Friday, September 14, 2012


BILLIONAIRE Kerry Stokes says he is "physically repulsed'' by the presence of US troops on Australian soil and says the country has missed the opportunity to be the "Switzerland'' of the region.
The billionaire, a media investor and chairman of a company which distributes Caterpillar equipment in China, also said Australia needed to tone down its criticism of Beijing.
"We have got to respect China and its position. Human rights have to be seen through China's eyes as well as our eyes," Mr Stokes, executive chairman of Seven Group Holdings, told the Australia in China's Century conference in Sydney today.
He said the decision to allow the US to base troops near Darwin undermined Australia's relationship with Beijing.
Mr Stokes said the defence white paper and presence of the troops had given China the impression that Australia has chosen sides and feared a confrontation with its largest trading partner.
"What we have done of late with the white paper and allowing foreign troops in Australia has aggravated something that was accepted before and made it more dominant now," Mr Stokes said.
"Blogs in China went crazy when we made the agreement to allow foreign troops here," adding that the decision indicated Australia had taken sides with the US.
"We should not ignore the blogosphere - the feeling toward our country has changed," Mr Stokes said.
"Australia should have been the Switzerland of our region," he said.
"When we escalate those (the alliance with America), people are confused. If you are going to be a Switzerland, you can't have other people's armed forces on your border. Full stop.
"I must be the only Australian that is physically repulsed by the thought of armed people on our soil not under our command. But that is me. That is my personal opinion."
Australia has been stepping up its alliance with Washington as both countries seek to counter the growing military influence of China in the Asia-Pacific region.
In April, Australia received the first rotation of US Marines, who will be based in Darwin under an agreement that allows US troops be based on Australian soil for the first time.
Chinese officials have described Australia's links to the US as a legacy of the Cold War and US-led efforts against communist states.
Last month, defense minister Stephen Smith had argued, though, that there was "nothing inconsistent" about the military alliance, and said Australia could still have a "comprehensive" economic relationship with China.
Australia's economic relationship with China has burgeoned in recent years as the country's need for raw materials, like coal and iron ore, has exploded.
Mr Stokes warned Australia's resources were finite, however, and said the country had to find longer-term trading prospects - like education and tourism - to ensure a sustainable partnership between the two nations. Currently, iron ore and coal are Australia's largest exports. Resources account for about 60 per cent of its total exports.
"The more we embrace China, the more we can partner with China," Mr Stokes said. "In the future if price is the only reason [for them to trade with Australia], we will lose; make no mistake, we will lose," he said.
Mr Stokes said mutual respect had not been shown towards China by Australia.
"We tend to criticise, which makes us like school teachers," he said.
-  The Australian's Damon Kitney and Andrew White contributed to this story

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