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U.S. Says Troop Deployment to Australia Not Aimed at China

The U.S. decision to deploy Marines to Australia was not aimed at China and was meant to strengthen a longstanding alliance, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy told reporters in Beijing after meeting with Chinese army Deputy Chief of Staff Ma Xiaotian yesterday.

“We assured General Ma and his delegation that the U.S. does not seek to contain China, we do not view China as an adversary,” Flournoy said today. “These posture changes were first and foremost about strengthening our alliance with Australia.”

The Marine deployment, announced by President Barack Obama during a trip to Australia last month, will anchor an American presence in the western Pacific to safeguard shipping lanes. The move is part of Obama’s effort to refocus U.S. foreign policy on an area that accounts for half of the global economy.

The talks between the two militaries were the first since the U.S. announced a $5.3 billion weapons sale to Taiwan in September. A $6.4 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan in early 2010 prompted China to say it would suspend military-to-military talks.

The U.S. government is obligated by a 1979 law to provide weapons to Taiwan for its defense. The island has been ruled separately from the mainland since 1949.

Exercises Postponed

Following the September sale, China postponed planned joint anti-piracy exercises with the U.S. and a visit to China by Admiral Robert Willard, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Flournoy said. The U.S. and China were now making plans to hold joint anti-piracy and humanitarian assistance exercises next year, Flournoy said.

According to the U.S.-Australia defense accord, Marines will be stationed in northern Australia beginning next year. The troops will be deployed on a six-month rotation, starting with 250 personnel and eventually expanding to as many as 2,500.

The talks with Ma and his delegation were “very candid,” Flournoy said, declining to characterize the Chinese reaction to issues such as the Australian troop deployment, Taiwan arms sales and territorial disputes in the South China Sea where she said there was “no new ground broken.” Other topics discussed included the North Korean nuclear program and pro-democracy movements in Arab nations, she said.

Ma was reported by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying that “the fact that the consultations took place as scheduled shows that both countries are sincere about maintaining military exchanges.”

Carrier Program

On China’s aircraft carrier program, Flournoy said that “in many ways it is a logical outgrowth of China’s overall military development.”

China’s first aircraft carrier, built from an unfinished Soviet-era ship acquired from the Ukraine, set sail for a second set of sea trials last month, China’s defense ministry said in a statement on Nov. 29.

China’s defense spending has quadrupled in the past decade and it announced in March that it plans to spend $91.5 billion on defense this year. For fiscal year 2012, the Pentagon requested $553 billion for yearly operations and $118 billion for war operations. The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee cut a total of $27 billion from that request.

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