- Myanmar will chair ASEAN group in 2014
- The president will take part in the ASEAN economic summit
- The U.S. will expand its role in shaping the Asia Pacific region, Obama says
President Barack Obama took part Friday in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) economic summit and hailed an airplane sales deal between Boeing and an Indonesian airline.
Obama was in Bali, Indonesia, for the ASEAN meeting in a region that accounts for more than half of the world's GDP.
He held bilateral talks with India, the Philippines and Malaysia beforehand.
Obama helped announce a large plane order for U.S.-based Boeing to Lion Air.
"For the last several days, I've been talking about how we have to make sure that we've got a presence in this region, that it can result directly in jobs at home," Obama said in a statement. "And what we see here -- a multibillion-dollar deal between Lion Air -- one of the fastest-growing airlines not just in the region, but in the world -- and Boeing is going to result in over 100,000 jobs back in the United States of America, over a long period of time." He said more than 200 planes were in the order.
ASEAN leaders, meanwhile, agreed that Myanmar can chair the regional bloc in 2014, amid some signs of reform. Some critics say it is still too early to award the high-profile role to Myanmar, where between 600 and 1,000 political prisoners are believed to remain behind bars.
The Asian leg of Obama's trip follows two days spent in Australia, where he declared that the United States will increase its military presence and expand its role in shaping the Asia Pacific region. "Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in this region," Obama told the Australian Parliament. "The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay."
He announced an agreement with Australia on Wednesday that will expand military cooperation between the longtime allies and boost America's presence in the region.
In a speech a day later, Obama made it clear that the military expansion is a top priority in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, even as the United States faces the need to reduce mounting federal deficits and debt.
"As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority," Obama said. "As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not -- I repeat, will not -- come at the expense of the Asia Pacific."
The speech on the second day of his two-day trip to Australia, Obama's first as president, signaled a policy objective to compete head-on with China for influence in the region while also providing security assurances for allies.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that the policy comes in part from nations of the region seeking increased U.S. presence.
"The ability of the United States to help respond to contingencies is something that has been welcomed in recent years, whether, again, it was work that we're doing in the Philippines to counter violent extremism, work that we're doing to counter piracy in the region, the response to the tsunami in Indonesia," Rhodes said. "So in other words, there's a demand signal from the nations of the region, and this is something that we're doing in concert with one of our closest allies. So we believe it's not just entirely appropriate, but an important step to dealing with the challenges of the future of the Asia Pacific region."
Under the military agreement announced Wednesday, up to 250 U.S. Marines will be sent to Darwin and the northern region of Australia for military exercises and training. Over the next several years their numbers are expected to climb to 2,500 -- a full Marine ground task force.
Before departing Australia for Indonesia, the president, along with some U.S. Marines, visited a military base in Darwin. While speaking to the troops there, Obama thanked them for their service and praised the two nations' alliance, which is now 60 years old, and said he looks forward to a deepening of the alliance.
Going forward, our purpose is the same as it was 60 years ago -- "the preservation of peace and security. And in a larger sense, you're answering the question once posed by the great Banjo Paterson. Of Australia, he wrote, 'Hath she the strength for the burden laid upon her, hath she the power to protect and guard her own?'"
The president's Australian visit -- postponed twice in 2009 and 2010 due to the massive 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.