Melbourne, Nov 17: In a clear message to China, President Barack Obama today said that US will maintain its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region despite budget cuts, saying that America was “here to stay” as a Pacific power.
“The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay,” Obama said in a speech to the Australian parliament, a day after announcing that the US would send military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia.
China immediately questioned the US move and said it deserved further scrutiny.
Addressing the special joint sitting of the Australian Parliament, Obama told MPs and senators he had directed his national security team to make “our presence and mission in the Asia-Pacific a top priority”.
“As a result, reductions in United States defence spending will not, I repeat, will not come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific,” he said.
While he stressed that the US was “here to stay” as a Pacific power, he said the US is focused on the region as the one that will define the future of the world.
“The United States has and always will be a Pacific nation,” he said.
“Let there be no doubt, in the Asia-Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in,” he added.
Obama said that given its size, resources and the economic growth that the region had witnessed in recent years, Asia-Pacific countries were playing an increasingly important role globally.
“As the world's fastest-growing region - and home to more than half the global economy - Asia is critical to achieving my highest priority: creating jobs and opportunity for the American people,” Obama said.
“With most of the world's nuclear powers and nearly half of humanity, this region will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or co-operation, needless suffering or human progress,” he said.
He said that the US was keen to increase its presence in the region and play a bigger role in its development and progress.
“As president, I've 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 allies and friends.”
Obama said US military, along with Australians, had fought and died in the region and its mission now was to promote security, prosperity and human dignity.
“Americans have bled with you for this progress and we will never allow it to be reversed,” he said.
“That's what we stand for, that's who we are, that's the future we will pursue in league with our allies and friends with every element of American power.”
Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday announced an expansion of US military activity in Australia, beginning with an increase in the presence of US Marines from mid-2012, a move that angered China.
Obama addressed the Chinese unease, pledging to seek greater cooperation with Beijing.
He welcomed the rise of China as a world economic and military power but said he wanted more engagement between US and Chinese armed forces “to avoid misunderstandings”.