U.S. Says Military Focus on Asia-Pacific Isn’t ‘Saber-Rattling’

The U.S. military’s realignment in the Asia-Pacific shouldn’t be seen by China or other nations in the region as an act of aggression, Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos said.

“I don’t look at it as saber-rattling,” Amos said at a press conference today in the northern Australian city of Darwin, where as many as 2,500 Marines are being stationed. “We’ve got a lot of interests here.”

The Marines are being deployed in Australia’s northern region under a plan announced by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard in November. The U.S. is promoting the realignment as an opportunity to boost cooperation with regional powers, and Amos said the Marines could help save lives by responding to Southeast Asian natural disasters.

The increased military presence, including a bid to strengthen naval defenses in the Philippines, is part of a U.S. push to boost its footprint in the Asia-Pacific as China’s military power grows. Along with longstanding disputes over intellectual property rights and the yuan exchange rate, China and the U.S. are grappling with diplomatic issues such as nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

A policy of trying to contain China wasn’t viable, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said in a separate speech in Sydney today.

Containing China

“I do not believe it is possible for a country or countries to contain another country with a population of 1.3 billion, whether that is China or India,” Smith said. “Australia’s policy is for Australia and the world to engage China, and for China to engage the world.”

Australia is opposed to the idea of the U.S. operating an aircraft carrier base at the HMAS Stirling naval port in Perth, Smith said Aug. 2, after a think tank suggested the possibility in a report to Congress.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department considered how the U.S. military could undertake the so-called “pivot” in the Asia-Pacific announced by Obama last year in response to China’s increasing influence.

“We’ve got five major treaties in the Asia-Pacific area,” Amos said today. “Besides the natural disasters and freedom of commerce and all of that, we have a lot of trading partners in this part of the world.”