Melbourne: Aiming to boost defence ties with the US, Australia may allow its territory to be used as a base for long-range American drones to carry out surveillance over resource-rich South China Sea, which China claims as its own.
According to a report in The `Herald Sun`, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that "a range of matters" were being looked at but no agreement was signed.
Her comments came after `The Washington Post` yesterday reported that Pentagon wanted to use the Australian territory to launch its unmanned Global Hawk surveillance drones.
The US is planning to set up drone base at the Cocos Islands which could be an ideal site for surveillance aircraft, including unmanned, high-altitude Global Hawk drones that could conduct spy flights over the South China Sea.
The move may irk China which claims the entire South China Sea as its own. Its claim however has been contested by Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan which assert
it is part of their maritime waters.
The discussion to set up drone base comes after US President Barack Obama and Gillard in November agreed to station up to 2,500 US marines in Darwin.
"I am not going to play a rule in rule out game over something that is being discussed at officials level," said Gillard. "Clearly, the alliance we have with the US is pivotal to our security," she said.
"It`s long standing and we took the next natural step in the evolution of that alliance last year when I agreed with President Obama that we would host marines on a rotational
basis in the Northern territory for exercises," she said.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith, who has previously confirmed talks with the US about the Cocos Islands` potential, today stressed that any decision, including on the use of drones, was some time off.
"This is very much a long-term prospect," he told ABC radio.