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Australia expanding war games with US amid tensions with China

Australia expanding war games with US amid tensions with China
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Australia will expand its war games with the United States as part of a $580 million effort to respond to increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific, the country’s prime minister said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the dollars would upgrade four military bases in Australia’s Northern Territory, to begin this year and be completed by 2026. The enhanced facilities are meant to amplify joint military drills with U.S. forces.

Australia will work with allies including the U.S. to pursue “peace, stability and a free and open Indo-Pacific, with a world order that favors freedom,” Morrison said, according to the Australian Associated Press.

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Roughly 2,500 U.S. Marines are already based in the Northern Territory as part of rotational forces and joint training, and the two countries hold biennial war games.

The dollars, part of previously announced defense spending plans, will be used to lengthen an airstrip to support larger aircraft, revamp firing ranges and create new training facilities that will also be used by U.S. forces.

The latest announcement comes after senior Australian officials warned that the country could become entangled in a military conflict with China over Taiwan.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Sunday that such a conflict “should not be discounted."

Morrison did not mention China by name in his announcement, only referencing unspecified tensions in the region.

“Our objective is a free and open Indo-Pacific, to ensure a peaceful region, one that, at the same time, Australia is in a position to always protect its interests,” he told reporters, according to Reuters.

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The United States has also experienced increased competition with China, with the Asia-Pacific region becoming the U.S. military’s priority theater.

Adm. John Aquilino, the new chief of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told senators during his confirmation hearing that Beijing views fully annexing Taiwan as its “No. 1 priority.” He warned that the possibility of China trying to invade the island could happen sooner than most people think.

“The rejuvenation of the Chinese Communist Party is at stake” when it comes to Taiwan, Aquilino said.