Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard shares a toast with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: REUTERS
Security experts have welcomed the Gillard government's new ''strategic partnership'' with Beijing as a major step towards Australia's successfully balancing its relationships with China and the United States.
The strategic partnership, which involves annual face-to-face meetings between the Australia's and China's leaders, regular economic talks and deeper defence ties, was announced during Prime Minister Julia Gillard's five-day trip to the country this week.
Australia will also discuss its latest defence blueprint with China before it is released publicly in a sign of deepening co-operation and eagerness to assuage the superpower's concerns.
Some commentators in the past have raised concerns that Australia's strategic closeness to the US - reinforced by the rotation of US Marines through Darwin - was a barrier to its growing relationship with China.
But Michael Wesley from the Australian National University's National Security College said on Wednesday that Canberra's new partnership with Beijing was taking a pragmatic view of Australia's position.
''China has now been sent a very clear message that our relationship with the United States is rock solid and won't be shaken and in fact has deepened in recent years,'' he said.
''The Chinese are nothing if not realists ... I've had quite senior Chinese officials and scholars say, 'If we had Australia's attributes and culture and history we would be a strong ally of the United States as well.'
''They regard that as being relatively natural. They don't particularly like it but they realise it is not going anywhere fast.''
Rory Medcalf, director of the Lowy Institute's International Security Program, said this week's announcement of a strategic partnership would take surprises out of the relationship and create opportunities for frank talk.
''I'm reluctant to use the word 'trust' but certainly the aim is predictability,'' he said.
In past years, China hoped it could create some distance between Australia and the US, he said. But it no longer believed it could drive a wedge into that alliance, he added.
''For Australia, (the strategic partnership) helps to offset some of the Chinese perceptions that we were anti-China because of the Darwin Marines deployment or Obama's speech in Canberra or some of the investment decisions that have been made over the years,'' he said.
''We're not shifting our loyalties somehow to China but we are overcoming some of the coolness in the relationship.''