Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he has been assured United States B-1 bombers are not bound for Australia.
Assistant US defence secretary David Shear told a Congressional hearing B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft would soon be based in Australia as a deterrent to what America described as China’s “destabilising effect” in the region. “We will be placing additional air force assets in Australia as well as B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft,” he said. The Pentagon now says the assistant secretary misspoke. “I understand that the official misspoke and that the US does not have any plans to base those aircraft in Australia,” Mr Abbott said.
A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Canberra confirmed the mistake.
A US defence official said American B-1 bombers were bound for Australia as a deterrent to what they described as China’s “destabilising effect” in the region.
The move is part of the Obama administration’s plans to “assert freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. China’s foreign ministry expressed “serious concern” with a spokeswoman saying the country would “resolutely uphold its territorial sovereignty”.
Assistant US defence secretary David Shear spoke about the plan in a Congressional hearing.
We will be placing additional air force assets in Australia as well as B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft.
A spokesman for Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said the department was “aware of the comments made by a US official in Congressional testimony overnight”.
“The US Government has contacted us to advise that the official misspoke,” the statement read. The US air force said the B-1 bomber was the back bone of its long-range bomber force.
The aircraft is capable of rapidly delivering 84 bombs weighing 227 kilograms each “against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time” and is currently being used to attack Islamic State in Iraq.
Mr Shear told a special congressional hearing on the South China Sea the deployment of air assets to Australia was in addition to the doubling of US marines bound for Darwin, leaving their current base in Japan.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunyin:
China will resolutely uphold its territorial sovereignty. We demand the relevant side talk and act cautiously and not take any actions that are risky or provocative to maintain regional peace and stability.
We will be moving significant numbers of Marines to Hawaii, Guam and Australia.
So we will have a very strong presence, very strong continued posture throughout the region to back our commitments to our allies, to protect and work with our partners and to continue ensuring peace and stability in the region.
As well as back our diplomacy viz-a-viz China on the South China Sea.
The senate foreign relations committee called the hearing to address concerns about China’s continued construction of artificial land masses in the South China Sea including runways.
The US State Department said China’s behaviour was having a destabilising effect on the region.
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