China 'seriously concerned' by Australian defense document

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Chinese officials say they are "seriously concerned" by an Australian strategic evaluation of the South China Sea and warned Australia against compromising the stability of the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia announced a 20-year plan Thursday to bolster its naval strength with more submarines and warships as part of a military buildup it said was needed to maintain peace in the region.

The strategic document, the Defense White Paper, said Australia was "particularly concerned by the unprecedented pace and scale of China's land reclamation activities" in the South China Sea.

While not taking sides on competing territorial claims, Australia opposed "the use of artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes" and the assertion of maritime rights not recognized by international law.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press conference later Thursday that China was "seriously concerned about and dissatisfied with the White Paper's negative statement on issues concerning the South China Sea and the development of China's military strength."

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Wu Qian appeared to warn Australia against following the United States' lead by sailing near one of the Beijing-controlled islands in the Paracel chain.

"We urge the Australian side to cherish the hard-won good momentum of development in bilateral relations and don't take part in or conduct any activities that may compromise the stability of the region," he said.

"The military alliance between Australia and the U.S. should get rid of the Cold War mentality," he added. Chinese officials use the phrase "Cold War mentality" to refer to thinking that harks back to an era when the world was less integrated.

Asked for comment about the document, the Chinese Embassy on Friday referred The AP to the two officials' comments.

The document also said the United States will remain the pre-eminent global military power and will continue to be Australia's most important strategic partner over the next two decades.

A major conflict between the United States and China was unlikely, but friction between the two powers over the East China and South China Seas could raise tensions, it said.

"It will be important for regional stability that China provides reassurance to its neighbors by being more transparent about its defense policies," it said.