AUSTRALIA'S political leaders have been criticised by some of the most senior foreign policy advisers for clumsy handling of relations with Asia and slavish devotion to the US alliance.
A conference held in the NSW Parliament yesterday by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, a federal government chartered and assisted body, heard calls from eminent diplomats for a more balanced approach to the rise of Asia.
The institute's national president, John McCarthy, who has been Australia's envoy to Washington, Jakarta, Tokyo and New Delhi, said Australians should not let themselves be led to think they have to choose between new ties with China and the military alliance with the US.
Most thinking Australians supported the ANZUS treaty alliance with the US, making it difficult to change ''even if we personally disagreed with aspects of it'', he said.
''But there is a lot to be said for paying our alliance dues only where it is strictly necessary in terms of the alliance - we don't necessarily have to please the Americans, as it is often put,'' he said. ''We have to honour the terms of the alliance, as a responsible ally will do [but] not say things or offer things that really aren't necessary.''
He said the the announcement last November that the US would station 2500 marines in Darwin for six months every year was an example of what could have handled better. ''The Chinese and the Indonesians could have been forewarned, very seriously, two or three days before, and explained very very carefully at a very senior level what it all meant. None of that was done.''