The United States moves to strengthen its military alliances in Asia are not aimed at containing China, a top U.S. defence official said on Thursday.

Defence Undersecretary Michele Flournoy said she communicated that message to her Chinese counterparts during annual defence talks in Beijing.

She said her comments came in response to Chinese questions about a decision to base 2,500 Marines for training in Australia next year.

Ms. Flournoy told reporters that the two sides planned to reschedule joint anti-piracy exercises and other exchanges postponed in September by China in anger over a massive U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Ms. Flournoy met Chinese defence officials, including Gen. Ma Xiaotian, Wednesday for the 12th round of U.S.-China Defence Consultative Talks, which are seen as a barometer of relations between China’s 2.3 million—member People’s Liberation Army and the U.S. military.

The talks on reducing the risk of confrontation came after recent friction over the arms sales to Taiwan and a stepped-up American military presence on China’s edges.

While the Chinese military has lashed out at the recent U.S. moves, Beijing’s decision to proceed with the talks appears to show it is placing a new importance on regular talks between the sides, even as their rivalry sharpens.

China summoned the U.S. ambassador and warned of damage to relations following the announcement in September of a decision to offer Taiwan a $5.85 billion package to upgrade the island’s F—16 fleet.

The United States announced in late November that it plans to rotate Marines to Australia for training with Australian forces from an Australian army base in Darwin, beginning in 2012.

Up to 2,500 Marines, infantry units as well as aviation squadrons and combat logistic battalions, will go there from Okinawa or other Marine stations in Japan and elsewhere in the Pacific for a few months at a time.

Chinese hard-liners have called the move, along with strengthened military ties with allies Japan and the Philippines as well as former enemy Vietnam, a new U.S. containment policy that must be resisted through more active diplomacy.

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