Seeking to Contain China, US to Establish Permanent Military Presence Down Under

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA — President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday announced that the US military will begin a permanent presence Down Under — part of a greater Obama administration strategy to contain the rise of China in the Pacific.

By mid-2012, a company-sized rotation of Marines, between 200-250, will be stationed at an Australian military base in the Northern territory. That will ramp up to a full force of 2,500 Marine personnel as part of a Marine, Air, Ground Task Force

In addition, the US Air Force will be able to use Australian Air Force facilities significantly more than it does now.

“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,” the president said at a joint press conference at the Australian Parliament.

Chinese government officials immediately expressed reservations about the new arrangement, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin telling 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, Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said, “It is not just entirely appropriate but an important step to dealing with the challenges of the future of the Asian Pacific region.” He called the US Australia military announcement came “in response to demand from within the region.”

President Obama today was asked about the strategy of containing China by establishing stronger economic and diplomatic ties with countries in the region – such as with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which excludes China — as well as with today’s military announcement. What does the US fear from China? he was asked.

“The notion that we fear China is mistaken,” he said. “The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken.”

The president insisted that “we haven’t excluded China from the TPP. What we have said is the future of this region depends on robust trade and commerce and the only way we’re going to grow that trade is if we have a high-standards trade agreement where everybody is playing by the same rules. …China says we want to consult with you about being a part of this as well. We welcome that. It will require China to rethink some of its approaches to trade, just as every other country that’s been involved in the consultations for the TPP have had to think through what kinds of adjustments are we willing to make.”

The president said “we welcome a rising, peaceful, China.”

Having US forces here in Australia will allow the US to rotate forces out to partner with other regional allies and partners and signal a US presence and commitment to the region. The move ramps up US capabilities in the South Pacific; most of the US forces are in the North.

The US military presence “will enable the United States to have greater geographic balance in the Asia Pacific region and will enable us to respond to a range of interests in the Pacific region as well,” Rhodes said.

-Jake Tapper