The United States and Australia have announced expanded military cooperation aimed at bolstering security in the Asia-Pacific region. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the agreement after his arrival for a one-day visit.
Air Force One touched down after the 10-hour flight from Honolulu, where Obama hosted the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit, focusing on expanding regional free trade.
A full ceremonial welcome followed at Parliament House, complete with national anthems and a 21-gun salute.
Standing with President Obama, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced an "enhancement" of the 60 year ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, U.S.) Treaty, in which as many as 2,500 U.S. Marines will rotate through bases in the north.
“We are a region that is growing economically, but stability is important for economic growth too, and our alliance has been a bedrock for stability in our region. So building on our alliance through this new initiative is about stability,” Gillard said.
The "force posture initiatives", as a White House statement describes them, will begin in mid-2012 with 250 U.S. Marines deployed and conducting exercises and training in Darwin and bases in Northern Australia. This would expand to a 2,500-person Marine Air Ground Task Force.
There would also be closer cooperation between the two countries' air forces, involving what White House officials called "a significant increase" in rotations of U.S. aircraft through northern Australia and prepositioning of equipment and supplies.
Both leaders fielded reporter's questions about the extent to which the agreement is designed as part of the response to rising capabilities of China in the Asia-Pacific region.
President Obama put his answer in the context of what he calls the overall message for China, about being a world power in an economically important region.
"With their rise comes increased responsibilities," said the president. "It is important for them to play by the rules of the road and, in fact, help underwrite the rules that have allowed so much remarkable econ progress to be made over the last several decades. And, that is going to be true on a whole host of issues."
President Obama, Prime Minister Gillard, and U.S. officials say a major objective of the agreement is also to increase the ability of the United States to quickly assist countries in East and Southeast Asia, and train and exercise with them, in such areas as anti-piracy and disaster response.
The president says the U.S. message to the entire region is "we are here to stay." A White House official says the United States is maintaining its security capabilities and alliances in Northeast Asia while enhancing them in Southeast Asia.
Obama's speech to Australia's Parliament on Thursday is expected to communicate a broad U.S. economic and security vision for the Asia-Pacific region, emphasizing the importance of stability and the region's potential.
A White House official says he will also address questions and concerns in the region about tough budget choices Washington needs to make and whether these will make it hard to maintain or increase the U.S. security presence.
In the northern city, Darwin, Thursday, Obama will speak directly to Australian soldiers and U.S. Marines at a Royal Australian Air Force Base.