6 hours 31 minutes ago.
A deal allowing US forces greater access to Australian ports and military bases is likely to emerge from defence talks that will wrap up Hillary Clinton's trip Down Under.
Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Stephen Smith are hosting Ms Clinton and secretary of defence Robert Gates for the AUSMIN talks, which are set to formalise closer military ties between the two nations.
China's rapid expansion, cyber crime and the war in Afghanistan are other topics on the agenda.
Ms Clinton, the US secretary of state, has made it clear the US is keen to play a greater role in the Asia-Pacific region.
Australia has already signalled its willingness to allow the US to step up its use of Australian facilities.
The two nations will also discuss pre-positioning US defence equipment in Australia for use in responding to regional disasters and emergencies.
Ms Clinton has praised Australia's efforts to maintain stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
She also says a stronger US presence would help Australia deal with the inevitable problems climate change will cause for smaller Pacific nations.
Ms Clinton has also flagged closer cooperation to make sure space is used for peaceful means only, which will lead to a joint US-Australia space monitoring facility in Western Australia.
Sources close to the talks say while the US has the northern hemisphere well covered in tracking missiles, satellites and space junk, there is a gap in the southern hemisphere.
Mr Smith has hinted he will ask the US for an update on the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Australia has an initial order of 14 fighter jets, but reports from the US suggest production costs have blown out and the 2017 delivery date is shaky.
No better friend
Before meeting Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Melbourne yesterday, Ms Clinton hosted a forum of young people at Melbourne University.
She said the US had no better friend than Australia.
She believes the 24/7 media cycle and the use of social media websites like Twitter and YouTube are a double-edged sword, combined with the rise of personality over policy in politics.
She said she was not sure Abraham Lincoln would be elected if he was around today.
"He was awkward and gawky looking. He was so tall. He had what were called in those days bouts of melancholia, which we might call depression," she said.
"Could he have withstood not just the 24/7 news coverage but everyone being their own reporter with a cell phone?"
Ms Clinton fielded questions from members of the audience.
Azmeena Hussain, 24, raised the issue of banning the full-body Islamic veil - the burka.
Ms Clinton said she believed the head scarf was an appropriate item of clothing for a woman to wear, but there were problems with the burka and hijab.
"I think we have to face the reality that in a society where there is a legitimate threat of terrorism, not being able to see one's face, not being able to have some sense of communication in that way, is for many societies, a challenge," Ms Clinton said.
"So I understand the dilemma."
China wary of Australian welcome mat for US military.
AUSTRALIA risks a backlash from China over a plan to expand the United States military presence here under a new deal to be unveiled today.
The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, yesterday described ties between China, the US and Australia as ''one of the most consequential'' for the Obama administration.
But she rejected the notion that the US was being displaced as the premier Asian power by China as it increasingly flexed its economic and military muscle.
''Both the US and Australia reject the zero-sum view that somehow one country's rise means another country's decline,'' Mrs Clinton told a public forum at Melbourne University.
''We're actually working to build a positive, co-operative and comprehensive relationship for China.''
But foreign affairs experts warn the plan to boost the US presence in Australia - which will include more naval ship visits, joint training exercises and US military equipment positioned in Darwin and Townsville - could be seen in Beijing as part of a strategy to contain China.
China has provoked regional alarm in recent months after a maritime dispute with Japan and a stand-off over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Canberra and Washington emphasised the increased military co-operation was to prepare forces for a quick response to humanitarian emergencies.
But the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, confirmed yesterday that China would be a key element in talks today between Mrs Clinton, the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, and their Australian counterparts Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith.
''I think we will be talking about the geopolitics of our region, and that means, of course, we'll be talking about the rise of China and, as China rises, what sort of force it is going to be in the world,'' Ms Gillard said.
''I believe we have a shared perspective with the US that we want China to be a force for good, strongly engaged in global and regional architecture, strongly engaged in a rules-based framework.''
The talks will also focus on improving Australia-US co-operation for tracking objects in space and stopping cyber attacks - both issues where China has been at the centre of recent controversy.
In 2007 China successfully tested an anti-satellite missile.
The detail for what additional US equipment might be sent to Australia is yet to be negotiated.
But a key Chinese foreign affairs commentator reacted cautiously to the plans, which are to be unveiled at a Melbourne summit today.
''China has a clear recognition that Australia's priority is America,'' said Zhai Kun, the director of South-east Asian and Oceanian studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, which reports to the powerful Ministry of State Security. ''Nowadays, the relationship between US and China is not zero-sum. China will never expect developing Sino-Australian relations at the cost of the alliance.''
The former Australian diplomat and Lowy Institute fellow Andrew Shearer said the US-China competition was likely to become more prominent.
''The voices inside the administration that have been making the case that the US can develop a genuinely co-operative partnership with the Chinese on the big issues that matter to the US are becoming less influential,'' he said. ''Also, [there is] China's much more assertive military and diplomatic behaviour in Asia, which I'd date back to the financial crisis and a real sense there was an opportunity with the US on the back foot.''
Mr Shearer said China was always quick to claim the US and its allies are attempting to contain its rise. ''We'll have to wait and see how Beijing reacts to [today's] announcement.''
Ms Gillard also said yesterday she would attend a meeting in Portugal later this month for talks on Afghanistan over the transfer of responsibility for security from foreign to Afghan forces.
She said the conference in Lisbon would be crucial for hammering out a plan to transfer control to Afghan soldiers and police.
Mrs Clinton said the Obama administration remained committed to beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by next July.
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