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Obama to send marines to Australia, reassures China
Australia has agreed to host 2,500 US marines in the north of the country, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced at a news conference with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday. The deployment is seen as a move to counter China's rising influence.
REUTERS - U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday unveiled plans to deepen the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific, with 2,500 U.S. marines operating out of a de facto base in northern Australia.
U.S. troops and aircraft will operate out of the tropical city of Darwin, only 820 kms (500 miles) from Indonesia, able to respond quickly to any humanitarian and security issues in Southeast Asia, where disputes over sovereignty of the South China Sea are causing rising tensions.
"With my visit to the region, I am making it clear that the United States is stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region," Obama told a joint news conference with Gillard in Canberra.
"It is appropriate for us to make sure...that the security architecture for the region is updated for the 21st century and this initiative is going to allow us to do that," he said.
The U.S. deployment to Australia is likely to add to China's concerns that Washington is trying to encircle it with bases in Japan and South Korea and now troops in Australia.
But Obama stressed that China was not being isolated.
"The notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken," he said, adding China was not being excluded from the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) on trade.
"We welcome a rising, peaceful China," he said.
But China's rising power means it must take on greater responsibilities to ensure free trade and security in the region, he added.
"It's important for them to play by the rules of the road and, in fact, help underwrite the rules that have allowed so much remarkable economic progress," he said.
Pearl Harbour of Australia
The U.S. deployment to Australia, the largest since World War Two, will start next year with a company of 200-250 marines in Darwin, the "Pearl Harbour of Australia", Gillard said.
More bombs were dropped on Darwin during a surprise Japanese raid than on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.
A total of 2,500 U.S. troops would eventually rotate through the port city. The United States will bring in ships, aircraft and vehicles, as well as increase military training.
China questioned the plan, saying it was open to discussion on whether strengthening military alliances was beneficial to the international community.
China stands for "peaceful development and cooperation". Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said when asked about the proposed deepening of military cooperation.
"We also believe that the external policies of countries in the region should develop along these lines," Liu told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
Some Asian nations are likely to welcome the U.S. move as a counterbalance to China's growing military power, especially its expanding maritime operations, and a reassurance that Washington will not scale back its engagement in the region due to a stretched U.S. military budget.
"The United States hopes to militarily strengthen alliance relations with Japan in the north and with Australia in the south, with the clear intention of counter-balancing China," Su Hao, the director of the Asia-Pacific Researcher Center at the Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, told the Global Times, a popular Chinese newspaper.
Obama to raise South China Sea
The winding down of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has opened the door to greater U.S. attention to simmering tension over the South China Sea, a shipping lane for more than $5 trillion in annual trade that the United States wants to keep open.
Obama plans to raise maritime security in the South China Sea at a regional summit on Bali this week, defying China's desire to keep the sensitive topic off the agenda.
China claims the entire maritime region, a vital commercial shipping route rich in oil, minerals and fishery resources. It insists that any disputes be resolved through bilateral talks and says Washington has no business getting involved.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei hold rivals claims to at least parts of the sea and tension occasionally flares up into maritime stand-offs.
Obama will make an "anchor speech" outlining the U.S. vision for the Asia-Pacific to the Australian parliament on Thursday before a whistle stop in Darwin. He then flies to the Indonesian island of Bali for the East Asia summit.