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New US training base in Australia is all about the rise of China

For months Pentagon officials have been signaling a shift in US attention to the Pacific amid concerns about the rise of China as an economic and military power. The news from Australia is confirmation.

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US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speak at a joint news conference at the Parliament House in Canberra on Nov. 16. Obama and Gillard on Wednesday unveiled plans for a de facto military base in the Australian port of Darwin.

Larry Downing/Reuters

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The news that thousands of US troops will be headed to a forward base in Australia over the next several years is a robust confirmation of what senior Pentagon officials have been predicting for months: That as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the US military will increasingly begin turning its attention to the Pacific.

This stepped-up focus is the result of concerns among many in the Defense Department that China is economically and militarily strong – and getting stronger by the day.

It is not only China’s ascendancy, however, that concerns senior military officials. It is equally disturbing, the officials gripe, that Chinese officials are far from transparent about both their technological advances and their intentions.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta emphasized these points during his first trip to Asia last month. That he took up the topic was not simply a function of his audience. He also raised the specter of China’s rise earlier in October as well, at a town-hall meeting with US troops in Europe.

“We’re concerned about China,” he told them, and it is a concern the Pentagon intends to address, Mr. Panetta added – despite the strong push to cut the defense budget during a period of economic crisis.

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