China questions Obama’s plans to raise US military presence

US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday unveiled plans to increase US military presence in the Asia-Pacific, with 2,500 US marines operating out of a de facto base in northern Australia.

China immediately questioned whether strengthening military alliances would help the region when economic woes put a premium on cooperation.

“With my visit to the region, I am making it clear that the United States is stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region,” Obama said at a news conference with Gillard in Canberra.

From next year, US troops and aircraft will operate out of of Darwin, only 820 kilometers from Indonesia.

“It is appropriate for us to make sure ... that the security architecture for the region is updated for the 21st century and this initiative is going to allow us to do that,” Obama said. He said it was not aimed at isolating China which is concerned Washington is trying to encircle it with bases in Japan and South Korea and now Australia.

“The notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken,” he said, adding China was not being excluded from the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership on trade.

“We welcome a rising, peaceful China,” Obama said.

The US deployment to Australia, the largest since World War II, will begin next year with a company of 200-250 marines in Darwin, which Gillard described as the “Pearl Harbor of Australia.”

More bombs were dropped on Darwin during a surprise Japanese raid than on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

A total of 2,500 US troops would eventually rotate through the port city. The US will bring in ships, aircraft and vehicles, as well as increasing military training.

Asked about the proposed deepening of US-Australian military cooperation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China stood for “peaceful development and cooperation.”

“We also believe that the external policies of countries in the region should develop along these lines,” Liu told a news briefing in Beijing.

Liu added that “whether strengthening and expanding a military alliance is in the common interests of the region’s countries and the international community is worthy of discussion,” especially amid a gloomy international economic situation and with each country seeking cooperation.