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– AP (File Photo)

SYDNEY: China must respect Australia's sovereign right to have United States Marines deployed in its north as Washington enhances its presence in the Pacific, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Wednesday.

Australia last year agreed to host up to 2,500 US Marines in the Northern Territory, a significant strategic shift by Washington which irritated China.

Carr told the Australian Financial Review the decision was not aimed at China.

“Just as Australia has taken a balanced view of China's rapid military modernisation, China should recognise Australia's sovereign right to reframe its alliance with the US as part of its own defence policy,” he said.

“We are interested in developing new architecture with China but are relaxed about the timing. Moreover, I have always said Australia should not have to choose between the US and China.”

The deployment of US Marines to Darwin, which began in April, has irked Beijing, which has said the Marines' presence is proof of a “Cold War mentality”.

But Canberra has argued there was nothing inconsistent with its growing relationship with China, its top trading partner and a crucial market for its resources, and its military alliance with the United States.

Australia has said there was cause for optimism about the emergence of China as a world power and has previously emphasised that strong and peaceful ties between Beijing and the US were key to regional stability.

Speaking about Australia's relationship with China and the US in a speech late Tuesday, Carr urged resistance to the idea it represented “a binary choice”.

He said both the Chinese and Americans insisted their relationship was “very good”, adding that there was economic self-interest in the relationship.

“The prosperity of China and America would be undermined by a period of military conflict or frozen relations,” he said.

Carr also said the Australia-China relationship would continue to be robust because it was in the interests of both nations to form a strong partnership.

The US military currently has only a limited deployment in long-term military ally Australia, including the Pine Gap Joint Defence Facility spy station near Alice Springs in the country's central desert.


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