17 Nov 2011

US President stresses importance of Asia-Pacific to US

9:03 pm on 17 November 2011

US President Barack Obama has pledged Washington will maintain its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region even as it cuts overall defence spending.

Mr Obama made the pledge in a speech to Australian MPs and senators in parliament in Canberra.

"The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay," he told them.

He also stressed the importance of the region globally as the world's fastest-growing region and home to more than half the global economy.

"The Asia-Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority, and that's creating jobs and opportunity for the American people."

He also referred to the strategic importance of the region.

"With most of the world's nuclear powers and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or co-operation," Mr Obama said.

The US president also used his speech to emphasise Washington's willingness to co-operate with Beijing and improve communication between the superpowers.

The BBC says virtually everything the US president is doing during his nine-day trip across Asia and the Pacific has a Chinese sub-text.

Washington's view is that the relationship is largely positive, but marked by tensions over the high level of the Chinese currency, and issues surrounding human rights and military power.

President lays wreath at war memorial

Earlier, Mr Obama laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Canberra.

Security for the visit was extremely tight, with the front entrance of the memorial completely screened off by a large marquee.

The ABC reports those inside as saying Mr Obama walked along the wall of honour, pausing beside the names of those who died on HAMS Sydney in 1941 and the Australian servicemen who fought and died serving with the United States Air Force.