Obama-era veteran Kurt Campbell to lead Biden's Asia policy

By David Brunnstrom

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has picked an Obama-administration veteran, Kurt Campbell, to be his senior official for Asia policy, including the relationship with China, a spokeswoman for Biden's transition said on Wednesday.

Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia under Democratic President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is considered an architect of their "pivot to Asia" strategy, a vaunted but so far still limited rebalancing of resources to the region.

"I can confirm Kurt will be coordinator for the Indo-Pacific at the NSC," the transition spokeswoman said, referring to the White House National Security Council.

Since leaving government, Campbell, 63, has run the Asia Group consultancy and advised Biden's Democratic campaign. He is co-founder of the Center for a New American Security think tank.

Campbell outlined his approach to Asia in a 2016 book "The Pivot" which advocated strengthening existing alliances and building closer relations with states like India and Indonesia in the face of a rising China.

He has since endorsed some of the tough approaches toward China adopted by the Trump administration and praised some of outgoing Republican President Donald Trump's unprecedented dealings with North Korea.

However, he has also criticized Trump for failing to engage sufficiently with the region as a whole and for undermining relations with key allies like Japan and South Korea.

In a Foreign Affairs article this week Campbell wrote of the need for "serious U.S. re-engagement" in Asia and "ad hoc" coalitions and partnerships to sustain the existing order threatened by China.

Probably Campbell's greatest challenge will be finding ways to recalibrate Trump's fractious relationship with Beijing to an extent that allows for Biden's aim of cooperation on issues such as climate change, while pursuing policies aimed at changing Chinese behavior.

Last month, Campbell said Washington's "ticket to the big game" in Asia was the U.S. military presence and its ability to deter challenges to the current "operating system" - a reference to China's bid to establish itself as the dominant regional power.

He said the United States must also demonstrate a vision for"an optimistic, open trading system," working with allies and denying China access to areas where it was necessary to maintain a cutting edge, such as artificial intelligence, robotics or 5G.

In his Foreign Affairs article, written with Rush Doshi, a Brookings Institution fellow seen as another possible Asia appointment under Biden, Campbell said Washington should move away from a "singular focus on primacy" and "expensive and vulnerable" military platforms such as aircraft carriers designed to maintain it.

Instead, they wrote, Washington should prioritize deterring China through relatively inexpensive and asymmetric capabilities such as cruise and ballistic missiles, unmanned carrier-based aircraft, submarines, and high-speed strike weapons.

Campbell has backed away from his past support for a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement Washington negotiated under Obama and from which Trump withdrew.

But while warning that rejoining such multilateral trade agreements could not be expected at the start of a Biden administration, given the U.S. domestic mood, he has also called a new China-backed Asia-Pacific trade deal and Beijing's interest in the TPP "a real wake-up call."

Campbell has said the incoming administration would have to make an early decision on its approach to North Korea and not repeat the Obama-era delay that led to "provocative" steps by Pyongyang that prevented engagement.

Campbell praised Trump's unprecedented summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even though no progress has been made persuading Kim to give up nuclear weapons and missiles.

"Some boldness is appropriate in American foreign policy, particularly in Asia," said Campbell, who has also spoken of maintaining strong backing for Taiwan, which the Trump administration boosted.

Campbell has said Republicans and Democrats need to work together on China, saying Washington faces "a period of deep strategic competition" with Beijing and must dispel the notion that America is in a "hurtling decline."

"We have to convince other countries we have our own house in order," he said. Without both parties working together on China and Asia, he added, "we will, in all likelihood, fail."

© Thomson Reuters 2021.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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"Standing to the world's biggest human rights abuser is essential" — Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong.

Good luck Campbell dealing with China.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

As the eagle leaves, the hawks are descending.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Who / what now ?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Hokkaidoboy.... The worlds biggest human rights abuser? I think Saudi Arabia comes under the Middle East not Asia.

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They were friends, right? Kurt,Biden,China!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Didn't read anything that I disagree with, but have to wait to see what actually happens. I think the "non-militerized" atificial islands that China built were done during the Obama administration where Kurt was presumably was helping with policy.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Campbell has said Republicans and Democrats need to work together..

We have to convince other countries we have our own house in order..

Good Luck!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Mr Kipling - not his words, those of Joshua Wong. Q: Which is country has 800 military bases and intelligence-gathering outposts in foreign countries around the globe?

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They were friends, right? Kurt,Biden,China!

No, not at all. When Hu Jintao was CCP General Secretary and PRC President the US/China relationship was much different, much more relaxed. Under Hu there were serious discussions of allowing individuals and companies to own land (currently all urban land is owned by the PRC central government and all farm land is owned by collectives) and there were experiments with competitive elections for local positions in some small towns. But Hu finished his second term and was replaced with Xi Jinping. Xi's authoritarian streak and aggressive posture changed the US/China relationship and by the final two years of the Obama Administration the US was shifting Navy and Air Force units from other regions to the Pacific to beef up US forces. Also a number of new weapons programs were begun, aimed at the Chinese threat. Those systems are just now coming on line. Mr. Campbell was a big part of this "Pivot to the Pacific". Some call him its architect.

I can clearly recall visits by Chinese naval delegations to our base at North Island during the Reagan Administration, giving them demonstrations of US equipment hoping they would buy it as the US triangulated China against the USSR. Deng himself toured one of the aircraft carriers stationed at North Island. And after these visits you would always see a bunch of Chinese navy uniform hats, basically a bright blue version of the standard Mao hat, turn up in offices all over base, horse traded for US Navy uniform hats. I still laugh thinking about a day when one of these delegations was drooling over my motorcycle, a newer (at the time) BMW, a far cry from the Chang Jiangs made in China.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

 I think the "non-militerized" atificial islands that China built were done during the Obama administration where Kurt was presumably was helping with policy.

Which is part of what led to the Pivot to the Pacific.

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Hokkaidoboy.... The worlds biggest human rights abuser? I think Saudi Arabia comes under the Middle East not Asia.

Incorrect. Saudi Arabia is considered to be part of West Asia. What is called the "Middle East" is split between North Africa and West Asia. The dividing line is the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

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As Assistant Secretary of State under the Obama administration a decade ago, Kurt Campbell worked hard to implement the bilateral agreement to relocate USMC Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Nago City, Okinawa. He knows well enough that there's a strong local opposition to the plan as ever. 

Sit-ins against it have been going on since he was an incumbent ten years ago. Will he be able to get our understanding this time around?

The replacement is nothing but a white elephant in terms of cost and deterrence.  Explain why it isn't.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Explain why Henoko is the only solution for the Futenma relocation issue as Tokyo and Washington keep saying. Explain why the new Marine base at Henoko isn't a white elephant in terms of cost and deterrence. 


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Clause 1 of Article 4 of the 1971 Okinawa Reversion Agreement stipulates:

Japan waives all claims of Japan and its nations (nationals?) against the United States of America and its nationals and against the local authorities of the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands, arising from the presence, operations or actions of forces or authorities of the United States of America in these islands, or from the presence, operations or actions of forces or authorities of the United States of America having had any effect upon these islands, prior to the date of entry into force of this Agreement.

Does this rescind the illegality of what U.S. occupation forces did to make bases in Okinawa, freely encroaching upon private lands in violation of the "Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land"? Article 46 of which states: "Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated."

It's more than apparent that the U.S. has no innate right at all to demand a replacement for Futenma be built in Henoko or wherever in Japan in exchange for its return.

I wait for Campbell, if he ever has a chance to see this post, or anyone on this thread to refute this opinion of mine.

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In his general policy speech 2021 yesterday, an equivalent to a U.S. President's state of union address, Prime Minister Suga repeated his worn-out mantra that he will exert his efforts to have the Futenma air station returned and its replacement built in Henoko as soon as possible. 

LOL. Futenma could be returned tomorrow with no condition attached and met if he wanted .

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