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Tighter Australia-China ties worry Asian neighbors

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"As far as the rest of Asia is concerned, Australia has taken a very strong pro-China tilt under this new government," says Richard Martin, managing director of IMA Asia, which analyzes international market trends. "The view in India and Japan and [South] Korea is that the Rudd government has been captured by the Chinese. They perceive us as having taken a giant step toward China."

Mr. Rudd visited China, but no other Asian nation, on a recent global tour last month, which also took him to the US and Europe. Australia is increasingly "kowtowing" to the Chinese, a senior Indian former diplomat told The Australian newspaper. "We get the impression that Australian policy is becoming increasingly Sinocentric," said G. Parthasarathy.

An Indian strategic commentator, B. Raman, was blunter. "China, China, China, China, and more of China was the recurring theme of his speeches in the countries visited by Mr. Rudd," he wrote recently in India's Outlook magazine.

For all its intimacy, the Sino-Australian relationship is not without tensions. On his visit to China, Rudd gave a frank assessment of rights abuses in Tibet, telling a Chinese audience that there were "significant problems." And there are signs of growing unease in Australia about China's seemingly unstoppable ascendancy in the region.

When the Olympic torch relay arrived in Canberra last month, the capital was swamped by some 10,000 flag-waving Chinese, some of whom bullied pro-Tibet supporters. "Beijing suppressed freedom of expression in the heart of our democracy," The Australian wrote the next day.

Canberra is also nervous about Chinese corporations seeking to buy into Australian resources companies to secure future supplies of uranium, iron ore, bauxite, and other minerals.

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