President Obama defended his oft-maligned “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific on Saturday, telling Australians that the U.S. is committed to his shifting of America’s attention to the security and economic growth of the region for decades to come.
“There are times when people have been skeptical of this rebalance, they’re wondering whether America has the staying power to sustain it,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. “I’m here to say that American leadership in the Asia-Pacific will always be a fundamental focus of my foreign policy.”
The president also announced that the U.S. will contribute $3 billion to an international fund to combat the effects of climate change in developing nations.
Mr. Obama, in Australia for a summit of the Group of 20 nations, said he hasn’t lost his focus on the region as his administration grapples with other emergencies such as fighting terrorism in the Middle East, combating Ebola in Africa and confronting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
“Yes, we have a range of responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s a burden we gladly shoulder. That’s the deal. No one should ever question our resolve or our commitment to our allies. Day in and day out … we will continue to deepen our engagement [in Asia]. In good times and in bad, you can count on the United States of America.”
Mr. Obama noted that the U.S. has agreed to deploy a rotation of Marines at Darwin in northern Australia, and he said the U.S. military is working to “distribute” its assets across the region more evenly, including in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
“By the end of this decade, a majority of our Navy and Air Force fleets will be based out of the Pacific, because the United States is, and will always be, a Pacific power,” Mr. Obama said.
The president also pledged to keep promoting economic growth in the region through proposals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that the administration has been seeking to complete with 11 other Pacific rim countries. And he hailed his nonbinding agreement with Beijing to cut carbon emissions in the U.S. and to cap greenhouse gases in China around 2030, saying it will give momentum to a global pact on climate change next year.
“If China and the United States can agree on this, the world can agree on this. We can get this done,” he said.
At the opening of the G20 summit, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said world leaders would deliver on a pledge to add $2 trillion to global GDP through freer trade and more investment in infrastructure.
“This is our message to the world — that government can deliver,” Mr. Abbott told reporters. “That’s what the world expects of us.”
Mr. Obama will return to the U.S. late Sunday after head-to-head meetings with Mr. Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, completing the week-long trip that began in China and also took him to Myanmar.