China questioned a plan by the United States to deepen military cooperation with Australia, raising doubts on Wednesday about whether strengthening such alliances helped the region pull together at a time of economic gloom.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday said U.S. troop deployments in Australia would help maintain security in Asia.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not go so far as directly raising such fears. But its spokesman, Liu Weimin, pointedly raised doubts about what the two Western allies are up to.
Asked about the proposed deepening of U.S.-Australian military cooperation, the spokesman Liu said China stood for peaceful development and cooperation.
We also believe that the external policies of countries in the region should develop along these lines, Liu told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
Liu added that whether strengthening and expanding a military alliance is in the common interests of the region's countries and the international community is worthy of discussion, especially amid a gloomy international economic situation and with each country seeking cooperation.
Liu sidestepped a question about whether Beijing outright objected to the U.S.-Australia agreement, and said China, Australia and the United States all valued better cooperation.
As for using the form of a military alliance, China has its own concepts of friendly cooperation with all countries, he said. China never engages in military alliances.
President Obama has said he welcomes a strong, prosperous and stable China, said Liu. We also hope that the United States' words and actions will be consistent, added Liu.
A commentary from China's official Xinhua news agency was more forthright about chiding the Obama administration.
The United States is also trying to get involved in a number of regional maritime disputes, some of which concern China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the commentary said, referring to Beijing's disputed claims in Asian seas.
While determined to become more involved in Asia-Pacific regional affairs, the United States perhaps also should appreciate the constructive role it is expected to play in the area and respect the rights and interests of each and every regional member, said Xinhua.
The winding down of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has opened the door to greater U.S. attention to simmering tension over the South China Sea, a shipping lane for more than $5 trillion in annual trade that the United States wants to keep open.
China claims the whole of the South China Sea although Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei hold rival claims to at least parts of it. Tension occasionally flares up into maritime stand-offs.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley, Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ron Popeski and Sugita Katyal)