U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at University of Western Australia, in Perth. REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged Australia Tuesday to strengthen its ties with India during her visit to Perth to discuss regional security policies at the annual AUSMIN [Australia-United States Ministerial Consultation] summit.

Speaking at the University of Western Australia, a day before the scheduled talks, Clinton highlighted naval cooperation between Australia and India as a key security factor in the Indian Ocean.

“We would welcome joint Australia-Indian naval vessel exercises in the future and we’re eager to work together in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation,” Clinton said, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Clinton discussed the shift in focus of American foreign policy toward Asia and the importance of India -- the world’s largest democracy -- to maintaining U.S. interests in the region.

“Increasingly, these waters are at the heart of the global economy and a key focus of America’s expanding engagement in the region -- what we sometimes call our pivot to Asia,” she said.

Clinton also mentioned China, whose growing influence as a major world power and military build-up in the Pacific have become primary concerns for the U.S.

“We look for ways to support the peaceful rise of China, to support China becoming a responsible stakeholder in the international community,” she said.

“And (we) hope to see gradual but consistent opening up of a Chinese society and political system that will more closely give the Chinese people the opportunities that we in the United States and Australia are lucky to take for granted.”

The U.S. considers India a counterbalance to China and has been keen to develop stronger ties with it as well as push for greater cooperation between its allies in the region.

The U.S. has also increased its military ties with Australia, the allies agreeing last year to the eventual stationing of 2,500 American Marines in a base in northern Australia near the city of Darwin by 2017.

While China has expressed concern over Australia's expanding military ties with the U.S., it remains the country's primary trading partner.

Clinton and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will meet with Australia’s defense and foreign ministers Wednesday and are expected to discuss an increase in U.S. military access to Australia’s naval base in Perth and airfields in Western Australia, among other strategic and security issues.