SYDNEY – Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has urged Americans not to view China as an enemy but as a country offering huge economic opportunities, even though its leaders have "done some bad things in the past."
Rudd made his comments during a visit to Washington, where the Mandarin-speaking former diplomat has been welcomed as an expert on China as well as a close ally of the United States.
Rudd was asked on the PBS television program "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" whether Americans should view China as an ally, an enemy, or some other way.
"I think China represents a huge opportunity for us all for the 21st century," Rudd replied, noting it has a big part to play as "the center of global economic gravity" shifts toward the Asia-Pacific region.
"Therefore, when you look at China in the future, I don't think anything is to be served by simply assuming it's all going to go bad," Rudd said.
He said the "smart course of action" for the United States and Australia would be to help integrate China into global political, economic and security institutions and engage Beijing on climate change.
"Now, if China was to turn its back on that or not be responsible, the world would soon know," Rudd said. "They're not perfect. They've done some bad things in the past. But let's look at the opportunities, rather than simply assume it's all threat and all risk."
The comments came as the U.S. Defense Department said in a report that China's rapidly growing military strength was shifting the military balance in the Asia-Pacific and could be used to force its claims to disputed territories, such as Taiwan.
They also followed recent tensions between the U.S. and China after Chinese vessels this month harassed the Navy surveillance ship USNS Impeccable in international waters in the South China Sea.
U.S.-China military-to-military talks had just been resumed a week earlier after a five-month suspension over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. The U.S., Australia and other Western countries also regularly express concern about Beijing's human rights record and tough rule in Tibet.
The interview was conducted hours after Rudd held talks with President Barack Obama at the White House, where the leaders discussed the war in Afghanistan, the global financial crisis and climate change.
Rudd is touting the G-20 forum as a key tool in tackling the financial meltdown and is urging that China be given a greater voice in the grouping and other international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.
Leaders of the 20 wealthiest and developing economies are to hold a summit on April 2 in London that many hope will find a strategy for steering the world economy out of recession and help develop a stronger international financial system.
After their meeting, Obama praised Rudd's government for "the kind of vision not just domestically but on the international stage that we greatly admire."
"In the run-up to the G-20, I feel that there's a great meeting of the minds between Prime Minister Rudd and myself in terms of how we should approach it," Obama told reporters.