Obama Goes ‘Down Under’ to Boost U.S. Influence in Pacific

Third time’s a charm for President Obama who, after two previously scuttled attempts, will today make his first trip Down Under.

Obama embarks on a 5,200-mile flight to Australia this afternoon aboard Air Force One after three days in his native Honolulu, where he hosted world leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The Australia visit, the 7th by a U.S. president, coincides with the 60 th anniversary of the U.S.-Australia alliance and highlights the countries’ increasingly close economic and military ties.  It also signals the Obama administration’s effort to strengthen U.S. influence in the Asia Pacific region to counterbalance China.

Obama arrives in the Australian capital Canberra Wednesday afternoon local time for a whirlwind day-and-a-half visit that includes a meeting with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, an address to the Australian Parliament, and a jaunt to an Australian military base in the northern coastal city of Darwin.

Obama is expected to announce plans to expand military ties with Australia, including the stationing of U.S. military resources there and additional joint training exercises.

“Our presence there stabilizes that region and facilitates a great deal of commerce — more than $5 trillion in commerce, of which more than a trillion dollars is actually related to American commerce and is tied to the American economy,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

“There are many important reasons for the United States military to have a robust role there.  We are certainly interested in leveraging that role to strengthen our partnerships with our allies and friends in the region.  And Australia is certainly among those,” he said.

Officials have said stationing additional U.S. military resources in the region will also allow the U.S. to respond more quickly to potential military conflict or natural disasters which may require humanitarian assistance, like the March earthquake and tsunami which devastated Japan.

Absent from Obama’s itinerary are stops at some of Australia’s world-renowned landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef.  Aides say there simply isn’t enough time in the president’s schedule, but not without regret.

“This is the double-edged sword of presidential travel,” Earnest said. “You get to go to amazing places that many Americans don’t have the opportunity to see; the other side of that coin, though, is that oftentimes you spend a lot of time inside the hotel ballrooms or in convention centers or in meetings, and don’t get as much of an opportunity to get out and see the sights.”

On Friday, Obama will leave Australia for Bali, Indonesia, where he’ll attend a two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations security summit before returning to Washington on Sunday.

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