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Architect of Obama pivot to steer Asia policy for Biden

AFP logo AFP 1/13/2021 AFP
Kurt M. Campbell wearing a suit and tie: Kurt Campbell, seen delivering a speech in 2012 while assistant secretary of state for East Asia, is returning to government as President-elect Joe Biden's top aide on Asia © TORU YAMANAKA Kurt Campbell, seen delivering a speech in 2012 while assistant secretary of state for East Asia, is returning to government as President-elect Joe Biden's top aide on Asia

Kurt Campbell, a key architect of Barack Obama's US "pivot" to Asia, will take a top job for President-elect Joe Biden, signaling renewed efforts to rally with allies in the face of a rising China.

Campbell will serve as coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council and deputy to Jake Sullivan, the incoming national security advisor, said The Asia Group, a consultancy Campbell founded in 2013 after leaving government.

Allies such as Japan and South Korea are likely to be relieved by the appointment of Campbell, who has criticized President Donald Trump's heavy pressure on them to pay more for US bases.

Trump "strained virtually every element of the region's operating system," Campbell wrote in an essay this week in Foreign Affairs co-authored with Rush Doshi, a China expert at the Brookings Institution.

The two wrote that the United States "needs to make a conscious effort to deter Chinese adventurism" but advocated a more nuanced approach than the Trump team, which has spoken of a global Cold War-like struggle against Beijing.

Asian nations do not want to have to choose between the United States and China, Campbell and Doshi wrote.

"A better solution would be for the United States and its partners to persuade China that there are benefits to a competitive but peaceful region," they wrote, saying Beijing should be offered a place in a regional order if it abides by agreed-upon rules.

On defense, they called for the United States to "start by moving away from its singular focus on primacy and the expensive and vulnerable platforms such as aircraft carriers" and instead pursue "asymmetric capabilities" such as long-range missiles and submarines.

A longtime presence on Washington's think-tank circuit who studied music in Armenia and played tennis at Oxford, the garrulous Campbell was an unusually lively presence in the often staid world of diplomacy when he served as secretary of state Hillary Clinton's top diplomat on Asia.

Pursuing a hectic travel schedule, he led the Obama administration's "pivot" under which the United States said it would reorient resources toward Asia, seeing future interests there rather than the conflict-ridden Middle East.

Campbell was a key force in US reconciliation with Myanmar which transitioned to democracy, although the country's leadership has since come under heavy criticism for mass killings of Rohingya Muslims.

sct/bgs

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