Speaking to the Australian parliament in Canberra, Obama said that America’s “mission” in the Asia Pacific is a “top priority”.

The US president said despite cutbacks in other parts of the world, the US will more broadly distribute its military presence across Asia to become a Pacific powerhouse, as he battles to contain the rising economic and military might of China.

“As a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles, and in close partnership with our allies and friends,” Obama said.

“As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in US defence spending will not, I repeat, will not, come at the expense of the Asia Pacific.

“Indeed, we are already modernising America’s defence posture across the Asia Pacific. It will be more broadly distributed, maintaining our strong presence in Japan and the Korean peninsula, while enhancing our presence in South-East Asia,” he said.

The US President addressed the Australian parliament while on a brief visit Down Under before he flies to the Indonesian island of Bali for an East Asia summit.

His address came just after he announced he would permanently station military aircraft and up to 2500 marines in Australia’s

Northern Territory.

Obama also told members the US would put efforts in to curb nuclear proliferation by North Korea and China.

“The transfer of nuclear materials or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies,” he said.

He added: “And we’ll seek more opportunities for co-operation with Beijing, including greater communication between our militaries to promote understanding and avoid miscalculation.

“We will do this even as we continue to speak candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people.”

After a stop over in Canberra, Obama went to Darwin, where US marines will be based, and where US and Australian forces were killed in a Japanese attack during World War II.

He also joked with Australian prime minister Julia Gillard at a state dinner about using her country’s slang.