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Obama Lays Out America’s Asia-Pacific Agenda

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2009 – The United States is a Pacific nation, and America wants to strengthen alliances and understandings in the region, President Barack Obama said in Tokyo today.

Obama gave a major policy speech at Suntory Hall to 1,500 Japanese leaders. He met with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and with the emperor and empress of Japan.

The president praised the U.S-Japanese alliance as a partnership based on mutual interests and respect. The alliance has served both nations well in the past, and he expects it will change and deepen in the future, he said.

The United States pledged to defend Japan when a treaty was signed almost 50 years ago. Security is part of the overall relationship between the nations, and the two leaders agreed to move expeditiously through a joint working group to implement the security agreement on restructuring U.S. forces in Okinawa, Obama said.

While Japan is the anchor of American interests and commitments in the Pacific, “it doesn't end here,” the president said.

“Asia and the United States are not separated by this great ocean; we are bound by it,” he said. “We are bound by our past – by the Asian immigrants who helped build America, and the generations of Americans in uniform who served and sacrificed to keep this region secure and free.”

Prosperity binds the regions together, the president said, and he noted that millions of Americans trace their ancestry to Asia. “So I want everyone to know, and I want everybody in America to know, that we have a stake in the future of this region, because what happens here has a direct effect on our lives at home,” Obama said.

Japan and China are two of America’s largest trading partners, and the nations of Southeast Asia – especially Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore – are growing in importance to the American economy.

But the United States is interested in the region not only for economics, Obama said, but also for security.

“This is a place where the risk of a nuclear arms race threatens the security of the wider world, and where extremists who defile a great religion plan attacks on both our continents,” he said.

Obama said the United States will engage with old friends and seek new ones throughout the region. Alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines “continue to provide the bedrock of security and stability that has allowed the nations and peoples of this region to pursue opportunity and prosperity that was unimaginable at the time of my first childhood visit to Japan,” he said.

“And even as American troops are engaged in two wars around the world,” he added, “our commitment to Japan’s security and to Asia’s security is unshakeable, and it can be seen in our deployments throughout the region – above all, through our young men and women in uniform, of whom I am so proud.”

The United States looks for nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia to play larger roles regionally, he said, and he stressed that the national security and economic growth of one country need not come at the expense of another.

“I know there are many who question how the United States perceives China’s emergence,” he said. “But as I have said, in an interconnected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another. Cultivating spheres of cooperation – not competing spheres of influence – will lead to progress in the Asia-Pacific [region].”

This does not mean that China has a blank check, the president noted.

“America will approach China with a focus on our interests,” he said. “It's precisely for this reason that it is important to pursue pragmatic cooperation with China on issues of mutual concern, because no one nation can meet the challenges of the 21st century alone, and the United States and China will both be better off when we are able to meet them together.”

America welcomes China’s effort to play a greater role on the world stage – a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility, he said.

“China’s partnership has proved critical in our effort to jumpstart economic recovery,” the president said. “China has promoted security and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it is now committed to the global nonproliferation regime, and supporting the pursuit of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

The United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of American bilateral alliances in the region, Obama said.

“On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations,” he said. “So in Beijing and beyond, we will work to deepen our strategic and economic dialogue, and improve communication between our militaries.

“Of course, we will not agree on every issue,” he continued, “and the United States will never waver in speaking up for the fundamental values that we hold dear – and that includes respect for the religion and cultures of all people – because support for human rights and human dignity is ingrained in America. But we can move these discussions forward in a spirit of partnership, rather than rancor.”

The president said he also believes multilateral organizations can advance the security and prosperity of the Asia Pacific.

“I know that the United States has been disengaged from many of these organizations in recent years,” he acknowledged. “So let me be clear: Those days have passed. As an Asia-Pacific nation, the United States expects to be involved in the discussions that shape the future of this region, and to participate fully in appropriate organizations as they are established and evolve.”

The security of the 21st century in the area, the president said, is threatened by a legacy of the 20th century: the danger posed by nuclear weapons.

“In Prague, I affirmed America’s commitment to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and laid out a comprehensive agenda to pursue this goal,” he said. “I am pleased that Japan has joined us in this effort, for no two nations on Earth know better what these weapons can do, and together we must seek a future without them. This is fundamental to our common security, and this is a great test of our common humanity. Our very future hangs in the balance.”

But as long as nuclear weapons exist, Obama added, “the United States will maintain a strong and effective nuclear deterrent that guarantees the defense of our allies – including South Korea and Japan.”

Still, he said, an escalating nuclear arms race in the region would undermine decades of growth and prosperity. “So we are called upon to uphold the basic bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – that all nations have a right to peaceful nuclear energy; that nations with nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move toward nuclear disarmament and those without nuclear weapons have a responsibility to forsake them,” he said.

The United States is pursuing a new agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles and also is working to ratify and bring into force a nuclear test ban treaty. “And next year at our Nuclear Security Summit, we will advance our goal of securing all the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials within four years,” Obama said.

Strengthening the global nonproliferation movement is not about singling out individual nations, he said. “It's about all nations living up to their responsibilities,” the president said. “That includes the Islamic Republic of Iran. And it includes North Korea.”

North Korea has chosen a path of confrontation and provocation, Obama said, and is developing nuclear arms and the means to deliver them.

“It should be clear where this path leads,” the president said. “We have tightened sanctions on Pyongyang. We have passed the most sweeping U.N. Security Council resolution to date to restrict their weapons of mass destruction activities. We will not be cowed by threats, and we will continue to send a clear message through our actions, and not just our words: North Korea’s refusal to meet its international obligations will lead only to less security, not more.”

North Korea can renounce these efforts and be welcomed into the community of nations, Obama said.

“Instead of an isolation that has compounded the horrific repression of its own people, North Korea could have a future of international integration,” he said. “Instead of gripping poverty, it could have a future of economic opportunity – where trade and investment and tourism can offer the North Korean people the chance at a better life. And instead of increasing insecurity, it could have a future of greater security and respect. This respect cannot be earned through belligerence. It must be reached by a nation that takes its place in the international community by fully living up to its international obligations.”

He called on North Korea to return to the six-party talks and uphold previous commitments including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He also called for the full and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The United States will stand with Asian allies in combating the transnational threats of the 21st century: extremism, piracy, disease, poverty and modern-day slavery, the president said. “The final area in which we must work together’” he added, is in upholding the fundamental rights and dignity of all human beings.”

The American agenda in the area is ambitious, and it will not be easy, Obama said. “But at this moment of renewal … history tells us it is possible,” the Hawaiian-born president said. “This is … America's agenda. This is the purpose of our partnership with Japan, and with the nations and peoples of this region. And there must be no doubt: As America's first Pacific president, I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world.”

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