Two hundred U.S. Marines arrived Wednesday at their new base in Darwin, Australia, the first of 2,500 that eventually will be deployed there as part of the Pentagon's effort to increase the U.S. military presence in Asia.
The Marines, who will rotate in for six month tours in small units, will be housed in Australian barracks just outside the port city, but will travel throughout the region to meet and train with U.S allies, according to Marine Corps officials.
The 200 who arrived Wednesday, members of the 3rd Marine Regiment based in Hawaii, were greeted by Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith as they got off their charter flight.
"The world is moving to the Asia Pacific … We need to respond to that," Mr. Smith said, explaining the deployment, which President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed to in November.
"The world needs to essentially come to grips with the rise of China, the rise of India, the movement of strategic and political and economic influence to our part of the world," said Mr. Smith.
Darwin is in the far north of Australia, 500 miles south of Indonesia and close to the strategically vital, resource-rich and hotly contested waters of the South China Sea.
China claims broad sovereignty over the South China Sea — a claim not recognized by its neighbors.
Beijing viewed the U.S.-Australia deal, signed during ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the alliance between the two countries, as a threatening move, analysts say.
Canberra and Washington sought to allay Chinese concerns, describing the deal as a way to increase cooperation among allied militaries in the region, not as an act of force projection aimed at China.
"The notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken," Mr. Obama said in November, adding that "we welcome a rising, peaceful China."
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