Military issues top agenda as Obama heads to Australia

Story highlights

  • Obama departs Tuesday for a two-day visit to Australia
  • Obama will announce an expanded U.S. military presence in Australia
  • Obama took part in the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii over the weekend
  • The president will wrap up his Pacific trip with a stop in Indonesia
President Barack Obama is set to announce an expanded American military presence in Australia later this week during his first visit to that country as commander-in-chief.
The president -- departing from Hawaii Tuesday -- is expected to make the announcement during a stop at a military base in Darwin, located in northern Australia. Among other things, U.S. Marines will begin using facilities in Darwin for training and war games, while American warships will increase their utilization of naval facilities in Western Australia near Perth.
Obama will hold talks with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard during his two-day visit, and is expected to discuss a range of regional economic and security issues during a speech to Australian legislators in Canberra.
The president's Australian visit -- postponed twice in 2009 and 2010 due to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and other domestic political considerations -- highlights a changing balance of power in the Pacific as China expands its military reach and the United States works to reduce its military footprint in Japan.
"I don't want to get ahead of any agreement," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters last week. "I'll just say that we're discussing with the Australians, again, the future of our alliance in the context ... of our future force posture in the region."
Obama's Australian visit comes on the heels of this weekend's 19-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which highlighted the need for new measures supporting job growth. During the Hawaiian summit, Obama stressed the importance of the Pacific to global economic security, and he pushed China to do more to help strengthen the world economy.
Specifically, Obama pushed Chinese President Hu Jintao to make sure China's trading partners aren't at a disadvantage with regard to currency devaluation and protection of intellectual property rights.
"Enough is enough," Obama said. "These practices aren't secret. I think everybody understands that they've been going on for quite some time. ... We're going to continue to be firm, to ensure that (the Chinese) operate by the same rules (as) everyone else."
Obama also referenced a number of steps to increase trade, spur innovation, promote "green growth" and ease barriers to travel and interactions.
For instance, Obama noted that Japan, Canada and Mexico expressed interest Sunday in joining the United States and other nations in working toward a Trans-Pacific Partnership -- an effort to spur regional trade. Tapping into the Asia-Pacific region's markets is critical to the United States, Obama emphasized.
In addition to meeting personally with Hu, Obama also huddled with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The only APEC leaders not in attendance at the summit were from Thailand and Mexico, which sent lower-level representatives as their heads of state dealt with flooding and, in the case of Mexico, the death of its interior minister.
With Medvedev, the president discussed both economic issues and Iran, which a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report finds to be closer to having the capacity to make nuclear weapons. Russia has expressed skepticism at the findings.
"We discussed Iran, and reaffirmed our intention to work to shape a common response so we can move Iran to follow its international obligations when it comes to its nuclear program," Obama said.
After wrapping up his visit to Australia, Obama will conclude his Pacific trip with a stop in Indonesia -- a country he spent several years living in during his childhood.