CANBERRA – Australia has agreed to host a full US Marine task force in the coming years, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced at a news conference with US President Barack Obama in Canberra, the BBC said. She said about 250 US Marines would arrive next year, eventually being built up to 2,500 personnel.
The deployment is being seen as a move to counter China’s growing influence. But Obama said the US was “stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific”, not excluding China. “The main message that I’ve said, not only publicly but also privately to China, is that with their rise comes increased responsibility,” he said. “It is important for them to play by the rules of the road.”
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 said.
The Global Times, a newspaper produced by the Communist Party-controlled People’s Daily group, has been much more bellicose. 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”.
Earlier, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president that the U.S. presence “and the reassurance that that presence provides is important to the continued peaceful development of the region,” CNN said.
The U.S. military will be able to respond quickly to natural disasters, like they did after the tsunami in Japan in March. It is also involved in countering piracy in Southeast Asia, Rhodes said.
Obama’s Australian visit comes on the heels of last weekend’s 19-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which highlighted the need for new measures supporting job growth. During the Hawaiian summit, Obama stressed the importance of the Pacific to global economic security, and he pushed China to do more to help strengthen the world economy.
After wrapping up his visit to Australia, Obama will conclude his Pacific trip with a stop in Indonesia – a country he spent several years living in during his childhood.