The Australian

By Christian Kerr

DIPLOMATS from Asian nations were reluctant to comment as Australia and the US discussed closer cooperation on defence and security. The discussions were held yesterday at the Ausmin meeting.

Instead, they deferred to their foreign ministries or indicated that a response would not be available until more details were known.

Some defence and diplomatic commentators have raised fears that Australia may face a diplomatic backlash from China over closer relations with the US.

Geoffrey Garrett, head of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, warned yesterday any new arrangements should be handled sensitively.

"China, economically, politically and in military terms just really matters," Professor Garrett said. "The public statements, of course, will have to be very careful in that regard.

"I think we'll hear the positive side of the story, not the negative one, the positive side being collaboration between Australia and the US in political, military and security affairs and their shared commitment to being involved in Asian institution-building."

Despite his caution, Professor Garrett said the new engagement would be welcomed in the region.

"Greater Australian and greater American engagement both in regional institution-building and in trying to develop relationships amongst the spokes in a hub, and spokes in the alliance system -- greater collaboration with the Japanese and the Koreans in the first instance -- has got to be a good thing."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not the only senior US official in the region this week. President Barack Obama is on an Asian tour that will take him to his childhood home, Indonesia, as well as South Korea and Japan.

He will participate in the G20 and APEC summits but will not visit China.

He began his trip in India, China's old regional rival, on Saturday, and yesterday praised his host nation as "not a rising power but a world power".

Since his visit to China last year the President has infuriated its officials by meeting exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.