Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has assured China the boosting of US troops on Australian soil was not directed at Beijing while warning the country not to interfere in Canberra’s security decisions.
US President Barack Obama announced in Canberra on Wednesday that the US would deploy up to 2,500 Marines in the northern city of Darwin in what many see as a counterbalance to China’s growing might.
The US has viewed with concern China’s increasing assertiveness in the region on territorial disputes, as have many of China’s neighbours.
While Beijing’s official reaction has been relatively mild, the country’s state media has gone further, accusing Obama of trying to win votes by using his diplomatic ambitions in Asia to detract from his country’s economic woes.
Rudd said China, whose voracious demand for natural resources has made it Australia’s biggest trading partner, had been briefed about the announcement before it happened.
“It’s fair to say from what you see from the Chinese foreign ministry that they have reservations about what we have done, but Australia will not be changing its position,” Rudd told ABC television late Thursday.
“Number one position from us, and it’s based in absolute reality, is that this enhanced set of arrangements with the United States are not directed at any one country,” he said.
At the same time, Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking China expert and former prime minister, warned Beijing not to get involved in Australian policy decisions.
“Let’s just be very blunt about it, we are not going to have our national security policy dictated by any other external power. That’s a sovereign matter for Australia,” he said.
“We don’t seek to dictate to the Chinese what their national security policy should be. Therefore this must be advanced on the basis of mutual respect.”
Rudd dismissed suggestions the arrangement with the US could make Australia a potential target if tensions flared in the South China Sea.
“It is simply imprudent and wrong to speculate publicly on what might or might not happen in given strategic contingencies in the future,” he said.
The initial deployment of up to 250 Marines will occur from mid-2012 with the US planning to eventually send up to 2,500 troops to northern Australia as the two nations expand their 60-year military alliance.