By Stephen Kaufman
16 November 2011As the Asia-Pacific region assumes its role as the primary engine for global economic growth, the United States is stepping up efforts to maintain security in the region with a new rotational military presence in Australia intended to allow a more effective response to humanitarian and natural disasters, as well as security threats, President Obama says.
“The lines of commerce and trade are constantly expanding. And it’s appropriate then for us to make sure that not only our alliance but the security architecture of the region is updated for the 21st century, and this initiative is going to allow us to do that,” Obama said in Canberra November 16 in remarks with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Under the agreement, an initial company of 200 to 250 U.S. Marines will be stationed at an Australian military base by mid-2012. The deployment will eventually expand to 2,500 Marine personnel, and the U.S. Air Force will have greater access to Australian Air Force facilities.
“This rotational deployment is significant because what it allows us to do is to not only build capacity and cooperation between our two countries, but it also allows us to meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region that want to feel that they’re getting the training, they’re getting the exercises and that we have the presence that’s necessary to maintain the security architecture in the region,” he said.
The economies in the Asia-Pacific region are “going to be the engine for world economic growth for some time to come,” he said, and the U.S. military presence in Australia will help address the challenge of responding to disasters across such a large area in a more timely fashion and also to equip “smaller countries who may not have the same capacity … so that they can respond more quickly as well.”
Gillard said the increased military cooperation between Australia and the United States builds on the existing 60-year-old alliance between the two countries, which has been “a bedrock of stability in our region.”
“We are a region that is growing economically. But stability is important for economic growth, too,” she said.
The president said that the United States is “here to stay” as a Pacific power. “This is a region of huge strategic importance to us. … And we’re going to make sure that we are able to fulfill our leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
Obama also restated U.S. support for “a rising, peaceful China,” praising the country’s remarkable economic growth which has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty and improved economic prospects for its neighbors.
“The notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken,” he said.
But he said China needs to recognize that “with their rise comes increased responsibilities,” and the country not only needs to follow the same economic rules as its trading partners, but also to help underwrite them to help sustain the region’s dynamic economic progress.
“The only way we’re going to grow that trade is if we have a high-standards trade agreement where everybody is playing by the same rules; where if one set of markets is open, then there’s reciprocity among the other trading partners; where there are certain rules that we abide by in terms of intellectual property rights protection or how we deal with government procurement — in addition to the traditional areas like tariffs,” he said.
“Where China is playing by those rules, recognizing its new role, I think this is a win-win situation. There are going to be times where they’re not, and we will send a clear message to them that we think that they need to be on track in terms of accepting the rules and responsibilities that come with being a world power,” he said.
The president’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Ben Rhodes, told reporters in Canberra November 16 that the increased military cooperation between the United States and Australia comes “in response to demand from within the region.”
“The nations of the region have signaled they want the U.S. to be present; [and] would like, again, in many respects and instances, increased partnership with the United States. The ability of the United States to help respond to contingencies is something that has been welcomed in recent years, whether, again, it was work that we’re doing in the Philippines to counter violent extremism, work that we’re doing to counter piracy in the region, the response to the tsunami in Indonesia,” he said.
“So in other words, there’s a demand signal from the nations of the region, and this is something that we’re doing in concert with one of our closest allies. So we believe it’s not just entirely appropriate, but an important step to dealing with the challenges of the future of the Asia-Pacific region,” Rhodes said.