‘We’ve got your back’: US assures Australia amid China threat
The mighty US Pacific naval fleet has told Australia 'we've got your back' as tensions in the region mount in the face of China's aggressive expansion program particularly in the South China Sea.
Yesterday's reassurance from the Commander of the US Navy's Third Fleet, Vice Admiral Scott D. Conn, comes amid concerns President Donald Trump's military commitment to a nervous Asia has been wavering under his "America First" policy.
But it also comes as Beijing yesterday ordered the firing of two "aircraft carrier killer" missiles into the South China Sea from the mainland, moments after warning commercial aircraft to avoid the area.
The missiles have been dubbed aircraft carrier killers because of their potential to bury deep into a deck before exploding. The DF-26 has a range of 4000km and the advanced DF-21D a range of 1800km.
Analysts said the timing of the firing of such missiles, banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the US and Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, was a clear warning to Washington.
In an invitation-only press conference specifically aimed at Asia-Pacific correspondents, Vice Admiral Conn said he wanted to reassure partners and allies the US stood staunchly committed to a free and open Pacific region, and was prepared to react to any threats to allies, notably Australia.
Australia is currently participating with the US and eight other allied nations including Canada, New Zealand and France on the largest naval exercise in the world, Pacific Rim (RIMPAC), which the Vice Admiral said better prepared allies as China threatens passage through the South China Sea.
"It is so important to demonstrate to ourselves and the world that we have the resolve to make the choices to do these important events and exercises because they are so important to the stability of the region," Vice Admiral Conn said in response to a question from News Corp Australia.
"Whether we find ourselves facing a threat of the free flow of goods and services across the world's oceans or where a response is needed as a result of natural disaster, the time to establish interoperability and forge key relationships is not in the midst of a crisis, but (to) have those relationships and trust already well established," he said.
"That is what makes RIMPAC so important … as a force of Allies to ensure security and stability and ready for any challenge we may face."
Australia has five warships including guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart and an air task force including the FA-18, EA-18G Growler and E-7A Wedgetail surveillance aircraft involved in RIMPAC.
Vice Admiral Conn said forces constantly monitored the region and the US was very committed to the Pacific.
He declined to detail his view of the strategic outlook in the region but said China had to commit to international law.
"In terms of the US and Australia, have very, very strong ties that go back to World War I and you have been by our side and we have been by your side I think pretty much ever since then and that is going to continue. We look for all opportunities to continue to strengthen our very strong relationship as we move forward in day-to-day operations and future exercises."
President Trump's administration has come under criticism in Asia over his unpredictable foreign policy shifts, including withdrawing from a Pacific trade deal, failing to attend both the ASEAN and APEC summits and reviewing troop commitments to Japan and South Korea. He has however declared his Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy prioritises the region for security co-operation. Part of this policy includes a significant ramping up of US military resources to be based in Australia including B52 bombers.
The Beijing missile firing earlier this week came after a US U2 spy plane was reportedly tracked entering a no-fly zone off the north coast of China during a People's Liberation Army live firing drill in the Bohai Sea.
Originally published as 'We've got your back': US assures Australia amid China threat