US President Barack Obama is on a 9 day trip to the Pacific region, beginning in Australia where, as the Guardian reports
The president is expected to announce the US is expanding its military presence in Australia – putting more equipment in place, increasing its access to bases and conducting more joint exercises and training. This is in response to an increasingly aggressive China, which claims dominion over vast areas of the Pacific that the US considers international waters, and has alarmed smaller Asian neighbours by reigniting old territorial disputes, including confrontations over the South China Sea.
The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, has said the goal is to signal that America and Australia will stick together in face of any threats.
The deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said US forces would also be able to respond more quickly to natural disasters in the region, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and fight terrorism and piracy to help keep sea lanes open.
An increased US presence would help the US “protect our interests, protect our allies” and help it “play its critical role as an anchor of stability and security in the region”, Rhodes said.
The BBC report has some details of that “increased US presence”
[Australian Prime Minister Julia] Gillard said about 250 Marines would be deployed on a rotational basis in northern Australia from next year.
“Australia will welcome deployments of a company-size rotation of 200 to 250 Marines in the Northern Territory for around six months at a time,” she said.
“Over a number of years we intend to build on this relationship in a staged way to a full force of around 2,500 personnel, that is a full Marine air-ground task force.”
Analysts said the deployment was the biggest in Australia since World War II.
And China’s reaction…
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin questioned whether the move was in keeping with the region’s peaceful development.
“It may not be quite appropriate to intensify and expand military alliances and may not be in the interest of countries within this region,” he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
The Global Times, a newspaper produced by the Communist Party-controlled People’s Daily group, has been much more bellicose, says the BBC’s Damian Grammaticas in Beijing.
An editorial warned it was “certain” that if “Australia uses its military bases to help the US harm Chinese interests, then Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire”.
Luo Yuan, a senior officer at the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Sciences told the paper that while neither the US or China wanted to start a war, “if China’s core interests such as its sovereignty, national security and unity are intruded on, a military conflict will be unavoidable”.
And from the New York Times
The United States is taking some first steps — bold in rhetoric, still mostly modest in practice — to prove to its Asian allies that it intends to remain a crucial military and economic power in the region as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close. The new Australian base, coming after decades in which the Pentagon has been slowly but steadily reducing its troop presence in Asia, puts American planes and ships closer to trading corridors in the South China Sea, where some traditional American allies worry that China is trying to flex its military muscle.
Over the past year and a half, China has moved to assert territorial claims in the resource-rich but hotly contested waters near the Philippines and Vietnam. Many of the region’s smaller countries have asked Washington to re-engage in the region as a counterweight.
“The U.S. needs to show the Chinese that they still have the power to overwhelm them, that they still can prevail if something really wrong happens,” said Huang Jing, a foreign affairs analyst and visiting professor at the National University of Singapore. “It’s a hedging policy.”
For the United States, the more muscular approach toward China has far-reaching implications, not just geopolitically but also economically. With Republicans at home calling for punitive measures against China for its currency and trade practices, Mr. Obama wants to appear strong in pressing Beijing.