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Top US officer says US here for long haul

AAP logoAAP 14/12/2016 Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

The top US officer in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region has reassured Australia it can count on a US presence now and into the future.

Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, said the Australia-US alliance had benefited both countries and was critical to strengthening peace and prosperity around the world.

"Reports of America's abandonment of the Indo-Asia-Pacific are greatly exaggerated. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said in a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

Adml Harris said he would continue to serve President Obama and then will serve President DonaldTrump when he takes office on January 20.

"Just as I have for President Obama, I will give president-elect Trump and Secretary of Defence designate Jim Mattis my advice and recommendations on all issues concerning this alliance and this important region," he said.

"You can count on America now and into the future."

Adml Harris said the region faced challenges.

One is Islamic State and as it is eliminated in the Middle East, its fighters will likely return to their home countries "radicalised and weaponised."

"Only through multi-national collaboration, partnerships with a purpose, can we eradicate the ISIL disease before it metastasises in the Indo-Asia-Pacific," he said.

North Korea is the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons this century.

"Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong-un is a recipe for disaster," he said.

On an increasingly assertive China, Adml Harris said he had been clear in declaring he preferred co-operation to address shared security challenges.

"But I have also been loud and clear that we will not allow shared domains to be closed down unilaterally, no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea," he said.

Adml Harris said the US would co-operate where it could be but would be ready to confront where it must.

That includes freedom of navigation exercises, where US ships have sailed close by China's claimed islands in the South China Sea.

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