US to enhance alliance with Philippines and Australia amid rising tensions with China

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard meet in her office at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, Nov

US President Barack Obama announced an agreement Wednesday to expand the US military presence in Australia; meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed military support for the Philippines, indicating US concerns over an increasingly aggressive China.

The US-Australia agreement, announced during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, will position more US equipment and increase military personnel in Australia.

“With my visit to the region I am making it clear that the United States is stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region,” Obama said.

Deployment of an initial company of 200-250 Marines would begin next year and expand to up to 2,500 eventually, Gillard said.

The move may be seen by Beijing as further evidence of Washington’s attempt to encircle China, with US bases in Japan and Korea and now in Australia.

Obama also plans to raise maritime security in the South China Sea at the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Bali this week, defying China’s desire to keep this sensitive topic off the agenda.

Meanwhile, on a steaming hot day in Manila, Clinton signed a declaration marking sixty years since the US signed a security treaty with the Philippines in a highly symbolic ceremony aboard the Fitzgerald, a US Navy vessel that has operated in the South China Sea.

“We must ensure that this alliance remains strong, capable of delivering results for the people of the Philippines and the United States and our neighbors throughout the Pacific,” Clinton said.

Clinton underlined the US military and diplomatic support for the Philippines amid rising tensions between the Philippines and China over resource-rich South China Sea.

The statement called for a “rules-based approach in resolving competing claims in maritime areas”.

“The United States does not take any position on any territorial claim because any nation ... has a right to assert it. But they do not have a right to pursue it through intimidation or coercion,” Clinton said, not directly mentioning China.

The US military presence is sensitive in the Philippines due to the colonial legacy, and a small number of left-wing activists protested Clinton’s visit, accusing the US of using the former colony for its own profits.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has voiced support for expanding military cooperation with the US.

The Philippines has sought to rally Southeast Asian nations to stand firm with China over the maritime dispute, but Beijing has insisted that it only opens to bilateral negotiations.

Clinton will later visit Thailand ― another US ally in Southeast Asia ― in a show of support for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as she faces the devastating months-long floods.

Aside from the South China Sea dispute, the US has accused China of undervaluing its currency and undercutting its intellectual property.