(AFP) The United States stressed Tuesday it welcomes the rise of China and wants to work constructively with Beijing as it signed a deal to deploy 2,500 Marines to Australia as part of its “rebalance” to Asia.
China bristled when the agreement to deploy Marines to the northern city of Darwin was first announced by President Barack Obama in 2011.
But after signing the deal at the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in Sydney, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was not interested in conflict with the Asian powerhouse.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop earlier defended the deal to bring US Marines and Air Force personnel to the Northern Territory, denying it was aimed at China which is embroiled in maritime disputes with neighbours.
After the talks Bishop, who also hosted US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said the discussions were broad — ranging from tensions on the Korean peninsula to the crisis in Ukraine and to conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan.
– Threat of foreign jihadists –
The threat of foreign jihadist militants fighting in these conflicts and then returning home radicalised was also explored. The US and Australia agreed to raise the issue at the United Nations.
Kerry said this problem, highlighted by images in local media of the seven-year-old son of an Australian jihadist in Syria holding a severed head, underscored the degree to which Islamic State fighters were “so far beyond the pale”.
Bishop made no comment about the prospect of an increased US military presence beyond the Marines, some 1,200 of whom are already in the country.
But a communique issued after the talks said that enhanced aircraft and naval cooperation was discussed, while the allies would also examine options for Australia’s contributions to ballistic missile defence in the region.
Bishop said there existed between Australia and the United States “a clear instinct for collaboration across a wide area of endeavour”.
Bishop added that there was no more important security partner for Australia than the US and their longstanding alliance “had never been stronger”.
But she said Canberra did not envisage Australian troops would return to Iraq, where the US is carrying out air strikes and humanitarian airdrops to try to combat jihadist fighters.
However, Australia has offered support for humanitarian relief.
Kerry also ruled out sending troops to Iraq.
Speaking at the start of the talks at Sydney’s harbourside Admiralty House, he said the Australia-US relationship was “essential to the stability of the Asia-Pacific region”.