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Obama Says U.S. 'Here To Stay' As Pacific Power


U.S. President Barack Obama signs a guest book as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard looks on at Parliament House in Canberra.
In a major policy speech today, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to expand his country's influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

In what is seen as an effort to counter China's rising influence, Obama told Australian lawmakers in the capital, Canberra, that Washington would "project power and deter threats to peace" despite scaling back on military spending.

"As president, I have therefore made a deliberate and strategic decision. As a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles, and in close partnership with our allies and friends," he said.

China has already expressed unease over Obama's announcement of a de facto military base in Australia. Beijing fears being encircled by Washington in the Asia-Pacific region. Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on November 16 announced plans for up to 2,500 U.S. troops to eventually be deployed at the base in northern Australia.

Obama acknowledged China's unease and said he welcomes greater cooperation with Beijing.

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

Obama told the Australian parliament that as the American military turns its focus away from Iraq and Afghanistan, it will be more broadly distributed in Asia.

"As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority," Obama said. "As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not -- I repeat, will not -- come at the expense of the Asia Pacific."

Key U.S. allies Japan and South Korea have sought Washington's assurances as a strong counterweight to China's growing clout.

In response Washington will extend its reach into Southeast Asia by deploying U.S. Marines, naval ships, and aircraft in 2012. The deployment will grow into a task force of 2,500 troops. There are already nearly 80,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan and South Korea.

"As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region. The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay," he said. "Indeed, we are already modernizing America's defense posture across the Asia Pacific. It will be more broadly distributed, maintaining our strong presence in Japan and the Korean peninsula, while enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia."

Obama has now arrived in Bali, Indonesia, where he will attend a regional conference as part of a nine-day Asia-Pacific tour.

Obama will seek to underscore his focus on Asia by becoming the first U.S. president to participate in the East Asia Summit, a diplomatic bloc that admitted the United States and Russia this year.

compiled from agency reports

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