Marco Rubio, one of the front runners in the US presidential race, has hailed Australia’s strategic value in dealing with China. He said greater partnership between the US Navy and Australia is vital in countering the military “threat” posed by China. If elected as US Commander in Chief, Marco Rubio will increase the partnership with Australia, media reports said.

Rubio was speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Friday. He is considered as a hawk in defence matters. Marco Rubio had been extremely critical of China’s aggressive postures in the South China Sea and its alleged cyber attacks on US companies. The 44-year-old senator also flayed President Barack Obama for “gutting” the defence forces. Rubio vowed that he would “rebuild the US military” to thwart any international threats against the US.

“China is building up their own military,” Rubio said. He also noted that China was trying to take over the “most important shipping lane in the world.” Two-thirds of Australia’s merchandise trade and 30 percent of the AU$27 trillion (US$19 trillion) global trade has to pass through the South China Sea.

Speaking to The Australian Financial Review, Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant said, if elected, Marco Rubio would turn to Australia for a more assertive dealing with China. “We’re going to put our allies first and we’re going to invest in our military,” he said. “Especially in Australia, I think you’ll see reinvestment in our navy, reinvestment in our relationship with Australia and our other allies in the Pacific, including the Japanese.”

The US has already stationed 1200 marines in Australia’s Darwin. Their number will be scaled up to 2500. It is part of President Obama’s rebalancing Asia strategy.

However, some sections of the Australian businesses are against Australia stoking tensions with China. They see it as hurting Australia’s own interests in terms of commercial gains.  Commenting on the remarks of Marco Rubio, John Lee, a defence scholar at the Australian National University said the Senator’s comments “might be seen as a little hawkish but they accord with both official and public sentiment in Australia” on Beijing’s behaviour.

Meanwhile, The Diplomat reports that Australia would continue its patrols in South China Sea despite the challenges from China. This was stated by Australia’s Air Force chief, Leo Davies.  The air force head’s statement also echoed the views of Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne.

“Australian vessels and aircraft will continue to exercise rights under international law to freedom of navigation and freedom of over flight, including in the South China Sea,” Payne said.