President Obama said Saturday the U.S. "is and always will be a Pacific power” and pledged that he would keep his eyes on the region for the remainder of his term in office despite skepticism in Asia that this vast swath of the world is only a passing interest for Americans.
Speaking to college students on the Queensland University campus, Obama argued that Americans have long sacrificed “blood and treasure” so that people of the region “might live free.”
“So no one should ever question our resolve or our commitment to our allies,” Obama said. “I’m here today to say that American leadership in the Asia-Pacific will always be a fundamental focus of my foreign policy.”
The question of U.S. engagement in the region has been raised a lot lately of Obama, a Hawaii native who considers himself America’s first Pacific president. He promised during his first term that he would oversee a U.S. “pivot to Asia,” a realignment of strategic and diplomatic interests to focus on the continent.
But the Obama administration was never able to make that turn as fully as it wanted, given persistent and pressing issues, including war and conflict in the Middle East and vexing domestic political problems.
This time last year, Obama abruptly canceled a lengthy trip to Asia as Republicans threatened to shut down the government.
He instead sent Secretary of State John F. Kerry to take his place at several summits in Asia and dispatched his Pentagon chief and national security advisor several times over the last year to work on relations.
But the sting of the no-show has lingered over the president’s trip through China, Myanmar and Australia this week. At every stop, he has insisted in private conversations with leaders that the renewed focus on Asia and Australia is real.
The idea was at the heart of his opening message upon arrival in Brisbane for a summit of the world’s leading economies, the Group of 20.
People have been understandably skeptical of America’s promised rebalancing regarding Asia, Obama told the audience.
It’s true that pressing events have demanded U.S. attention, he said, and as the world’s superpower, the nation is obligated to focus on them.
But he said the U.S. would emphasize deterring the North Korean nuclear threat and promoting economic growth throughout Southeast Asia. The U.S. will be a partner in fighting the flow of foreign militants, countering terrorism and promoting compliance with international law in the South China Sea, he said.
“Day in, day out, steadily, deliberately, we will continue to deepen our engagement using every element of our power -- diplomacy, military, economic, development and the power of our values,” Obama said.
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