US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on Monday relations with China were evolving and made light of talk of a split between him and Secretary of State Colin Powell on how to approach China and other issues, according to a China Daily report.
The two men appeared side-by-side at a news conference in Australia, where they attended talks with their counterparts, facing questioning about their alleged difference in approach.
Powell repeatedly characterised China as a "friend" during a visit to Beijing at the weekend and told reporters en route from China to Australia late Sunday that he had decided to stop talking about China as a "strategic competitor".
Rumsfeld, who flew round the world to join Powell in Canberra, said, "Colin Powell and I talk every day and meet several times a week and I don't know that there's a difference between us."
He added: "My personal view is that the People's Republic of China's future is not yet written, that they are evolving. Our relationship with them is multi-faceted, it's political, it's economic, and clearly there are security implications."
Asked if he had also decided to stop calling China a strategic competitor, a phrase first adopted during President George W. Bush's election campaign, he said, "I don't recall using that phrase. I think you suggested that I had."
"I haven't put any Rumsfeldian codewords on it," he said, in a lighthearted exchange with reporters.
Later he was asked about US plans for a missile defence, a system opposed by Russia, China and many other countries, including US allies.
Powell is often at pains to emphasise the US desire for consultations with other countries as it proceeds with developing the system, in hope of winning them round to the US position that the post-Cold War world needs a new strategic framework to fight "new threats".
During questioning, a reporter asked, "Do you agree on everything?"
Rumsfeld paused and, to loud laughs from officials and media, replied in a deeply ironic and humorous tone, "Except for those few cases where Colin's still learning."
Earlier he was asked about another foreign policy matter on which there have been reports of a split between hardliners and moderates within the Bush administration.
Powell visited South Korea last week and said he was ready for talks with North Korea any time, anywhere.
Asked if he was happy with this formulation, Rumsfeld said, slowly for emphasis, "With respect to North Korea, I stand fully behind Secretary Powell's positions."