CANBERRA, Australia -- Signaling U.S. determination to counter a rising China, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he will send military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia for a training hub to help allies and protect American interests across Asia.

He declared that the U.S. is not afraid of China, by far the biggest and most powerful country in the region.

China immediately questioned the U.S. move, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said there should be discussion as to whether the plan was in line with the common interests of the international community.

Obama said that the United States has an interest in supporting a peaceful and rising China, but that it must play by world rules. When it does not, Obama said, "We will send a clear message to them that we think that they need to be on track."

With military bases and tens of thousands of troops in Japan and South Korea, the United States has maintained a significant military presence in Asia for decades. Australia lies about 5,500 miles south of China, and its northern shores would give the U.S. easier access to the South China Sea, a vital commercial route.

The plan outlined by Obama will allow the United States to keep a sustained force on Australian bases and position equipment and supplies there, giving the U.S. the ability to train with allies in the region and respond more quickly to humanitarian or other crises.

About 250 U.S. Marines will begin a rotation in northern Australia starting next year, with a full force of 2,500 military personnel staffing over the next several years.