Obama insists U.S. does not fear China

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — President Barack Obama insisted Wednesday that the United States does not fear China, even as he announced a new security agreement with Australia that is widely viewed as a response to China’s growing aggressiveness.

China responded swiftly, warning that an expanded U.S. military footprint in Australia may not be appropriate and deserved greater scrutiny.

The agreement, announced during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, will expand the U.S. military presence in Australia, positioning more U.S. personnel and equipment there, and increasing American access to bases. About 250 U.S. Marines will begin a rotation in northern Australia starting next year, with a full force of 2,500 military personnel staffing up over the next several years.

Obama called the deployment “significant,” and said it would build capacity and cooperation between the U.S. and Australia. U.S. officials were careful to emphasize that the pact was not an attempt to create a permanent American military presence in Australia.

“It also allows us to meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region that want to feel that they’re getting the training, they’re getting the exercises, and that we have the presence that’s necessary to maintain the security architecture in the region,” Obama said.

President Obama reviews the troops with Federation Guard Maj. John Cottis (left) during an official arrival ceremony on Nov. 16, 2011, at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. (Associated Press)

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President Obama reviews the troops with Federation Guard Maj. John Cottis (left) ... more >

The president spoke shortly after arriving in the Australian capital, his second stop on a nine-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region. After a 10-hour flight from Honolulu, where he hosted an economic summit, Obama headed straight into meetings with Gillard.

On Thursday, Obama will address the Australian Parliament, then fly to the northern city of Darwin, where some of the Marines deploying to Australia next year will be based.

During his news conference with Gillard, the president sidestepped questions about whether the security agreement was aimed at containing China. But he said the U.S. would keep sending a clear message that China needs to accept the responsibilities that come with being a world power.

“It’s important for them to play by the rules of the road,” he said.

And he insisted that the U.S is not fearful of China’s rise.

“I think the notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we’re looking to exclude China is mistaken,” he said.

China was immediately leery of the prospect of an expanded U.S. military presence in Australia. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Wednesday that it was worth discussing whether the plan was in line with the common interests of the international community.

Obama national security aide Ben Rhodes said the agreement was not only appropriate, but also a response to the demand from nations in the region that have signaled they want the U.S. to be present.

The U.S. and smaller Asian nations have grown increasingly concerned about China claiming dominion over vast areas of the Pacific that the U.S. considers international waters, and reigniting old territorial disputes, including confrontations over the South China Sea. China’s defense spending has increased threefold since the 1990s to about $160 billion last year, and its military has recently tested a new stealth jet fighter and launched its first aircraft carrier.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that the goal of the new security pact is to signal that the U.S. and Australia will stick together in face of any threats.

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