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Sydney (AFP) Dec 27, 2012
Australia and China are planning joint military exercises which may also include the United States as the nations work to ensure stability in the region, Canberra's defence chief said Thursday.
General David Hurley told The Australian newspaper the war games were "on the short-term horizon".
"We're working our way towards that," he said.
The planned exercises come as Washington pushes to bolster its military might in the strategically vital Asia-Pacific amid concerns about China's increasing assertiveness and territorial tensions with its neighbours.
This includes an enhanced US naval presence in the region and the deployment of up to 2,500 Marines to a barracks near the northern Australian city of Darwin.
The Marines contingent has irked Beijing, which has described their presence as proof of a "Cold-War mentality".
Hurley revealed that Australian and Chinese military leaders had discussed joint exercises "in principle".
"It's not something everyone will rush into but it's certainly on the table and we just need to work out what that might look like and where and when would be the best places to do it," he said.
Hurley added that he thought the Americans would want to be involved.
"At the moment, we've had the in-principle discussion (that) 'Yes, this is something we should have a further look at'," he told the newspaper.
"When, where and in what form would be the next iteration of the discussion."
Despite its militarisation, Beijing maintains it has a policy of "peaceful development" and Canberra has been keen to reassure Chinese leaders that the decision to allow US Marines on Australian soil was not aimed at them.
Hurley said he wanted to see strong military-to-military links throughout the region, including with Beijing.
"We need to know the Chinese, they need to know us, and we work a very constructive programme," he said.
"It builds confidence in each other and knowledge about each other."
Earlier this month, three Chinese navy ships returning from counter-piracy operations in Africa docked in Sydney as part of celebrations of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries.
Hurley said more visits were likely.
"They're not going to grow to a huge number each year but certainly they will occur on a frequent basis," he said.
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