BEIJING (AP) — America's strengthened military pact with Australia is a figment of "Cold War thinking" that will destabilize the Asia-Pacific region, China's Defense Ministry said Wednesday, in Beijing's strongest criticism yet of a move widely seen as intended to counter China's rising assertiveness.
Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng's comments at a monthly news conference came short of the scathing attacks on the agreement from China's nationalist press and outspoken academics.
However, they reflected a harsher tone from the armed forces, whose expanding budget and reach have rattled many of China's neighbors and prompted them to seek strengthened alliances with the region's dominant military power, America.
"Military alliances were created by history. We think that all moves to strengthen and expand military alliances are a product of Cold War thinking that run counter to the era's trend of peace, development and cooperation," Geng said.
Despite that criticism, Geng said Chinese and U.S. defense officials will still meet for consultations Dec. 7. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, the People's Liberation Army's deputy chief of staff, and U.S. Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy will be co-chairs.
Ma will then go to New Delhi for China-India defense and security consultations on Dec. 9, Geng said.
The U.S.-Australia agreement, announced during a November visit by President Barack Obama to Australia, will send military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia for a training hub to help allies and protect American interests across Asia.
Beijing's previous official responses, issued by its Foreign Ministry, were a mild questioning of its appropriateness.
Chinese hardliners have called recent U.S. moves in Asia, including strengthened military ties with allies Japan and the Philippines as well as former enemy Vietnam, a new U.S. containment policy that must be resisted through more active diplomacy.