President Barack Obama has launched the United States on a new thrust into Asia and the Pacific, strengthening its military commitment, which he is protecting from budget cuts, and setting a new agenda on trade, democracy and human rights.
In moves that have drawn sharp criticism from China and Indonesia, Obama has boosted the presence of US forces in Australia and said yesterday that ship visits and training would be increased in the Philippines and Singapore, and co-operation boosted with Vietnam and Cambodia.
In a policy-setting address to both Houses of Parliament, he also said the US commitment to South Korea would "never waver" and warned that America would take firm action against North Korea if it sent nuclear material to other states or terrorist groups. "We would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action."
On Wednesday Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that from next year the US would send Marines on six-month deployments to the Northern Territory, building to a 2500-strong taskforce supported by helicopters. Visits and training by aircraft including B52 bombers and strike jets will also increase, and US warships and nuclear-powered submarines will operate from Australia's Stirling navy base near Perth.
Obama denied the move was aimed at China. "All of our nations have a profound interest in the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China. We've seen that China can be a partner from reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula to preventing proliferation."
Obama said the US would seek more opportunities for co-operation, including military ties to promote understanding and avoid "miscalculation".
"We will do this even as we continue to speak candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people."
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told ABC radio it might not be appropriate for Australia to strengthen and extend its alliance with the US. "Whether it suits the common interests of countries around the region and the whole international community remains under question," he said.
The Communist Party organ People's Daily said Australia could not play China for a fool in trying to balance its security benefits from the US with economic gains from China. "One thing is certain. If Australia uses its military bases to help the US harm Chinese interests, then Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire."
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also warned of potential harm: "What I would hate to see is if such developments were to provoke a reaction and counter-reaction precisely to create that vicious circle of tensions and mistrust or distrust."
Both China and Indonesia, with New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and India, were briefed on the new deployments before the announcement.
Obama said the US would maintain its military strength in the region with a modernised, more flexible defence posture that would include helping allies and friends increase their defence capacity. "With most of the world's nuclear powers and nearly half of humanity, this region will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or co-operation, needless suffering or human progress. As President, I've therefore made a deliberate and strategic decision - as a Pacific nation, the US will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with allies and friends ...
"As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in US defence spending will not - I repeat, will not - come at the expense of the Asia Pacific."
Beyond security, Obama said the regional focus had two other threads: prosperity and the upholding of fundamental human rights.
"The US remains the world's largest and most dynamic economy. But in an interconnected world, we all rise and fall together."
He said the region also needed to work together to achieve sustainable growth, requiring unprecedented investments in clean energy, increased energy efficiency, and meeting the commitments made at the Copenhagen and Cancun climate change summits.
Obama also visited a high school in Canberra where he was asked of he wanted to use stars such as Justin Bieber to get his message across. "Hopefully, if I'm going to be successful it's going to be because of the ideas I put forward and not because I'm hanging out with Justin Bieber, although he's a very nice young man and I'll tell him you said hi."
Obama flew to Darwin to speak to Australian troops before leaving for the East Asian Summit in Bali.
GIFTS FROM DOWN UNDER
The Australian Government has given US President Barack Obama:
* Sheepskin boots and toy kangaroos and koalas for his daughters.
* A DVD of the Australian smash-hit film Red Dog.
* Two packs of Tim Tam biscuits.
* A fawn-coloured Akubra Cattleman hat.
* A framed photograph of the 1941 signing of the Anzus treaty.
* Books including That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott, Truth by Peter Temple and Breath by Tim Winton.