Some 200 US marines landed in Darwin, northern Australia this week as part of a broader strategic shift by the US military toward the Pacific. But is this a response or threat to China's growing dominance in a region which is vital to US economic interests?
The force will eventually expand to 2,500 who, at least officially, will train with Australian troops and assist in humanitarian efforts in the Asia-Pacific.
The deployment is part of a wider shift in US foreign policy announced by Barack Obama, the US president, in November during a speech to the Australian parliament.
"The United States is a Pacific power, and we're here to stay."
- Barack Obama, the US president
But the move is being widely interpreted as a bid to counterbalance China's growing military and economic might in the region and its increasing assertiveness in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The strategic shift in US foreign policy appears to have reassured some Asian countries, at least according to official statements - even as many of those nations look to China for their own economic growth.
All this comes at a time when there is tremendous pressure on the US defence budget and the total number of US troops is being cut.
In January, Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, talked about the future of US military strategy with a smaller force, saying: "We are also rebalancing our global posture and presence, emphasising the Pacific and the Middle East. These are the areas where we see the greatest challenges for the future. The US military will increase its institutional weight and focus on enhanced presence, power projection and deterrence in Asia-Pacific. This region is growing in importance for the future of the United States in terms of our economy and our national security."
So what is the US trying to achieve by deploying troops to Australia, and is China right to have concerns about it?
Joining Inside Story Americas with Shihab Rattansi to discuss this are: Barry Pavel, who is from the International Security Program at the Atlantic Council and was formerly a national security council official serving both President George W. Bush and President Obama; Gordon Chang, a political analyst and author of The Coming Collapse of China; and Hillary Mann Leverett, a former White House official and former state department official.
|"The Chinese don't go out to other countries and invade other countries to make those people more like China, to impose China's system - their military system, their political system or their economic system - they don't do that. But they see the United States as doing precisely that."
Hillary Mann Leverett, a former White House official