Australia has announced that more US troops will rotate through the island nation and that the allies will cooperate on missile development, the latest joint steps amid shared concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness in the region.
Australia earlier announced a three-way alliance with the United States and Britain in which Canberra will acquire nuclear-powered submarines, enraging France whose own key contract for conventional submarines was scrapped.
Outlining further measures on a visit to Washington, Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Thursday that Australia will be “significantly enhancing” cooperation including working together on the development of missiles and explosive ordnance.
He said Australia was willing to see more US Marines in a 10-year rotation through the northern city of Darwin.
“I do have an aspiration to make sure that we can increase the numbers of troops through the rotations,” Dutton said.
“The air capability will be enhanced, our maritime capability enhanced and certainly the force posture enhanced.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier had said that Australia would acquire long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, also without giving numbers, confirmed that the United States “will expand our access and presence in Australia.”
Austin said the two allies discussed concerns about China in the four-way meeting involving Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
“While we seek a constructive, results-oriented relationship with the PRC, we will remain clear-eyed in our view of Beijing’s efforts to undermine the established international order,” Austin said.
Anger in Beijing
China has voiced anger about the nuclear submarine deal, which comes as Australia faces growing commercial and diplomatic pressure from the Asian power, a chief destination for its food and energy exports.
“Beijing has seen over the past months that Australia will not back down and the threats of economic retaliation and pressure simply will not work,” Blinken said.
“The United States will not leave Australia alone on the field or, better yet, on the pitch,” he said, using sporting metaphors.
Approximately 2,200 US Marines were scheduled to come through Darwin in the 2021 rotation, with restrictions in place due to COVID-19 and Australia’s strict quarantine measures.
President Joe Biden has cited the need to focus on China as he controversially withdrew the final US troops from Afghanistan last month.
In another sign to China, Morrison will head to Washington next week for a first in-person four-way summit with Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Dutton also pointed to Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea as partners for Australia in the region.
“They understand the values that we adhere to and that we’ve been consistently adhered to for a long period of time,” he said.