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US to monitor South China Sea, talks with Australia

The state department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that close ally Australia had supported a U.S. proposal put forward at the ASEAN meeting in Myanmar which called for a voluntary freeze on provocative actions in the disputed sea. Tensions spiked in May when China parked a giant oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam. The U.S. and Philippine proposals aimed to prevent such actions, as well as building and land reclamation work on disputed islands being carried out by China and other claimants. The rancor over the disputed sea has split ASEAN, with several states including some of the claimant nations reluctant to jeopardize rising trade and investment ties with China. Beijing has been able to use its influence to block regional action on the maritime issue, most notably in 2012 when an ASEAN meeting chaired by Chinese ally Cambodia broke down in acrimony.

Kerry and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop attended the Naypyitaw meeting before traveling to Australia together. The pair planned to explore follow up actions to the Myanmar talks including an upcoming meeting between ASEAN members and China, the official said.

Bishop is hosting the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in Sydney, where defense and security cooperation is expected to be high on the agenda along with developments in Iraq and Ukraine.

Talks will include discussions on cooperation in ballistic missile defense, cyber security and maritime security, the official added.

"It's an opportunity for them to align their defense policies as allies and to explore ways to expand security cooperation as well as strategic planning," the official said.

The ministers will sign an agreement reached between U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the deployment of U.S. marines to Australia for joint exercises and training in areas such as disaster relief.

Some 1,150 Marines are currently stationed in Darwin in Australia's tropical north under a 2011 agreement that launched President Barack Obama's strategic "pivot" to the fast-growing Asia region. The Marine contingent, primed to respond to regional conflicts and humanitarian missions, is expected to swell to 2,500 by 2017.

Obama's pivot has irked China, which sees it as an attempt to block its growing diplomatic, military and political influence across the region, and has faced criticism from some allies doubtful about Washington's commitment to the strategy.


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