The day before, Labor prime minister Julia Gillard called the decades-long alliance with Washington the foundation stone of the Australian governments foreign policy. A delegation headed by U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates, and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Michael Mullen met their Australian counterparts led by Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
They announced plans for expanded U.S. access to Australian military bases and more joint facilities. The two powers will step up war exercises in Australia alongside other allied forces.
The talks also discussed the role of the Australian military in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Common objectives in the Asia-Pacific region with the rise of China and the shifting balance of power in the region were also key topics.
In a column in the November 19 Australian, Gillard wrote, Australia will remain engaged in Afghanistan for the next decade at least. Canberra has 1,550 military personnel operating there, mainly in Uruzgan Province. This is the largest non-NATO foreign force in Afghanistan.
The U.S. envoys stressed that Washington was now more interested in places, not bases. This refers to ports, airstrips, and other facilities in allied countries adapted for regular use by Washington, but that are not U.S. military bases as such. Canberra is rearming its military with compatible equipment for greater interoperability with U.S. forces.
The U.S. military already conducts regular exercises with Australian forces in northern Australia. The next biennial war practice will be at Shoalwater Bay, Queensland, in 2011.
New places in Australia under consideration include army and air bases in Townsville, north Queensland; the port of Darwin, as well as air weapons and field training areas in the Northern Territory; and naval and air bases in Western Australia.
A new system to track ballistic missiles and satellites in the Southern Hemisphere was discussed. The preferred site is the North West Cape communications base in Western Australia, already used by Washington to contact and position nuclear submarines.
The plans also include stepped-up joint space-based intelligence gathering and cyber warfare. Joint facilities for U.S. satellite eavesdropping and control networks already exist at Pine Gap in central Australia, and Geraldton in Western Australia.
Washington is determined to strengthen and deepen its strong alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand, Clinton said. Washington is also developing various regional summits among Asian governments.
Gates indicated Washington was concerned about Chinas growing naval power and that the U.S. military is undertaking a global review of its force posture. Mullen insisted the U.S. would continue to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters near China.
Clinton stopped for two days in New Zealand en route to Australia. Rudd said the Australian government lobbied Washington to bring its smaller ally in from the cold. Military cooperation between the governments of the United States and New Zealand diminished after a dispute in 1986 over Wellingtons exclusion of nuclear armed and powered ships from its ports.
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