US to increase rotation of forces to Australia, condemns China’s ‘dangerous and coercive actions’ in region

The US will increase rotations of its air, land and sea forces to Australia and has condemned China’s “dangerous and coercive actions” across the Indo-Pacific region.

The defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, also said the US would not allow Australia to experience a capability gap in its naval forces and pledged to help the country acquire nuclear-powered submarines “as quickly as possible”.

Austin and the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, welcomed their Australian counterparts Richard Marles and Penny Wong to the US state department on Wednesday for annual high-level talks between the two allies.

In the first such meeting since the change of government in Australia, the two sides agreed to deepen defence cooperation, with the US increasing the rotational presence of its forces in Australia.

Austin said the US would “increase rotations of our air, land and sea forces” to Australia as the two countries were “determined to be a force for stability” in the region.

“That includes rotations of Bomber task forces, fighters and future rotations of US navy and US army capabilities,” Austin said, adding that the specific details would be worked out by officials and announced at a later date.

In a sign of the growing trilateral cooperation with Tokyo, Austin said Japan would also be invited “to integrate into our force posture initiatives in Australia”.

Wednesday’s announcement is the latest step in the growth of the US presence in Australia, which already includes US Marines rotating through Darwin under a plan first put in place by the Gillard government and Obama administration.

A US-funded aircraft parking apron at RAAF Base Tindal, 320km south-east of Darwin, will be capable of accommodating up to six B-52 long-range, heavy bomber aircraft once constructed, officials confirmed earlier this year.

The annual talks between the two allies are known as the Australia-US Ministerial Consultations, or Ausmin. Last year’s meeting also flagged “enhanced air cooperation through the rotational deployment of US aircraft of all types in Australia”.

Wednesday’s meeting spanned a range of pressing issues but included Australia’s plans to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines under the Aukus partnership, which also includes the UK.

There are increasing expectations of a US design being adopted, but this has yet to be confirmed, and March is the deadline for key decisions.

Austin said the goal of consultations among the Aukus countries was to “design the optimal pathway for Australia to get a nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarine as quickly as possible”.

“We recognise where Australia is and when its capability begins to diminish and of course we will address all of that in the pathway that we create,” Austin said.

The UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, will join Marles and Austin for a first meeting of the Aukus defence ministers on Thursday.

Blinken described Aukus as “a vital security partnership” and said the three countries had made “significant strides” and were “committed to delivering on that promise at the earliest possible time”.

Marles welcomed those pledges. He said the US decision to share its naval nuclear propulsion technology with Australia, decades after doing so with the UK, was “a huge step” that would transform Australia’s strategic posture and “increase our capability dramatically”.

More broadly, Marles said the defence cooperation between the US and Australia would result in “an increased level of activity between our two countries across all domains”.

He said this was important “from the point of view of providing balance within our region”.

Wong said the US was Australia’s vital security ally and they shared a resolve “to enhance our relationship to meet the growing strategic challenges of our time”.

Despite broad continuity in the alliance, Wong said collaboration on climate change was an area of “enhanced emphasis” since the change of government in Australia.

While the Australian government has been seeking to “stabilise” the rocky relationship with China, it has repeatedly said Australia’s policy positions remain unchanged.

On Tuesday China’s foreign ministry offered a relatively muted response to the visit to Taiwan by six Australian politicians, urging Australia to “stop all forms of official interaction with the Taiwan region” and not to embolden independence forces.

The Australian government does not maintain official ties with Taiwan but pursues cultural and economic ties on an unofficial basis.

Wong said on Wednesday Australia had “a strong stake in preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and opposed any “unilateral change to the status quo”.

Wong said that stance was consistent with Australia’s bipartisan One-China policy. She also said the Russian invasion of Ukraine “matters to everybody” including in the Indo-Pacific.

The Global Times, a Chinese state media outlet known for its nationalistic takes on international affairs, published an article earlier in the week that warned Australia against “playing with fire” with the visit to Taiwan by MPs including Barnaby Joyce, a former deputy prime minister.

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