CANBERRA, Australia — Underscoring growing concern over an aggressive China, President Barack Obama announced a new agreement Wednesday to expand the U.S. military presence in Australia.
The agreement, formally unveiled by Obama during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, will allow up to 250 U.S. Marines to be stationed in northern Australia beginning next year.
“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,” Obama said.
Obama sidestepped questions about whether the security agreement was a direct attempt to counter China, and insisted that his administration welcomed China’s peaceful growth. But he said “with their rise come increased responsibilities. It’s important for them to play by rules of the road.”
The U.S. and smaller Asian nations have growing increasingly concerned about China claiming dominion over vast areas of the Pacific that the U.S. considers international waters, and reigniting old territorial disputes, including confrontations over the South China Sea.
China’s defense spending has increased threefold since the 1990s to about $160 billion last year, and its military has recently tested a new stealth jet fighter and launched its first aircraft carrier.