Three people were arrested after scuffles broke out and officers on horseback moved in to disperse the crowd.
Cheney later visited a military barracks in Sydney and held talks with a group of Australian troops who had served overseas. He also met with opposition leader Kevin Rudd, who wants a timetable set for withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq and faster action to deal David Hicks, an Australian who has been jailed without trial at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than five years.
Cheney was to hold talks Saturday with Howard, a staunch ally of Washington who has become a rarity by offering more, not fewer, troops for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among the protesters on Friday was former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib, who demanded immediate release for Hicks, a former kangaroo skinner caught on the Taliban side in Afghanistan in 2001. A small group held a counter-protest nearby with a banner reading: "The world needs more men like Dick Cheney — we love America."