During a joint press conference Wednesday
, the two leaders announced plans to expand U.S. military presence in Australia. The plan will position more U.S. military personnel and equipment in the country and increase American access to bases over the next several years.
Starting next year, approximately 200-250 U.S. Marines will begin rotation at an Australian military base in the Northern territory ramping up to a full force of 2,500 Marine personnel by mid-2012 to early 2013.
As part of a Marine, Air, Ground Task Force, the pact will also allow the United States Air Force significantly more access to Australian Air Force facilities in the near future.
Careful to stress the point, U.S. officials emphasized that the agreement is not an attempt to set up a permanent military base in the country, just a presence.
At the Australian press conference President Obama said, “this rotational deployment is significant because what it allows us to do, is to not only build capacity and cooperation between our two countries, but it also allows us to meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region that want to feel that they’re getting the training, they’re getting the exercises, and that we have the presence that’s necessary to maintain the security architecture in the region."
Widely viewed as part of the Obama Administration's broader strategy to counter China's rising presence in the Pacific, China did not hesitate to respond.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters that, "it may not be quite appropriate to intensify and expand military alliances and may not be in the interest of countries within this region.”
In response to Weimin's comment, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Ben Rhodes replied, “It is not just entirely appropriate but an important step to dealing with the challenges of the future of the Asian Pacific region.” Adding, the joint military agreement came “in response to demand from within the region.”
When asked by a reporter; what the U.S. fears from China? President Obama replied, “The notion that we fear China is mistaken,” he said. “The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken.”
The President is scheduled to address the Australian Parliament early Thursday and then fly to the city of Darwin.