By Stephen Collinson (AFP) – Nov 16, 2011
CANBERRA — The United States will deploy up to 2,500 Marines to Australia as the nations expand their 60-year-old military alliance, President Barack Obama said Wednesday in a move that rankled China.
Stressing the rising economic influence of the Asia-Pacific, Obama told reporters in Canberra he was stepping up Washington's commitment to the region, undaunted by China, which he said America did not fear.
"The notion that we fear China is a mistake. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is a mistake," Obama said.
The self-declared "Pacific President" told reporters at a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard that when it came to the fast-growing region: "We are here to stay."
"This is a region of huge strategic importance to us," he said.
"And we are going to make sure that we are able to fulfil our leadership goal in the Asia-Pacific region."
The deployment of US Marines to Australia's tropical north came as the allies adapted their military posture to face a new security era marked by the rise of China, which sparked an immediate negative response from Beijing.
"It may not be quite appropriate to intensify and expand military alliances and may not be in the interest of countries within this region," China's foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.
The first deployment of around 250 US Marines will be sent to Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory in mid-2012, kicking off a rotating six-month presence of as many as 2,500 US troops Down Under.
"It is a new agreement to expand the existing collaboration between the Australian Defence Force and the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force," Gillard said.
"Over a number of years we intend to build on this in a staged way."
The troops will conduct exercises and training on a rotational basis on Australian bases with the Australian Defence Force as the US rebalances its military in Asia and draws down forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The leaders also agreed to enhance cooperation between their air forces that will result in increased rotations of US aircraft through northern Australia, which is closer to Asia than it is to Sydney and Melbourne.
Obama said the announcement of the joint task force and his trip to the booming Asia-Pacific, which began Wednesday with his arrival in Canberra, sent a clear signal to America's allies in the region.
"We are two Pacific nations and 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," he said.
"This deepening of our alliance sends a clear message of our commitment to this region, a commitment that is enduring and unwavering," he added ahead of the East Asia Summit in Bali later this week.
Washington appears to be sending a signal to China and its expanding military with its deployment in Australia, but also wants to extend its capability to deploy for disaster relief missions in Southeast Asia.
Obama insisted that the boosted military alliance should not be seen as a threat to China.
The US leader added that Washington had no desire to exclude China from a new initiative to frame a Trans-Pacific Partnership to better integrate the region's booming economies to promote growth.
But he said that to join the grouping once it is up and running in the future, Beijing would have to live up to international standards on issues like copyright enforcement and intellectual property.
Obama has hardened his tone on China in recent weeks, expressing frustration at Beijing's failure to do more to allow the yuan to reach a fair market level and venting at China's performance on protecting US innovation.
"The main message that I've said not only publicly but also privately to the Chinese is that with their rise comes increased responsibility," he said.
China is a major trading partner for Australia, where its voracious demand for minerals and energy has helped underpin the national economy's strength.
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