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Lee Jin-man, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this April 23, 2011 file photo, Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard, second from left, and her partner Tim Mathieson, left, inspect a guard of honor at Seoul military airport in Seongnam, south of Seoul, South Korea, upon their arrival to meet South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and to visit the border village of Panmunjom between two Koreas. South Korea and Australia signed an agreement Wednesday, Dec. 14, to deepen military cooperation through increased joint exercises.

CANBERRA, Australia — The South Korean and Australian defense ministers signed an agreement Wednesday to deepen military cooperation between the two countries through increased joint exercises.

The move comes after the United States announced last month that it will increase its military presence in Australia and conduct more joint exercises across the northern Australian Outback as it counters a growing China, as well as the threat posed by North Korea to security in the Asia-Pacific region.

South Korean Defense Minister Gen. Kim Kwan-jin and his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, agreed during Wednesday's inaugural bilateral meeting to stage a regular new naval exercise starting next year.

"Australia and the Republic of Korea are like-minded middle powers and our bilateral relationship is underpinned by shared strategic interests," the two ministers said in a joint statement.

"We are natural security partners, and we will continue to look for new opportunities to deepen our defense cooperation," they said.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed to start an annual defense ministers' dialogue between the two countries when she visited South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in April.

As well as increasing joint exercises, the dialogue will also focus on strategic issues, information sharing and defense industries.

After meeting in the Australian capital, Canberra, Kim flew to Sydney, where he laid a wreath at the Korean War Memorial and met with Gillard.