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President Barack Obama, Tokyo, Nov. 14, 2009
Relations between the U.S. and Asia
In two months, our alliance [U.S. and Japan] will mark its 50th anniversary – a day when President Dwight Eisenhower stood next to Japan’s Prime Minister and said that our two nations were creating “an indestructible partnership” based on “equality and mutual understanding.”
In the half century since, that alliance has endured as a foundation of our security and prosperity. It has helped us become the world’s two largest economies, with Japan emerging as America’s second-largest trading partner outside of North America. It has evolved as Japan has played a larger role on the world stage, and made important contributions to stability around the world – from reconstruction in Iraq, to combating piracy off the Horn of Africa, to assistance for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan – most recently through its remarkable leadership in providing additional commitments to international development efforts there.
Above all, our alliance has endured because it reflects our common values – a belief in the democratic right of free people to choose their own leaders and realize their own dreams; a belief that made possible the election of both Prime Minister Hatoyama and myself on the promise of change. And together, we are committed to providing a new generation of leadership for our people, and our alliance.
That is why, at this critical moment in history, the two of us have not only reaffirmed our alliance – we have agreed to deepen it. We have agreed to move expeditiously through a joint working group to implement the agreement that our two governments reached on restructuring U.S. forces in Okinawa. And as our alliance evolves and adapts for the future, we will always strive to uphold the spirit that President Eisenhower described long ago – a partnership of equality and mutual respect.
But while our commitment to this region begins in Japan, it does not end here. The United States of America may have started as a series of ports and cities along the Atlantic, but for generations we also have been a nation of the Pacific. Asia and the United States are not separated by this great ocean; we are bound by it. We are bound by our past – by the Asian immigrants who helped build America, and the generations of Americans in uniform who have served and sacrificed to keep this region secure and free. We are bound by our shared prosperity – by the trade and commerce upon which millions of jobs and families depend. And we are bound by our people – by the Asian Americans who enrich every segment of American life, and all the people whose lives, like our countries, are interwoven.
My own life is a part of that story. I am an American President who was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia as a boy. My sister Maya was born in Jakarta, and later married a Chinese-Canadian. My mother spent nearly a decade working in the villages of Southeast Asia, helping women buy a sewing machine or an education that might give them a foothold in the world economy. So the Pacific rim has helped shape my view of the world.
Since that time, perhaps no region has changed as swiftly or dramatically. Controlled economies have given way to open markets. Dictatorships have become democracies. Living standards have risen while poverty has plummeted. And through all these changes, the fortunes of America and the Asia Pacific have become more closely linked than ever before.
So I want every American to know that we have a stake in the future of this region, because what happens here has a direct affect on our lives at home. This is where we engage in much of our commerce and buy many of our goods. And this is where we can export more of our own products and create jobs back home in the process. 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. And there can be no solution to our energy security and our climate challenge without the rising powers and developing nations of the Asia Pacific.
To meet these common challenges, the United States looks to strengthen old alliances and build new partnerships with the nations of this region. To do this, we look to America’s treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines – alliances that are not historical documents from a bygone era, but abiding commitments to each other that are fundamental to our shared security.
These alliances 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 visit to Japan. And even as American troops are engaged in two wars around the world, our commitment to Japan’s security and to Asian security is unshakeable, and it can be seen in our deployments throughout the region – above all, through our young men and women in uniform.
We look to rising powers with the view that in the 21st century, 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. But as I have said – in an inter-connected 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.
As with any nation, America will approach China with a focus on our interests. And it is 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. That is why we welcome China’s efforts to play a greater role on the world stage – a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility. China’s partnership has proved critical in our effort to jumpstart economic recovery. 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 the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
So the United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances. On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations. And so in Beijing and beyond, we will work to deepen our Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and improve communication between our militaries. We will not agree on every issue, 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.