Honolulu: Simply by showing up, President
Barack Obama is making good on a promise twice deferred to visit Australia.
It also will be an occasion to renew bonds with an
exceptionally close US ally and strengthen the two nations`
defense posture in the Pacific region.
Obama set out yesterday from Hawaii bound for the
Australian capital of Canberra. Crossing the international
dateline on Air Force One, he was to arrive mid-afternoon
local time Wednesday for a day and a half visit.
For Obama and Australia, the third time`s the charm. He
cancelled two earlier visits, once to stay in town to lobby
for passage of his health care bill, and again in the wake of
the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The president is expected to announce that the US is
expanding its military presence in Australia, positioning US equipment there, increasing access to bases and conducting more joint exercises and training.
The moves would counter an increasingly aggressive China,
which claims dominion over vast areas of the Pacific that the
US considers international waters, and has alarmed smaller
Asian neighbours by reigniting old territorial disputes,
including confrontations over the South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that the goal is
to signal that the US and Australia will stick together in
face of any threats.
Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, speaking
with reporters on the flight to Australia, said that serving
as a counterweight to China`s growing influence was just one
factor in the ramped-up US military presence in Australia.
Others included being able to respond more quickly to
natural disasters in the region, such as the devastating
earthquake and tsunami earlier this year in Japan, and
fighting terrorism and piracy on the high seas to help keep
sea lanes of commerce open.