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`Challenging Times' See Australia Vow to Boost Defense Spending

  • Turnbull government to release military blueprint on Thursday
  • Attention to focus on rhetoric regarding China's ambitions

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged to bolster defense spending for Australia, a major ally of the U.S., as tensions with China rise in the western Pacific.

The government is committed to a pledge by previous leader Tony Abbott to increase defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2023, Turnbull said. Military spending was last at that level in 1995. The next defense blueprint will be released Thursday, he said.

The Defence White Paper “does have the result of a higher level of spending on defense,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. “We do live in more challenging times.” The paper is designed to “ensure we play our part in delivering and ensuring regional security,” he said.

The document will be scrutinized for the government’s descriptions of China’s military ambitions in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the region.

Australia, which hosts U.S. Marines and military exercises in its remote northern regions, is seen as a partner in President Barack Obama’s economic and military rebalance to Asia, with Turnbull last week calling on China to refrain from militarizing reefs it has reclaimed in the South China Sea.

Extra Forces

Speaking Tuesday in Washington at a Senate committee hearing, U.S. Pacific Command chief Harry Harris said he relied “heavily” on Australia for its advanced military capabilities, plus “Australia’s war fighting experience and leadership in operations around the world.”

The new government document will see the recruitment of an additional 5,000 military personnel across the army, navy and air force, taking the approved number of servicemen and women to about 63,000, the Australian newspaper reported Wednesday, without citing sources.

It will also ensure the size of Australia’s submarine fleet is doubled to 12, the paper said. A decision on whether the new submarines will be designed by French, Japanese or German firms is not expected until the middle of the year, it said.

The defense blueprint is “directed at ensuring that we have a strong Australian defense industry” that will boost employment and provide other economic benefits, Turnbull said.