Defence Minister Stephen Smith has rejected the suggestion that Australia should seek to play a bridging role between the US and China, while re-stating Canberra's concerns that the two giants forge a more amicable relationship.
Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney today, Mr Smith said: ''Occasionally I have seen the suggestion that somehow a country like Australia could be a bridge between the United States and China.
''Two great powers do not need a country with a population of less than 25 million people to be a bridge between them. That is a matter for them.''
However he said Australia would continue to encourage both countries to develop a ''positive relationship... at every level.''
In a veiled riposte to a speech by former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating to the Lowy Institute on Monday, Mr Smith said he rejected the idea that the US should accept a ''substantial decline in or a withdrawal from our region''.
Mr Keating had quoted with approval from a new book on China by leading defence analyst ( and former Labor staffer) Professor Hugh White, who has suggested that with the rise of Beijing, ''America will have to exercise its authority within limits acceptable to China, just as it requires China to exercise its power within limits acceptable to the United States''.
Mr Smith differed on the need for US strategic concessions, saying ''I do not see it this way.''
And he rejected reports that Washington had been unhappy with the Gillard government's decision to cut defence spending in the May budget, dropping defence outlays as a proportion of GDP to 1.5 per cent, the lowest level since the eve of the second world war.
''Obviously as a defence minister I would prefer that it was closer to 2 per cent . But GDP is not the only measure'' he said.
''We continue to remain in the top 15 defence spenders'' .
He said that when he had briefed US defence secretary Leon Panetta on the cuts , Panetta had replied: ''Stephen you think you're an orphan? I'm taking nearly half a trillion dollars out of the United States defence budget over the next 10 year period.''
Mr Smith said a strong economy was an important underwriter of national security interests.
He added that he was ''optimistic about the emergence of China''.
''The challenge now to avoid strategic competition between China and the United States is to make sure their level of bilateral engagement at the strategic, defence,military and political level is of the same level as their economic engagement,'' he said.
''If the United States and China don't get that bilateral relationship right, then we will have a problem.''