In Melbourne, Mullen keeps US sights on China, Iran
In Melbourne to meet with his Australian counterparts, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen stressed US interest in assessing China's growing military capabilities.
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A potential base-sharing arrangement with Australia could provide staging grounds for the US military to quickly respond to humanitarian disasters, US officials note. But China is clearly the greatest calculus in what officials are referring to as a new “forward-deployed diplomacy” in the Pacific.
Secretary Gates stressed that any talk about future US bases is speculation, and said he has yet to submit his global posture review, which will include recommendations on the way forward in the Pacific, to the National Security Council.
He says he would not want to take any steps that could create political backlash in Australia.
Secretary Clinton reiterated a similar point. “We’ve been here, we are here, and we will be here,” she said. “The United States is both a Pacific and an Atlantic power.”
Figuring heavily in the “forward-deployed” diplomatic push is India, where the US military is expanding cooperation with the Indian Navy in response to what Clinton calls “a more complex maritime environment,” which is generally diplomatic code for tensions with China.
Despite those tensions, US officials say they are anxious to strengthen the relationship with China, where Gates is scheduled to visit early next year. And though Mullen says he has no visit to the region scheduled for now, he has invited his Chinese counterpart to come to the Pentagon.
In the meantime, he has sought advice this week from Australian allies, who enjoy a more robust relationship with China. “I really am anxious to put something in place that’s going to work,” says Mullen.
His questions for his counterparts throughout the world, he says, are an effort to look ahead to a time when the United States has a better military-to-military relationship with China. “So as we look to a time when we would have one, I kind of know where to go,” says Mullen, “And what the target is.”