President-elect Joe Biden has called on Kurt Campbell, one of the last generation of America’s Pacific strategy architects, for an expanded White House role that reflects Biden’s focus on resolution economic, geopolitical and security challenges posed by China.
Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia in the Obama administration, will hold the title of Indo-Pacific Coordinator at the National Security Council, a portfolio that says “we see this region holistically”, a senior national security adviser for the transition told the team to the Daily Beast.
“We believe this is a fundamentally competitive relationship [with China], but one that on certain issues it will be in the interests of the United States to work with China even as we compete, ”the adviser said. “Kurt’s selection sends a signal, because he’s a great practitioner, about the increased strategic importance of the relationship and the seriousness with which we will take this region.
Campbell has been at the forefront of American policy toward Asia for the past 25 years. At the Pentagon, under the Clinton administration, Campbell led Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye, “Initiative Nye,” strengthening US alliances in the Pacific before a predicted explosion in wealth, power, influence and China’s ambition. As the principal Asian official under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Campbell helped design the “Pivot to Asia,” an effort to rebalance the geostrategic focus of the United States away from the Middle East to for similar reasons – and that has given mixed results.
His approach has been to counterbalance China through a network of regional partnerships to preserve the US political and military advantage. In Campbell’s 2016 book, The pivot, he criticized “the mistaken assumption that good bilateral relations are the key to good politics in Asia.” But a much more powerful China – and a faltering America – now confronts Campbell, all of which begs the question of whether the future of the relationship will be one of cooperation, competition, confrontation – or a mix. three.
Campbell is as familiar in Asian capitals as he is in Washington think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security, which he co-founded. He is currently president of the Asia group, which describes itself as a “strategic advisory and capital management group specializing in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region”.
“Kurt is widely recognized as the most talented and influential thinker on Asia within the Democratic Party of the last generation,” said Michael J. Green, who was senior director of the National Security Council for Asia. at George W. Bush’s White House and who worked with Campbell in the Pentagon.
At the Pentagon and the State Department, Green said, Campbell “was the biggest name in the US government on Asia, the one everyone looked to in the region, the guy who brought real energy and style. , really, to engage Asia more deeply. “
The role of coordinator is a revival of a position Obama has employed to give broad responsibility to a single figure empowered to coordinate policies for a region or a critical issue. He will sit just below National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, above three senior directors of the NSC. who will respond to Campbell. Biden’s transition has so far announced two other coordinators: Brett McGurk, coordinator for Middle East and North Africa, and Shanthi Kalathil, coordinator for human rights and democracy.
Campbell’s track record, which dates back to the Nye Initiative at the Pentagon, ensures that many in the region will read Campbell’s appointment as a signal that revitalizing Pacific alliances is a priority for the administration, Green said.
“So the NSC Asian store is going to be on steroids, there’s never been anything like it. This is a strong signal from the White House that the Biden administration is going to put a huge focus on Asia and the problem of China, ”Green said. “A lot of people who wanted this job are Chinese experts, who argued that ‘China is a problem, I know China’. But they picked Kurt, I think, because he said, “I know China, but more importantly I know allies and partners.” “
“Kurt is someone who has experience and deep relationships with our key allies in the region,” said the senior transition adviser. “We have said in other contexts that we judge the success of our foreign policy by its impact on working American families, and this is a region deeply linked to these problems because of economic relations with countries of the United States. the Indo-Pacific, and quite frankly, some of the security issues and threats, primarily North Korea. “
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