Officials: US to Remain Pacific Power

Officials: US to Remain Pacific Power

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- The United States will stay committed to remaining a Pacific power despite potential policy changes under President Donald Trump's new administration, officials told a conference Monday on U.S. alliances with Australia and Japan.

The U.S. Embassy to Australia's political counselor John Hennessey-Niland said U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region can be reassured that the Pacific will remain key to U.S. interests under the new administration. Joint training and information-sharing will increase, he said.

"We are in a period of time of change and transition, U.S. national interests do not change. It remains in the U.S. interest to be a Pacific power and to support and strengthen the bilateral, trilateral and multilateral relationships that knit this region together," Hennessey-Niland told the conference at the Australian National University.

While campaigning, Trump called on U.S. allies to invest more on defending themselves and described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as obsolete, although British Prime Minister Theresa May said last week after meeting Trump that he was "100 percent" behind NATO.

Amy Searight, the U.S. deputy assistant of defense for South and Southeast Asia until 2016, said Trump "does appear ... to be backing off the campaign rhetoric" toward U.S. allies. She welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Washington, DC, in early February.

Trump's plans to expand the U.S. Navy from 270 to 350 ships could lead to more U.S. warships in the Indo-Pacific region and create more opportunities for alliance collaboration, Searight said.

The reasons behind Obama administration pivot to Asia — the need for the United States, Japan and Australia to respond to a more assertive China — remain relevant, she said.

"The logic of the rebalance to Asia remains very strong, it's based on enduring national interest in the United States and it has strong bipartisan support, so I think we can expect a commitment and focus on the Asia-Pacific region," said Searight, now a director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC .