Australian Prime Minister John Howard is proud that his government has been able to develop close relations with China while deepening Canberra's traditional alliance with the US. Now he has decided to take up a new challenge, despite Chinese and South Korean nervousness - sign a security pact with Japan.
Mr Howard is in Tokyo this week for meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the highlight of his four-day visit was the signing of what both countries are terming a joint security declaration.
Mr Howard has been at pains to let everyone know that he and Mr Abe are not signing a formal treaty. Yet he has not dispelled a certain wariness in China and South Korea about the security declaration.
Beijing has, through diplomatic channels, told Canberra it is concerned that the pact will include the aim of containing China. And South Korea's ambassador to Australia last week said his country wanted to know exactly what the security pact entails.
Seoul, according to media reports, is concerned about intelligence sharing between Japan and Australia.
Mr Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Mr Abe have been at pains to point out to Beijing that this agreement is not directed in any way at China.
Nor should South Korea be concerned, says Canberra.
But slightly mixed messages are being sent. At the weekend, Mr Howard said Australia may one day enter into a security treaty with Japan as powerful as Canberra's military and strategic alliance with the US. When he talks like that, one can understand why some in Beijing are wondering whether Australia is trying to be all things to all people.
And Beijing will be nervous about reports in the Australian media this week suggesting that Canberra and Tokyo are already sharing intelligence on China.
This security pact can be seen as a natural extension of a 50-year-old trade relationship between Australia and Japan. That nation has gone from being Australia's enemy in World War II to its No1 trading partner today.
But what if Canberra and Tokyo do sign a fully fledged security treaty in future - one that obliges Australia to support Japan militarily against China?
Perhaps that is why Australia's opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, is pouring just a few drops of cold water on the Australian-Japanese security pact. He may become prime minister after the general election later this year if the current opinion polls are any guide.
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