The United States yesterday confirmed a swing back into the Pacific, emphasising Washington's determination to stamp its presence on the region in a serious way.

Speaking in Melbourne after talks with their Australian counterparts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates outlined an agenda of re-engagement that ran from China to greater military co-operation and presence in Australia and fisheries protection in the island states.

"The US is both a Pacific and an Atlantic power," Clinton said.

"We are determined to strengthen and deepen our already strong alliances with countries like Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand, to build relationships bilaterally and multilaterally with other nations, and to work through regional organisations to solve problems such as freedom of navigation and maritime security that is essential for trade and commerce throughout the region."

Clinton and Gates' attendance at the annual Australia-US Ausmin talks came as President Barak Obama visited India and followed Washington's decision to join the East Asia Summit as part of its strategy to cement its influence.

Australia is also looking to tighten its security ties with the US, which it regards as its most important ally and the guarantor of stability across the region, especially with the rise of China.

The two countries yesterday signed a number of important agreements, including the expansion of their joint naval communications base in Western Australia, both to track space junk and to help identify ballistic and space-based threats.

"Australia intends to work with the US to progress their shared goal of enhanced space security, with a particular focus on transparency and confidence-building measures," a joint communique said. They will also work jointly against cyber warfare and, significantly, have formed a working group to see how Australia might best contribute to the US force posture review, essentially a restructuring of America's global military machine.

Publicly, Gates and Australian counterpart Stephen Smith have been circumspect about the potential impact of the review on America's military presence in Australia.

But neither has denied widespread speculation that with Canberra keen to lock the US further into its security framework, America is likely to pre-position combat and other material in Australia, increase joint training, and widen other co-operation.

Gates said that beyond confirming the establishment of the new working group, speculation was premature.

"I have not even made decisions within the Department of Defence on what I'm going to recommend to the National Security Council and the President about what we do in Asia," he said.

"Except to say I think the one thing we agree on is we are looking at an enhanced presence for the US in Asia, and not some kind of withdrawal."

Although noting the need for the peaceful resolution of maritime territorial disputes in the South and East China seas - both potential flashpoints between China and neighbouring countries - the US and Australian ministers were careful not to rub Beijing's sensitivities.

Most analysts see Washington's renewed focus on Asia-Pacific, in large part at least, as a response to the growing economic and military might of China.

The communique also urged moves to return democracy and the rule of law to Fiji.

"Both countries emphasised that the commencement of genuine, inclusive political dialogue in Fiji, without preconditions or predetermined outcomes, as called for by leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, is a necessary first step," it said.

By Greg Ansley | Email Greg