(Australian Associated Press)
Australia is in the front line of the world’s most strategically competitive area and plays a vital role promoting peace and security in the region with the United States, US Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse says.
Mr Culvahouse met US Marine Corps troops stationed in Darwin on Wednesday in his first visit since taking up his posting in March.
He said he thought the number of US troops in the NT and Australia would increase beyond the 2500 in the Top End this year, which is itself a doubling from two years ago and a deal dating back to 2011.
The comments echo the sentiments of US Senator Richard Shelby, who led a delegation to visit the Marines in Darwin last month and said the troops counterbalanced China’s military influence in the region.
“There is interest in training with such not only great allies as the Australians but people who will test our capabilities, maybe unlike anyone else in the world,” Mr Culvahouse told reporters.
“Yes, think you will see more United States resources joining in exercises in Australia.”
When asked about threats to peace and the rules-based international order from tensions among global powers the US, China and Russia, Mr Culvahouse, who is 70, compared it to his time as a lawyer and working as counsel for former President Ronald Reagan.
“During the height of the Cold War, we practised periodically evacuating the White House in anticipation of a nuclear strike. I knew that I had six minutes to get on the second helicopter,” he told reporters.
“It is different now, there is a strategic competition in the Indo Pacific and Australia sits at the frontline, as I see it, of the most strategically competitive area of the world.
“The United States is mindful of that but at the same time the US preference is to engage China and other nations that maybe are not playing by the rules.
“It seems like half of the United States government is now involved in trade negotiations with China – we come out here prepared to engage and negotiate but at the same time resolved to call out malign influences when we seem them.”
He said his main priorities as ambassador were broadening and deepening the relationship between the US and Australia, that was already strong, and working together in the region .
His visit included commemorating this week’s 77th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, which was a major naval battle between the Japanese Navy and US and Australian forces in the Pacific in World War II.