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US, Australia sign a new defence pact

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MELBOURNE (PTI): US Wednesday announced that it will deploy up to 2,500 marines in northern Australia as the two countries boosted their decades-old security pact, a move that angered Beijing.

The new defence pact was unveiled at a joint press conference by visiting US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The pact would allow up to 250 US marines to be stationed in Darwin in northern Australia in the first phase beginning next year and kicking of a rotation every six months, which will see more than 2,500 marines stationed in the country in the next three years.

"In coming years we plan to build on this in a staged manner," Gillard said, hinting that US military presence in the country might be further boosted.

The new agreement updates a 60-year-old security alliance between the two nations and was signed soon after Obama landed in the Australian capital Canberra on a twice-postponed visit, during which China's rapid rise as a global economic and military power figured prominently.

While Obama asserted that the pact was a commitment to entire Asia Pacific region, Gillard said, "We have agreed to joint initiatives to enhance the alliance."

But China reacted angrily to the pact, saying that deployment of US forces in Australia "may not be quite appropriate."

"It may not be quite appropriate to intensify military alliances and may not be in the interest of the countries within this region," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters in Beijing.

But Washington quickly dismissed China's complaints with the Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes saying, "it is entirely appropriate."

Under the new pact US forces will conduct exercises and training on rotation at Australian bases with country's military. The two nations also agreed to enhance air force cooperation and visits by US carriers to northern Australia.

In the run-up to the signing of the pact, Obama said Washington did not fear China or was not working to block Beijing's rise from American economic alliances in the Asia Pacific region, but wanted to send a clear message to them that China has to accept responsibilities that come with being a world power.

The US-Australia pact comes in the wake of growing concerns of China's smaller neighbours over its claims to vast stretches of the strategic South China Sea, which Washington considers international waters.

On the pact, Obama said the new US deployment to Australia was important to assuage partners in the Pacific region that "we have the presence that is necessary to maintain the security architecture of the region."

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