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U.S., Aussies detail forward basing agreement

As many as 2,500 troops of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force will regularly rotate in and out of Australia's northern city of Darwin under the new forward deployment announced this week by President Obama.

Also, U.S. Air Force warplanes will regularly visit northern Royal Australian Air Force bases for joint exercises, said Obama and Australia's prime minister, Julia Gillard. The official explanation was this was in the interest of "stability" -- that's the word that kept coming up over and over again in the official language from both the American and Australian sides.

"We are a region that is growing economically," Gillard said, "but stability is important for economic growth, too.  And our alliance has been a bedrock of stability in our region.  So building on our alliance through this new initiative is about stability.  It will be good for our Australian Defence Force to increase their capabilities by joint training, combined training, with the U.S. Marines and personnel.  It will mean that we are postured to better respond together, along with other partners in the Asia Pacific, to any regional contingency, including the provision of humanitarian assistance and dealing with natural disasters."

Here was how Obama put it, in their joint press conference: "As Julia described, we are increasing our cooperation -- and I'd add, America's commitment to this region.  Our U.S. Marines will begin rotating through Darwin for joint training and exercises.  Our Air Force will rotate additional aircraft through more airfields in Northern Australia.  And these rotations, which are going to be taking place on Australian bases, will bring our militaries even closer and make them even more effective.  We'll enhance our ability to train, exercise, and operate with allies and partners across the region, and that, in turn, will allow us to work with these nations to respond even faster to a wide range of challenges, including humanitarian crises and disaster relief, as well as promoting security cooperation across the region."

All very convivial, but reporters' first question was, of course, about how China would respond to all this talk. Here's what Obama said, and his answer is worth excerpting in full:

Well, first, with respect to these new initiatives, this rotational deployment is significant because what it allows us to do is to not only build capacity and cooperation between our two countries, but it also allows us to meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region that want to feel that they're getting the training, they're getting the exercises, and that we have the presence that's necessary to maintain the security architecture in the region.

And so, as Julia mentioned, this is a region that’s becoming increasingly important.  The economy in this area is going to be the engine for world economic growth for some time to come.  The lines of commerce and trade are constantly expanding.  And it’s appropriate then for us to make sure that not only our alliance but the security architecture of the region is updated for the 21st century, and this initiative is going to allow us to do that.

It also allows us to respond to a whole host of challenges, like humanitarian or disaster relief, that, frankly, given how large the Asia Pacific region is, it can sometimes be difficult to do, and this will allow us to be able to respond in a more timely fashion and also equip a lot of countries, smaller countries who may not have the same capacity, it allows us to equip them so that they can respond more quickly as well.

And I guess the last part of your question, with respect to China, I’ve said repeatedly and I will say again today that we welcome a rising, peaceful China.  What they’ve been able to achieve in terms of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the last two decades has been nothing short of remarkable.  And that is good not just for China, but it’s potentially good for the region.  And I know Australia’s economy, obviously, has benefitted by the increased demand that you’re seeing in China.

The main message that I’ve said not only publicly but also privately to the Chinese is that with their rise comes increased responsibilities.  It’s important for them to play by the rules of the road and, in fact, help underwrite the rules that have allowed so much remarkable economic progress to be made over the last several decades.  And that’s going to be true on a whole host of issues.

So where China is playing by those rules, recognizing its new role, I think this is a win-win situation.  There are going to be times where they’re not, and we will send a clear message to them that we think that they need to be on track in terms of accepting the rules and responsibilities that come with being a world power.

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