CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Indonesian ministers said Thursday they were comfortable with a planned increase in U.S. troops in northern Australia seen as an attempt to contain China and they hoped to join disaster relief training.
President Barack Obama announced in November a plan to send U.S. military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to the northern Australian city of Darwin to create a training hub to help allies and protect American interests across Asia.
Visiting Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro discussed the plans with their Australian counterparts during a four-minister forum on foreign policy and security objectives on Thursday. Australia has previously only held such meetings with key allies the United States, Britain and Japan. It was the first such forum for Indonesia.
Yusgiantoro said Indonesia, the world's third largest democracy and a vast archipelago prone to disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis, wanted to take optimal advantage of the Marines' presence in Australia with their humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities.
"We don't have a problem at all with the placement of the U.S. Marines in Darwin," Yusgiantoro told reporters after the meeting at Parliament House.
The closer military ties between Australia and its most important defense ally, the United States, have been seen as a reaction to China's increasing military assertiveness in Asia.
Natalegawa used a speech in Canberra on Wednesday to warn against any Cold War-style attempt to contain China.
While not specifically naming China, Natalegawa told a university forum that "the management or the containment of a rising country, we believe, would see the return of old-style Cold War power politics."
Natalegawa said Thursday that Australia had answered Indonesia's questions about the increased U.S. military presence, and suggested the plan did not amount to a backward step to the Cold War era.
"There is a general wish on the part of both countries to ensure that our region, namely the Asia-Pacific, continues to remain benign and peaceful and that we not revert to any conditions that would jeopardize that kind of already positive outlook," Natalegawa told reporters.
A commentary run by the official Xinhua News Agency has suggested China was uneasy but not alarmed over the renewed U.S. focus on Asia including the north Australian military presence.
Defense Minister Stephen Smith said the meeting Thursday had discussed the possibility of other countries joining in U.S.-Australian military exercises in Australia, including Indonesia and China.
"We don't discount that down the track," said Smith, adding that such exercises would likely focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.