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Analysts: US Radar in Australia Could Antagonize China

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr (R) and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith (2nd L) talk with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (L) in Perth, November 14, 2012.
Australia's decision to station a powerful U.S. radar and space telescope in the country has raised concern among some regional observers that it could inflame tensions with China. The plan was announced Wednesday at annual strategic talks between the two allies in the western Australian state capital, Perth.

The stationing of a powerful radar and space telescope in Australia is part of a sophisticated U.S. intelligence operation that includes Pine Gap, a satellite tracking facility near Alice Springs.

The satellites it controls are reported to span one-third of the planet, and include parts of China, Russia and the Middle East.

Michael McGinley, a senior lecturer in international relations and strategic studies at the Australian National University, believes the new radar and space telescope could antagonize the Chinese.

"Most of that focus is around Alice Springs at Pine Gap, but it is part of virtually a permanent United States intelligence presence inside Australia, which monitors large parts of Asia-Pacific. So it is not radically new, but it has the potential to be another item of friction in the relationship with China," said McGinley.

Australia’s naval bases and airfields are crucial to Washington’s plans, announced last year, to switch its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region as China’s military and economic growth continues to increase.

China has argued the United States' moves to enhance its presence in the East Asia-Pacific region is aimed at containing Beijing's growing regional influence.

Defense and foreign ministers from Australia and the United States concluded two days of talks in Perth, Wednesday. They discussed granting the Americans future access to air bases in northern Australia, as well as naval ports.

A joint communiqué says any enhanced U.S. military presence in Australia “would require substantial further study and additional decisions by both capitals.”

Australia’s formal security relationship with the United States dates back more than 60 years. The ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) treaty was signed in San Francisco in September 1951 at the height of the Cold War. Successive governments in Canberra have insisted that the military alliance with Washington is fundamental to Australia’s long-term security.