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Obama Reaffirms Asia-Pacific Foreign Policy Shift

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Australian Parliament in Canberra, Australia, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Australian Parliament in Canberra, Australia, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.
Phil Mercer

U.S. President Barack Obama has reaffirmed Washington’s “unbreakable alliance” with Australia during a speech to parliament in Canberra Thursday.  Mr. Obama said the United States’s diplomatic focus would now shift from the war on terrorism to economic and security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.  He is the fourth U.S. president to address lawmakers in the Australian capital.  From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Mr. Obama was warmly received by Australian lawmakers.  He said the bilateral security alliance was “unbreakable” and that the bonds between the United States and Australia “run deep”.

“From the trenches of the First World War to the mountains of Afghanistan, Aussies and Americans have stood together.  We have fought together; we have given lives together in every single major conflict of the past 100 years, every single one.  The solidarity has sustained us through a difficult decade.  We will never forget the attacks of 9/11 that took the lives not only of Americans but people from many nations including Australia,” he said.   

Mr. Obama’s address to the Parliament in Canberra came a day after announcing that the U.S. would deploy military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia, a move seen by regional analysts as sending an unmistakable message to China.

Beijing has responded frostily, stressing that the deployment “may not be quite appropriate."

President Obama welcomed the rise of China as an economic and military power but said he wanted more engagement between U.S .and Chinese forces “to avoid misunderstandings.”

He has, though, promised to expand U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region and “project power and deter threats to peace” in that part of the world.

“As the world’s fastest-growing region - and home to more than half the global economy  -the Asia-Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority and that is creating jobs and opportunity for the American people.  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,” Mr. Obama said.

President Obama also said human rights violations continue in Burma and called on nations to build support for the fundamental rights all citizens.

He noted that while Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is currently free from house arrest and some political prisoners have been released, the United States would continue to speak out against abuses.

Washington is shifting its diplomatic focus from the Middle East and the war on terrorism to the security challenges and economic opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region.  The president said that as the U.S. ends its military involvement in Iraq and winds down operations in Afghanistan there would be some reductions in defense spending but that he is committed to maintaining America's influence in the Asia-Pacific region

Following his address to the Australian parliament in Canberra, the president flies to the northern city of Darwin before attending the 18-nation East Asia summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

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