CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s foreign minister said on Monday her country’s alliance with the United States had never been more vital in an era of escalating challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

In her first major policy speech since she took over the foreign ministry in August, Marise Payne told an Australian Institute of International Affairs conference that Australia needed to defend its interests in “a period of strategic uncertainty.”

The former defense minister’s staunch declaration of support for the United States, a treaty defense partner since 1951, came after the Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper China Daily accused Australia and Japan in an editorial last week of “jumping on the U.S. bandwagon to contain China.”

"We have no doubt that the U.S. will remain an enduring presence in our region," Payne said. "Other powers will rise, rivalries may intensify, but the United States will be here."

"The challenges in the Indo-Pacific render our alliance as vital as it has ever been," she added.

Australia was also committed to constructive collaboration and engagement with China, its most important trade partner, Payne said.

But she said the region would be safer and more prosperous if differences were managed by agreed rules rather than an exercise of power — an apparent reference to the Chinese militarization of the South China Sea where China claims almost all the territory.

The China Daily called on Australia and Japan to work with China to address security challenges, instead of "letting the U.S. lead them by the nose."

Mistrust on the scale of the Cold War "will create a fragile peace that risks being shattered by the slightest misstep," the newspaper said.

Relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated, as escalating trade disputes and tariff hikes have been exacerbated by a newly announced U.S. military equipment sale to Taiwan and some recent military operations. In past years, military ties have been somewhat stable, but a series of events this year have roiled the waters.

China protested a recent mission by nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bombers over the South China Sea, calling the flights “provocative.”

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile destroyer Decatur sailed close to Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea.

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