US marines to join Australian warships deployed in the Pacific as anxiety over China grows

SYDNEY, 07 MAY 2018 (ABC)-American marines will soon embed on Australia’s largest warship for a tour of Pacific island nations, as concerns grow among western allies over Beijing’s rising influence in the region.

The ABC can reveal preparations are almost complete for the Australian Defence Force’s Joint Task Group mission, centered on the amphibious Landing Helicopter Dock, HMAS Adelaide.

In a statement, Defence Minister Marise Payne said planning for “Indo-Pacific Endeavour 18” had been underway since late last year.

“IPE 18 is a major activity for the Australian Defence Force, and aims to promote security in our near region through a series of bilateral and multilateral engagements with our regional partners, as well as training and capacity-building activities,” Senator Payne told the ABC.

The Minister said Royal Australian Navy ships HMAS Adelaide, HMAS Melbourne, HMAS Toowoomba and HMAS Success would take part “in a range of training and engagement activities in Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and the Solomon Islands”.

“Ships assigned to IPE 18 will also take part in Exercise Rim of the Pacific, a bi-annual multinational joint exercise staged in and around the Hawaiian Islands,” the Minister said.

Defence sources have confirmed several dozen US marines, who are part of a current rotation in Darwin, would also be embedded on HMAS Adelaide ahead of the RIMPAC war games in Hawaii in July.

Euan Graham, the Director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, has welcomed the impending Pacific deployment.

“It’s a clear signal that Australia is stepping up its presence and its defence diplomacy in the immediate region,” Dr Graham said.

“There is a connection that could be made between the geopolitical competition that we’re starting to see unfold in the Pacific, with China becoming more present as an actor (including military deployments that will become more regular in the future) and Australia doesn’t want that gap to be filled by outside actors.”

Last month the ABC revealed HMAS Toowoomba and HMAS Success, along with HMAS Anzac, had been challenged by the Chinese Navy as they were transiting towards Vietnam through the South China Sea, in waters claimed by Beijing