Initiated in 2011 during the administration of US President Barack Obama, the annual joint Chinese/Australian/US military drills in northern Australia will last six months and are intended, in part, to include Canberra in regional preparedness drills with Washington, its biggest security partner, and Beijing, its largest trading partner.
According to Marine commander Lt. Col. Brian Middleton, "I think that the commitment that [the US has] taken to put a task force here with a conversation to get larger over the years says that we do think this is an important region," as reported by Ntnews.com.
Well below original plans for 2,500 US Marines to participate in the drills, the 1,250 now in Australia will join the largest US deployment of military aircraft to the region in history, one more indicator of heightened tensions in the area due to continued ballistic missile and nuclear weapons testing by North Korea.
The ongoing international squabble between the US and China over the hotly disputed South China Sea has also created challenges for Canberra, as they diplomatically straddle criticism from Beijing for supporting Washington's freedom of navigation overflights, and increasingly strident calls from the Pentagon to do more in the region to support US interests.
Remarking on the long-standing alliance between Canberra and Washington, Middleton said, "I think it is just a good move any time we can strengthen the long-standing partnership and alliance between our two countries. We stand ready to fight and win the night always."