US Marines to be based in Australia: reports

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 File of US Marine Corps General meeting with troops in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Reports claim that the US will expand its permanent military presence in Australia.

US President Barack Obama will use a visit to Australia next week to announce that America will begin stationing Marines at a base in Darwin, reports said on Friday.

In a front page exclusive, the Sydney Morning Herald said the new permanent military presence was a sign of heightened concern about the rise of China.

The US currently has only a limited deployment in Australia, including the Pine Gap Joint Defense Facility spy station near Alice Springs.

Obama arrives in the country on Wednesday, visiting the capital Canberra before becoming the first US president to travel to the Northern Territory when he lands in Darwin.

It is in the country's tropical north that he will make the announcement with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the newspaper said.

The Australian also reported the plan, saying that other locations for a US presence were also possible, such as Perth in the west.

The US will not be building a new base in Darwin, but instead will use the existing Robertson Barracks near the city.

The base is currently home to some 4,500 Australian soldiers and will need to be expanded to cater for the US Marines, the reports said, citing sources who declined to detail how many troops or sailors would be rotating through.

US Marines are already based at Okinawa in Japan and on Guam as America's chief combat force in the Pacific theatre.

Federal cabinet minister Tony Burke would not confirm or deny the reports.

"Can't confirm it. I don't know the answer to your question," he told the Seven Network while Trade Minister Craig Emerson also would not comment when asked on Sky News.

The Herald cited former intelligence analyst Alan Dupont as saying the move was a response to the rise of China, which is boosting its military capabilities.

"And particularly, it's about the increased vulnerability of US forces in Japan and Guam to the new generation of Chinese missiles."

Andrew Shearer, a former senior diplomat at the Australian embassy in Washington, told AFP: "There's no doubt we will see a significant announcement."

But he played down the China threat.

"Everyone draws the China connection but it's as much to do with the rise of India as well. It's not all about defense, but to be able to conduct disaster relief, counter piracy and keep shipping lanes free.

"China certainly comes into their thinking, but it's not all about China," said Shearer, the director of studies at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

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