Melbourne: US military efforts to strengthen its presence in Asia are not aimed at countering China, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday, ahead of talks on deepening defence ties with regional ally Australia.
An Australian newspaper published a report saying Australia would grant the US military expanded use of its bases, but a US defence official cautioned that any decision on such a possibility was months away at least.
Gates said a strategic review of US military posture would not include any new bases in Asia.
"As far as the posture review, we`re not looking at adding any bases or anything, any new bases in Asia. But (instead focuses on) really how do we enhance the relationships that we already have," he told reporters before landing in Melbourne.
Gates will hold talks in Melbourne alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has spent much of the past two weeks on a regional trip that has been dominated by US’ concerns about Chinese assertiveness with its neighbours.
Washington and its Asia-Pacific allies have grown increasingly wary of China`s intentions as it spends heavily to modernise its military, sends its Navy further afield and asserts sovereignty over the contested South China Sea.
Gates said the US military was "looking at ways to strengthen and perhaps make more robust our presence in Asia”. But he stressed that the US moves in the region, including its policy agenda in Australia, were not a response to actions by Beijing.
"No this isn`t about China at all," Gates said, pointing to increased ties with countries in the region on shared interests such as counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and disaster relief.
"It`s more about our relationships with the rest of Asia than it is about China. We`ve really enhanced our engagement over the last 18 months or so."
He pointed to his visit to Vietnam last month to attend a meeting of Asia-Pacific defence chiefs and to Hillary’s participation at an Asia-Pacific summit in Hanoi just over a week ago as examples of that engagement.
Analysts closely eyed regional friction with China at both events, particularly given a dispute between Beijing and Tokyo over the Diaoyu islands, called Senkaku in Japanese.