CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - The US military beef-up in South Asia is at least partially linked to China's growing military might, but President Obama insists there is no fear factor involved.
"I think the notion that we fear China is mistaken," the president told reporters in Canberra, Australia Wednesday.
He quickly added, "The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken. And I'll take [trade group] TPP [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] as a perfect example of this. We haven't excluded China from the TPP."
Mr. Obama is on a visit to the Australian capital to reinforce the US-Australia alliance on a host of issues.
The focal point of the visit is an agreement that calls for a rotating, but permanent, US military presence in Australia.
The president and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard laid out the details at a joint press conference at the Australian Parliament building. When asked whether China-related security concerns fed the decision, the president deflected.
His aides were not so coy.
"[I]t's a part of the U.S. sending a signal that we're going to be present, that we're going to continue to play the role of underpinning security in this part of the region. Part of that context is a rising China," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes explained after the press conference.
China was dubious about the announcement. Its Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weimin said, "[W]hether strengthening and expanding a military alliance is in the common interests of the region's countries and the international community is worthy of discussion."
The White House has insisted that regardless of the China component, the main reasons for the decision relate to trade and humanitarian and disaster assistance. The plan is to have a Marine Air Ground Task Force using Australian facilities to act as a "force multiplier" in the region. Troops will be able to respond to disasters or other regional needs with greater speed and agility. No new US bases will be built as a part of the deal. US Marines will use existing Australian facilities to rotate into and out of the region beginning with a small group of some 250 Marines next year and building up to a total of 2,500. Additionally, the number and frequency of US aircraft using Australian air bases will increase and more bases will be in use.
On a host of issues, the president said as long as China is abiding by international norms, its growing global presence will be embraced.
"[W]e welcome a rising, peaceful China," he said.
"So where China is playing by those rules, recognizing its new role, I think this is a win-win situation."