Herald Sun

By Geoffrey Garrett

"From the trenches of the First World War to the mountains of Afghanistan, Aussies and Americans have stood together, fought together and given their lives together in every single major conflict of the past hundred years. Every single one."

Brits believe they have a "special relationship" with the United States. Obama went out of his way to make it clear he thinks the relationship with Australia is just as special.

"After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific."

But after celebrating the Australia-US relationship, Obama moved quickly on to what amounts to nothing less than a new Obama doctrine. After carefully disengaging from George Bush's wars, Obama is committed to making our region his highest foreign policy priority.

"Reductions in US defense spending will not - I repeat, will not - come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific."

Some Australians worry that the US just can't afford to be a powerful presence in the region given its debt and deficit woes. Obama went out of his way categorically to refute this notion.

"With Australia and other partners, we're on track to achieve our most ambitious trade agreement yet, and a potential model for the region - the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

We will have to get used to a new acronym, the TPP, a free-trade area for the Asia-Pacific that is US-led and built on US principles that would dwarf in scale the European Union.

"We need growth that is fair, where every nation plays by the rules - where workers' rights are respected and our businesses can compete on a level playing field and where currencies are market-driven, so no nation has an unfair advantage."

Though not mentioned, the target of these comments is China. Obama is saying these are the global economic rules China must play by. To join TPP, these are the reforms China would have to make.

"Certain rights are universal, among them freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and the freedom of citizens to choose their own leaders. These are not American rights, or Australian rights, or Western rights. They are human rights."

Values are at the centre of Obama's Asia-Pacific push, and again China is the implicit focus. But he wants to insist these are inalienable human rights, not parochial concerns of the US.

"History is on the side of the free - free societies, free governments, free economies, free people. And the future belongs to those who stand firm for these ideals, in this region and around the world."

The US was created by people who fought for the country's freedom. Obama emphasised that freedom remains the US's motivating value, abroad as much as at home.