US, Australia sign a new defence pact
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Last Updated: Wednesday, November 16, 2011, 16:24
Melbourne: US and Australia wednesday updated their security pact by signing an agreement to expand American military presence in the country, with the visiting President Barack Obama asserting that it was a commitment to entire Asia Pacific region.

The new defence pact unveiled at a joint press conference, held by Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, will allow upto 250 US marines to be stationed in northern Australia beginning next year and comes amid mounting concern in the region over an increasingly militarily assertive China.

The new agreement updating a 60-year-old security alliance between the two nations was signed soon after Obama landed in the Australian capital Canberra on a twice-postponed visit, during which the two countries also exchanged briefs on China's rapid rise as a global economic power house.

In the run-up to the signing of the pact, Obama said Washington did not fear China or was not working to block Beijing's rise from American economic alliances in the Asia Pacific region, but wanted to send a clear message to them that China has to accept responsibilities that come with being a world power.

The US-Australia pact comes in the wake of growing concerns of China's smaller neighbours over its claims to vast stretches of the strategic South China Sea, which Washington considers international waters.

On the pact, Obama said the new US deployment to Australia was important to assuage partners in the Pacific region that "we have the presence that is necessary to maintain the security architecture of the region."

Providing details of the agreement, Australian Prime Minister said, "It was aimed to expand the existing collaboration between the Australian defence forces and US marine force and the American air force."

"What it means is that by mid 2012 Australia will host a company-sized rotation of 200-250 marines in the northern territory for around six months at a time."

Gillard hinted that in the years to come, Australia intended to build on this in a staged manner.

The American President on the last leg of his Pacific tour apparently has hardened his tone on China, expressing frustration at Beijing's failure to allow its currency Yuan to reach a fair market level.

The president arrived in Australia after an Asia Pacific economic summit he hosted in Hawaii, where the main focus was an agreement for a trans-Pacific trade block and concerns voiced by the nations of the region over Chinese economic and military assertiveness.

Washington itself has been having almost a running battle with Beijing over the protection to Yuan and has accused China for undervaluing its currency, making the country's export cheaper.

China had a USD 273 billion trade surplus with the US last year and American lawmakers complained that the trade imbalance is hurting American manufacturers and taking aways American jobs.

And giving vent to these feelings, Obama asked Beijing to rethink its attitude to global trade, saying in a hard-hitting tone, "It is important for them to play by the rules on the road."


First Published: Wednesday, November 16, 2011, 16:24

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