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 Obama tells Asia U.S. "here to stay" as Pacific power

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PostSubject: Obama tells Asia U.S. "here to stay" as Pacific power   Wed Nov 16, 2011 8:45 pm

Nov 16, 2011 19:36 EST

Obama tells Asia U.S. "here to stay" as Pacific power

CANBERRA (Reuters) - President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the U.S. military would expand its role in the Asia-Pacific, despite budget cuts, declaring America was "here to stay" as a Pacific power which would help shape the region's future.

The U.S. military, turning its focus away from Iraq and Afghanistan, would be more broadly distributed in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, more flexible and help build regional capacity, Obama told the Australian parliament.

"As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority," Obama said in a major speech on Washington's vision for the Asia-Pacific.

"As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not -I repeat, will not - come at the expense of the Asia Pacific."

Acknowledging China's concerns at the U.S. moves, which Beijing sees as attempts by Washington to encircle it, Obama said he would seek greater cooperation with China.

"We'll seek more opportunities for cooperation with Beijing, including greater communication between our militaries to promote understanding and avoid miscalculation," he said.

Nervous about China's growing clout, U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea have sought assurances from the United States that it would be a strong counterweight in the region.

"We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace," said Obama.

"With most of the world's nuclear powers and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation," he said.

"As a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future..."


The winding down of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has opened the door to greater U.S. attention to simmering tension over the South China Sea, a shipping lane for more than $5 trillion in annual trade that the United States wants to keep open.

A first step in extending the U.S. military reach into Southeast Asia will see U.S. marines, naval ships and aircraft deployed to northern Australia.

Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday announced plans to have 2,500 U.S. Marines operate out of a de facto base in the northern port of Darwin by 2016.

Obama was to discuss those plans later Thursday in a visit to Darwin, only 820 kms (500 miles) from Indonesia. He and Gillard will salute the 60-year U.S.-Australian alliance by laying a wreath at a memorial for the USS Peary, a U.S. destroyer that was sunk by the Japanese during World Ward Two.

China has questioned the U.S. deployment to Australia, raising doubts whether strengthening such alliances helped the region pull together at a time of economic gloom.

"As for using the form of a military alliance, China has its own concepts of friendly cooperation with all countries," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.

"China never engages in military alliances."

White House aide Ben Rhodes said the United States was sending a signal "that we're going to continue to play the role of underpinning security in this part of the region."

"Part of that context is a rising China," he said.

But Obama and his aides have stressed the United States was not seeking to isolate China or ratchet up tensions.

Obama's Australia visit falls midway through Obama's nine-day Asia-Pacific tour that takes him next to Bali, where he will seek to underscore a focus on Asia by becoming the first U.S. president to participate in the security East Asia Summit.

He flew to Australia from Hawaii, where he hosted an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that focused on bolstering trade and economic ties within the region.


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