Saturday, November 15, 2014

Obama reaffirms US commitment to Asia Pacific

Obama reaffirms US commitment to Asia Pacific

Barack Obama sought to allay concerns among allies about the US commitment to the Asia Pacific on Saturday, vowing the region would remain a “fundamental focus” of US foreign policy and that America would not be distracted from it by global events.

He also delivered a thinly veiled warning to China about the danger that aggressive actions involving territorial disputes in the South and East China Sea could “spiral into confrontation”.

“Any effective security order for Asia must be based – not on spheres of influence, or coercion or intimidation where big nations bully the small – but on alliances for mutual security, international law and international norms that are upheld, and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” said President Obama in a speech delivered on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Brisbane.

Mr Obama said the US had invested its “blood and treasure” in the region during past conflicts and no one should ever question American “resolve or our commitment to our allies”. Although he did not mention China directly, his comments about disputes over “remote islands and rocky shoals” were a reference to tensions between Beijing and neighbours in the south and East China Sea.

Earlier this year Chinese ships rammed Vietnamese ships during a showdown following Beijing’s decision to erect an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China sea. Tensions over territorial disputes between China, Japan and the Philippines have also heightened over the past year.

President Obama’s speech comes towards the end of an eight day trip to Asia, during which he has attempted to reaffirm his administrations’ “pivot” towards the Asian region. The pivot strategy aims to boost American presence in the Asia Pacific through increased military deployments, trade and diplomatic contacts in an area experiencing rapid economic growth.

Since the strategy was announced in 2011, the US has been drawn into conflicts in the Middle East leading commentators to question if the Asia Pacific is at the centre of US foreign policy.

“The US has been distracted by other crises and there is a sense that China has been able to get away with things in the Asia Pacific region that it may not otherwise have been able to,” says Brendon O’Connor, associate professor at Sydney University.

“This speech is about providing reassurance to allies,” he said.

President Obama acknowledged there were times when people had been sceptical of the US rebalance towards Asia and whether America had the staying power to maintain the policy.

“I’m here to say that American leadership in the Asia Pacific will always be a fundamental focus of my foreign policy,” he said.

President Obama said events in Ukraine, the Middle East and the Ebola outbreak in Africa had intervened. But he said this was not distracting the US from its pivot to the Asia Pacific region, where he noted more than half of America’s naval and air force would be deployed by 2020.

He said the US would continue to pursue a constructive relationship with China but would not put aside its own values and ideals in doing so.

President Obama will hold a three way meeting with the leaders of Japan and Australia on the sidelines of the G20.

His speech to an audience of students at the University of Queensland included a call for action to tackle global warming and a pledge of US$3bn to a fund to help developing nations tackle climate change.

Mr Obama has sought to place action on climate agenda on the agenda of the G20 summit – a move resisted by host Australia, which wants the meeting to focus on economic reforms.

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