SYDNEY – The United States stressed Tuesday it welcomes the rise of China and wants to work constructively with Beijing as it signed a deal to deploy 2,500 Marines to Australia as part of its “rebalance” to Asia.
China bristled when the agreement to deploy Marines to the northern city of Darwin was first announced by President Barack Obama in 2011.
But after signing the deal at the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in Sydney, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was not interested in conflict with the Asian powerhouse.
“We welcome the rise of China as a global partner, hopefully as a powerful economy, as a full participating constructive member of the international community,” he said.
“We are not seeking conflict and confrontation. And our hope is that China will likewise take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of it and be that cooperative partner.”
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop earlier defended the deal to bring U.S. Marines and Air Force personnel to the Northern Territory, denying it was aimed at China, which is embroiled in maritime disputes with neighbors.
“That’s not what it is directed to do at all. It’s about working closely with the United States to ensure that we can work on regional peace and security,” she told a radio program.
“The United States is rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific so it’s ways we can work together to support economic development as well as security and peace.”
After the talks Bishop, who also hosted U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said the discussions were broad — ranging from tensions on the Korean Peninsula to the crisis in Ukraine and to conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan.
The threat of foreign jihadist militants fighting in these conflicts and then returning home radicalized was also explored. The U.S. and Australia agreed to raise the issue at the United Nations.
Kerry said this problem, highlighted by images in local media of the 7-year-old son of an Australian jihadist in Syria holding a severed head, underscored the degree to which Islamic State fighters were “so far beyond the pale.”
“This image, perhaps even an iconic photograph, is really one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photos ever displayed,” Kerry said.
“It’s no accident that every country in the region is opposed to ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).”
Bishop made no comment about the prospect of an increased U.S. military presence beyond the Marines, some 1,200 of whom are already in the country.
But a communique issued after the talks said that enhanced aircraft and naval cooperation was discussed, while the allies would also examine options for Australia’s contributions to ballistic missile defense in the region.
Bishop said there existed between Australia and the United States “a clear instinct for collaboration across a wide area of endeavor.”
“There is a desire to share the burden of implementing regional and global peace and prosperity, security and stability,” she said.
Bishop added that there was no more important security partner for Australia than the U.S. and their long-standing alliance “had never been stronger.”
But she said Canberra did not envisage Australian troops would return to Iraq, where the U.S. is carrying out airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops to try to combat jihadist fighters.
However, Australia has offered support for humanitarian relief.
Kerry also ruled out sending troops to Iraq.
Speaking at the start of the talks at Sydney’s harborside Admiralty House, he said the Australia-U.S. relationship was “essential to the stability of the Asia-Pacific region.”
“We do face new challenges,” he said, citing North Korea and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.