PERTH, Australia, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Defense Minister Stephen Smith said Tuesday Australia would become more involved in the U.S. effort to focus more on the Asia-Pacific region.
Speaking at a naval base in Perth ahead of meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Smith said the naval vessel Stirling would rise in prominence as the Indian Ocean becomes more strategically important, The Age reported.
"I've been an advocate and an arguer of the point of view that India is on the rise, the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean is on the rise," Smith said. "The enhanced importance of Stirling and its utility is to me something that will occur as sure as night follows day."
Clinton and Panetta are in Australia for two days of meetings with Australian leaders, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard Smith, Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Smith. Discussions include the next stage of rotating U.S. Marines through the Australian military facility at Darwin, cybersecurity, satellite junk in space, post-2014 military contributions to Afghanistan and increasing U.S. Air Force access to Northern Territory airfields.
Clinton praised Australia's growing relationship with India, and encouraged Australia to deepen its military cooperation, including joint exercises, with India.
Some observers have said the U.S. shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific region is aimed squarely at China, but U.S. officials have denied it.
Asked about China, Clinton said the United States looks "for ways to support the peaceful rise of China."
"And [we] hope to see gradual but consistent opening up of a Chinese society and political system that will more closely give the Chinese people the opportunities that we in the United States and Australia are lucky to take for granted," Clinton said.