PERTH, Australia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday encouraged Australia to increase its military ties with India, but added that America also supported the peaceful rise of the Asian economic powerhouse, China.
Clinton and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in the west coast city of Perth on Tuesday on the eve of bilateral security summit with their Australian counterparts.
The annual summit is the first since President Barack Obama visited Australia a year ago and riled China, Australia's biggest trade partner, by announcing that up to 2,500 U.S. Marines would rotate through a joint military training hub in the northern Australian city of Darwin.
Clinton told a university forum that the meeting will review the implementation of that plan and aim to improve interoperability between the U.S. and Australian navies.
She said the United States had made a strategic priority of supporting India in play a larger role in Asian affairs.
"It's also important to see the burgeoning relationship between Australia and India," she said.
"We would welcome joint Australia-Indian naval vessel exercises in the future," she added.
The United States also supported a peaceful and open China, she said.
"We look for ways to support the peaceful rise of China, to support China becoming a responsible stakeholder in the international community and 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," she said.
The two countries also want to increase U.S. military access to the Australian navy base south of Perth and to bombing ranges in the northern Outback as part of the shift of U.S. might to the Asia-Pacific region.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the summit on Wednesday would discuss medium-term plans for cooperation on military aviation as well as warships.
"These ... talks come at a critical time with President Obama having been re-elected and with his administration now making and getting ready to put in place their views and policies for the next four years," she told reporters.
Australian and Indian defense chiefs have maintained a strategic dialogue since 2008. China views the relationship with suspicion, despite Australia also engaging in limited naval exercises with China.
Relations between India and Australia were boosted in October when Gillard visited New Delhi and agreed on civil nuclear energy cooperation that would eventually allow the export of Australian uranium to the energy-starved nation for peaceful uses.
Australia has had a long-standing ban on exporting uranium to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. India is among those countries.