A key issue for the future of the Asia-Pacific is how China will employ its growing economic muscle.
Still, I consider China more benignly than I do Russia. China's economy is more inextricably linked with America's, and with Australia's. Despite all the challenges China poses, I believe this fact will serve to moderate China's behaviour.
Australia, in my view, should engage China with both cautiousness and confidence, weighing its strategic and economic interests, never forgetting the importance of its democratic institutions and values shared with the United States.
As Dennis Richardson said, "friends with both, allies with one".
Predictably, local left leaning media picked up on that theme,and counted his statements as one more reason for Australia to move away from the US alliance and into some kind of arrangement with China. That he quotes Dennis Richardson, the recently retired Secretary ,Department of Defence, is interesting given RIchardson's record:
DEPARTMENT of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Dennis Richardson yesterday rejected claims of a conflict of interest with Chinese telco Huawei, sparking some of the most lively exchanges this week in Senate estimates.
Opposition Senate leader Eric Abetz asked Mr Richardson whether his government role clashed with being a director of the Canberra Raiders after the NRL club signed a sponsorship deal in March worth a reported $1.7 million with Huawei.
The Chinese telco was banned earlier this year by the government from tendering for the National Broadband Network over cyber security concerns.
"Would you agree that Huawei is in the vanguard of Chinese economic diplomacy by entering into emerging markets around the world?"asked Senator Abetz.
Mr Richardson quickly rejected the charge.
"I'm not going to get involved in what I may or may not think in respect of Huawei and China's economic diplomacy or anything of that kind," he said.
Senator Abetz pressed on, demanding to know how Mr Richardson balanced his knowledge of Huawei's sponsorship deal with discussion of the company's exclusion from the NBN tender when the matter came before the National Security Committee of Cabinet.
"Senator, you are so far off track, I'm amazed," Mr Richardson replied. "I'm an employee of the commonwealth government, and if a foreign government discusses with me a matter relating to government decision making I'm paid by the taxpayer to explain, defend and prosecute the decisions taken by the Australian government.
"I take that responsibility seriously, and don't do a bad job of it."
Unfazed, Senator Abetz pushed Mr Richardson to reveal any concerns about Huawei's decision to sponsor a football team in the national capital. "Given that they, the players, have had their photographs taken with a new Huawei logo in front of the Australian parliament house, does that give you any indication or flavour that there may have been foreign affairs matters involved in Huawei's sponsorship?"
Mr Richardson sent his reply straight back over the net.
"The Canberra Raiders have been around since 1982 and that's not the first time the Canberra Raiders or the Brumbies (Canberra rugby team) for that matter have been photographed in front of Parliament House," said the DFAT boss.
Mr Richardson challenged Senator Abetz to file a formal complaint if he felt so strongly about a conflict of interest.
Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson has taken the blame for not telling the United States in advance that the Port of Darwin – which is used by US military forces – would be sold to a Chinese company with alleged links to the Chinese military.
Mr Richardson hit back at suggestions the deal was not properly considered by his department, and suggested the US Embassy in Canberra should have been paying more attention to developments around the port's privitisation.
The Australian Financial Review reported that US officials were not consulted, and only heard about the deal last month as they were returning from the annual Australia-US consultations on foreign affairs and defence.
US President Barack Obama then chided Mr Turnbull over the matter in November, asking him to "keep them in the loop" next time, a move independent Senator NIck Xenophon said illustrates the "failures" in the current foreign investment system.
Mr Richardson said it was an oversight not to let the US know the Northern Territory government was leasing the port to Landbridge, but the US Embassy in Australia should have been aware that the port was likely to be privatised.
Readers are reminded that Darwin Port is also used by the Australian and US navies, and that US Marines are stationed there.
Richard Armitage, a former United States Deputy Secretary of State, said he was "stunned" that Australia blindsided the US on a decision to allow a Chinese company with alleged links to the People's Liberation Army to lease the Port of Darwin.
"I couldn't believe the Australian defence ministry went along with this," Mr Armitage told The Australian Financial Review in an interview.
"And I was further stunned to find out that apparently this did not come up in the A-US talks [Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations]."
Mr Armitage's comments come amid growing controversy about the $506 million deal between the Northern Territory Government and the Chinese Company, Landbridge Corporation to lease the Port of Darwin for 99 years. The furore comes ahead of final bids being lodged for the $9 billion purchase of the NSW electricity grid, which also includes the purchase of sensitive optic fibre cables used by the defence establishment.
Treasurer Scott Morrison has conceded that processes were not in place for the Darwin port deal to be properly scrutinised by the Foreign Investment Review Board.
The Department of Defence has publicly said it has no security concerns about the deal, but numerous sources say there is considerable alarm about the deal behind closed doors.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking for a full briefing on what processes were undertaken by Canberra to assess the deal and its national security implications.
The US navy, which recently conducted a freedom of navigation exercise to challenge Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea, has about 1200 marines stationed at Darwin and plans to increase the quota to 2500.
"If the United States and Australia agreed to have more naval activities, the Darwin port would be the natural jumping off place," Mr Armitage said.
"Not to mention we've got marines and exercises nearby."
The tension underlines the growing challenge for Australia in managing relations with its closest security ally, the United States, and rising economic partner, China.
Mr Armitage, who served as a top diplomat in the George W Bush administration and earlier as a senior defence official for Asia, said he understood the Americans were "very much surprised" to learn of the Darwin port lease to the Chinese and that it hadn't been discussed in advance at a senior inter-government level. Mr Armitage is a Republican, but remains active in Pentagon and think tank circles in Washington.
China's massive land reclamation on reefs and rocks in dispute territory in the South China Sea was a key point of discussions, including US navy plans - since executed - to test China's claims within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands.
The Financial Review reported this week that the Darwin Port issue was not raised by Australia and US officials only heard about the deal upon returning from the annual AUSMIN talks, according to intelligence officials.
US Defense Department spokesman, Commander Bill Urban, on Monday would not specifically comment on whether Australia had adequately consulted the Pentagon, saying the US and Australia "discuss a wide range of topics".
"Australia alone determines its criteria for foreign investment projects related to its infrastructure," he said.
John Lee, a defence expert at the Hudson Institute in Washington and Australian National University, said Landbridge operates in the port logistics and petro-chemicals, two sectors considered by Beijing to be "important" to national interest.
"This means that there is not just intimate government supervision of all major Chinese companies in these sectors, but also collaboration if and when Beijing sees it in the national interest to do so," Dr Lee said.
In the US, Dubai Ports World in 2006 was forced to sell American ports it had acquired just months earlier, after a political backlash over a lack of scrutiny of the potential security risks associated with the Arab-owned company.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an inter-department group led by Treasury and including intelligence agencies, has the power to review and block foreign investment, including on national security grounds.
The Bush administration in 2008 blocked China's Huawei Technologies to purchase a stake in 3Com, a US maker of internet router and networking equipment.
Huawei is banned from bidding for US government contracts because of concerns over espionage and was blocked in Australia for competing for National Broadband Network work, a decision that then communications minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed reservations about.