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With Eye on China, Obama Boosts U.S. Military Presence in Australia

November 16, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: More than 2,000 American troops are heading to Australia under a new security agreement. President Obama made the announcement today, but he stopped short of saying that the move is meant as a message to China.

The president arrived with plans in hand for the largest U.S. deployment in Australia since World War II. The announcement came in Canberra after a meeting with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What it allows us to do is to not only build capacity and cooperation between our two countries, but 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, that they’re getting the exercises, and that we have the presence that’s necessary to maintain the security architecture in the region.

RAY SUAREZ: A small force of U.S. Marines would lead the way, some of them operating out of Darwin in the north, using Australian military facilities.

JULIA GILLARD, Australian prime minister: Through mid-2012, Australia will welcome deployments of a company-sized rotation of 200 to 250 Marines in the Northern Territory for around six months at a time. Over a number of years, we intend to build on this relationship, in a staged way, to a full force of around 2,500 personnel.

RAY SUAREZ: But the move was widely seen as a response to China’s growing military power in the region. Increasingly, the Chinese have been asserting territorial claims over parts of the Pacific and resurrecting old disputes in the South China Sea.

The Philippines and Vietnam have sounded alarms about Chinese naval forces entering territorial waters without permission.

Still, President Obama refused to make a direct link between Chinese actions and his announcement today.

BARACK OBAMA: I think the notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we’re looking to exclude China is mistaken.

RAY SUAREZ: Instead, the president said Beijing must live up to the norms of accepted international behavior.

BARACK OBAMA: So, where China is playing by those rules, recognizing its new role, I think this is a win-win situation. There are going to be times where they’re not, and we will send a clear message to them that we think that they need to be on track in terms of accepting the rules and responsibilities that come with being a world power.

RAY SUAREZ: In Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official quickly dismissed the president’s advice and the U.S. military move. He told the AFP news agency, “It may not be quite appropriate to intensify and expand military alliances and may not be in the interest of countries in the region.”

But, back in Washington, a congressional advisory panel today warned both the White House and Congress to step up the scrutiny of Chinese military expansion and look for any signs of aggressiveness.