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Australia Prepares for Obama Visit

President Obama is scheduled to visit Australia this month following a trip to Indonesia. In Australia he will be among friends and will be the guest of a center-left government that shares many of the president's policies on Afghanistan and climate change. Foreign policy analysts, however, say the emergence of China has the potential to disrupt the long-standing U.S.-Australia alliance.

The last time an American president visited Australia, large numbers of protesters angry at the war in Iraq rallied in Sydney when President George W. Bush attended an Asia-Pacific economic conference.

Demonstrators are again planning to march in several Australian cities during President Barack Obama's visit next week, although the protests are expected to be far smaller.

Foreign policy analysts say Mr. Obama's trip is mainly about maintaining the alliance - or dropping in on friends. He is to address Australia's federal Parliament in Canberra, only the sixth world leader to do so.

Washington and Canberra signed a formal security pact in the early 1950s, in which the Americans agreed to defend Australia in the event of an attack.

Brendon O'Connor, an associate professor at the U.S. Studies Center at the University of Sydney, thinks many Australians trust that President Obama will make the relationship even stronger.

"Australians supported Obama over McCain at a higher rate than nearly any country in the world," said O'Connor. "There were some polls done on this and I think this is quite remarkable and you might say 'well, why was this the case?' and I think it was the case that Australia wants to have this very strong security relationship with the United States and stuck with it during the Bush administration, particularly our prime minister [John Howard] but it wanted to see a different face on that leadership and I think the face of Obama was comforting to Australians. They realized this is a very long-standing and on-going relationship."

For nearly 70 years, the two countries have been close allies. In recent times, Canberra has given strong support to the U.S.-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite public misgivings.

Tom Switzer, a political analyst and the editor of The Spectator Australia commentary magazine, says this cozy relationship could be tested by the emergence of China. He says the United States sees China as a potential threat but Australia views it as a vital economic partner.

"The rise of China means different things for the United States and Australia," said Switzer. "For the United States, its emergence potentially means the rise of a great power rival. But for Australia, it increasingly means a very strong trading relationship and indeed one of the reasons why Australia is weathering the financial storm is because of China's insatiable lust for our raw materials and resources and I think that in years to come with China's rise there could be a bit of friction there between Washington and Canberra."

President Obama will discuss a range of matters during his Australian trip, including security and intelligence matters as well as the global economic recovery.

Anti-war activists in Australia are planning several demonstrations during the visit. But, while former President Bush's presence at the summit in Sydney was a catalyst for great public protest, Mr. Obama's trip is less contentious.

Still, Pip Hinman, from Sydney's Stop The War Coalition, says the president's failure to scale back the conflict in Afghanistan contributed to a general sense of disappointment in the Obama presidency.

"There was a huge surge of hope in the election of President Barack Obama and I think you can see now that those hopes have been dashed to a large extent. So, it is not just the global financial crisis and his bailing out of the banks, the actual cause of this financial crisis, the housing foreclosures, the job losses - all of that has lead to this huge disappointment. It is the fact also that he has stepped up the war [in Afghanistan]," said Pip Hinman.

Among Australian citizens, the president's visit prompts a range of opinions about the alliance with the United States.

"The Australian government tends to look upon America as the Supreme Being and want to be on their side," said an older man.

One woman says she opposed the American-led fight in Iraq.

"Nobody wants to send people to war. I think Iraq was wrong, I don't think we should have gone in there. I think that was wrong. Afghanistan is different. Afghanistan - fair enough. Go there but not Iraq," she said.

Other Australians think the alliance is worth celebrating.

"Very good. Why? I just think because of the Second World War. If it was not for the Americans, I think we would be Japanese-owned here," says a man.

President Obama will visit his childhood home in Indonesia before traveling to Australia later this month.