WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama's national security adviser said the United States remains committed to re-balancing security and economic priorities to the Asia-Pacific region. Susan Rice also has announced Obama's plan to return to Asia next year.
It was the first major address on Asia-Pacific policy by a top White House official since the president was forced to cancel his trip to the APEC summit in Indonesia, and stops in Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Secretary of State John Kerry went in Obama's place, but the president's absence, a result of the 16 day partial U.S. government shutdown, raised new questions about the U.S. re-balancing policy.
At Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Rice announced that Obama will return to Asia in April. She also said there should be no questioning the U.S. commitment.
"Re-balancing toward the Asia-Pacific remains a cornerstone of the Obama administration's foreign policy," said Rice. "No matter how many hot spots emerge elsewhere, we will continue to deepen our enduring commitment to this critical region. Our friends in Asia deserve, and will continue to get, our highest level attention."
Security, prosperity, democracy
Rice said Obama's "near term" goals include lasting progress on enhancing security, expanding prosperity, fostering democratic values and advancing human dignity.
She said U.S. alliances and force postures, and "upgrading and diversifying security arrangements" aim to make the region more secure, including basing 60 percent of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific by 2020.
On China, Rice said the U.S. seeks to put into operation a new model of major power relations, "managing inevitable competition while forging deeper cooperation on issues where interests converge in Asia and beyond."
She said the U.S., however, will hold to certain basic principles. "We will continue to champion respect for the rule of law, human rights, religious freedom and democratic principles. These are the common aspirations that all people share, and we will do this even and especially when it is not the easy or expedient thing to do."
The need to maintain pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, Rice said, is one example of where the U.S. and Chinese interests align.
North Korea issues
She said the U.S. is prepared for negotiations, provided they are authentic and credible, and get at the entirety of North Korea's nuclear program. "Pyongyang's attempts to engage in dialogue while keeping critical elements of its weapons program running, are not acceptable and will not succeed."
Rice said North Korea will face "significant costs" for future provocations, adding that the U.S. will join with partners, especially China, to increase pressure on Pyongyang.
Rice urged nations involved in East and South China Sea disputes, which she called a "growing threat to regional peace, security and U.S. interests," to increase communication, and reject coercion and aggression.
On Burma, Rice cited progress such as political reforms and the release of many political prisoners. She said challenges remain, such as overcoming ethnic tensions and violence, but that Washington is hopeful.
"If progress continues by the end of President Obama's second term we hope to have helped Burma re-establish itself as a regional leader, and as a thriving if nascent, prosperous democracy."
The U.S. national security adviser said America will continue to support those working for political reform and democracy "from Cambodia to Fiji," and will help nations strengthen institutions and uphold rule of law.
The White House has issued no further information on Obama's planned return to Asia in April.