Cocos Island (image : GoogleMaps)
THE upgrading of defence ties with the US may include the development of joint military facilities on Cocos Islands.Defence Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday the first priority would be upgrading the HMAS Stirling naval base, near Perth. "In the future, there may well be some possibility or prospect of greater utilisation of Cocos Islands," he said.
Mr Smith told the Ten Network there would have to be a major upgrade of the infrastructure on Cocos Islands, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, before they were fit for joint use by the Australian and US forces.
His comments confirm that the steps announced last week, starting with 250 additional US troops visiting Darwin, mark the start of what is likely to be a much wider collaboration. Mr Smith has played down suggestions of China's displeasure with the new military arrangement between Australia and the US, saying the official response has been measured and appropriate.
But a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liu Weimin, said the move might not be in the interests of countries in the region and questioned the expansion of military ties while global economics were still shaky.
An editorial in China's state-run People's Daily newspaper went further, saying if Australia used its military bases to help the US hurt Chinese interests, "one thing is certain . . . Australia will be caught in the crossfire".
Mr Smith said the media commentary should be divorced from China's official response.
"And the official response has quite frankly been a measured one. It hasn't been over the top."
He said China was against military alliances, but understood Australia's ties with the US.