U.S and Australian troops plan to step up training so they are “fully prepared” to answer challenges in the Pacific, US Vice President Joe Biden said this week amid rising tensions over Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.

Speaking in Sydney after meeting Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Biden said the two nations were a “genuine brotherhood” committed to “making sure the sea lanes are open and the skies are free for navigation”.


“They are the life bloodlines of commerce and the economic growth worldwide,” Biden said in the wake of last week’s ruling by a UN-backed tribunal against Beijing’s claims in the disputed waters.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, despite rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbors — most notably US ally the Philippines, which took the case to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The United States, like Australia, has no claims of its own in the South China Sea, but insists that all shipping has a right to pass through seas it regards as international waters.

“We also discussed the steps that Australia and the United States are taking so our troops can train more together and increase our interoperability so that we are fully prepared to respond to any challenges, any challenges, in the Pacific with a united front,” Biden said.

“It’s important we stand together,” he added, as he stressed that the United States was a Pacific power and intended to remain so.

In New Zealand Biden, who’s accompanied by an entourage of about 200 people on the visit, said that when President Obama and he took office, they made a basic determination “that the Asia-Pacific region is where much of the history of the 21st Century will be written.”

“And this was the animating principal behind our decision to engage in what we refer to as rebalancing our interest in our allocation of resources in the world,” he said.

“I’ve met many times with leaders of China… and I’ve stated very forthrightly we are a Pacific power, we always have been a Pacific power, we are going nowhere. We mean what we say when we say we are rebalancing to the Pacific,” Biden said.

“It is overwhelmingly in our interest that you New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Korea in the North East Pacific and everywhere in between, that the countries prosper.

“We make up 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. This is where the action is going to be. The energy and dynamism for this region is undeniable.

“It’s sparking with incredible potential. And whether or not we reach that potential, whether or not we continue to prosper and live in peace in our view depends on our ability to maintain free, fair and open and liberal open system on the seas, skies and free and open commerce where all nations act as responsible stakeholders and as responsible competitors,”  Biden said.

“It is no longer what America can do for New Zealand, it’s what we can do with New Zealand that animates the President and I to look at this relationship, and God willing President Clinton will look at this relationship,” the Vice President said to laughter. SOURCE: AFP/TVNZ/PACNEWS [/restrict]