Biden taps Asia czar as Blinken’s deputy

Alex Willemyns for RFA
Biden taps Asia czar as Blinken’s deputy U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell speaks to reporters at the South Korean Presidential Office in Seoul, July 18, 2023.
Kim Hong-Ji/Pool/AFP

UPDATED at 2:30 p.m. ET on 2023-11-01

U.S. President Joe Biden has nominated the chief architect of his foreign policy on Asia, Kurt Campbell, to serve as the next deputy secretary of state, replacing Wendy Sherman who retired in July.

Campbell has served as Biden’s “Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs” since the president took office in January 2021, and previously served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2009 to 2013 under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

During his time in Clinton’s State Department, Campbell was the originator of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” and later penned “The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia.”

Under Biden, he also led the creation of the “AUKUS” security pact among Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States and the reinvigoration of the decade-old but meandering “Quad” security grouping between Australia, Japan, India and the United States.

Both moves have widely been viewed as part of broader U.S.-led efforts to counter China’s growing military aggressiveness, such as its expansive claims to the South China Sea and threats over Taiwan.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed Campbell’s nomination and hoped the Senate would confirm him.

“Secretary Blinken sent a message out to the workforce today welcoming the announcement,” Miller said. “Congress has a job to do here in properly considering and confirming our nominees, and we hope that they'll do so as expeditiously as possible.”

‘China hawk’

Campbell is best known for promoting a more assertive U.S. foreign policy against Beijing – and for refocusing American foreign policy on the rise of China – and last year was even described by Politico as perhaps “the biggest China hawk of them all” in the White House.

Most recently, though, Campbell has been at the forefront of a U.S. push for calmer ties with Beijing, arguing that “the last thing that the Chinese need right now is an openly hostile relationship with the United States” and that both sides could benefit from more predictability.

Campbell will require Senate confirmation to take up the role of deputy secretary of state, but it is unclear when hearings will be held, with a large backlog of confirmation hearings before the Senate.

Sherman, the erstwhile deputy secretary of state, retired after more than two years in the role. She was undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Obama administration, and was the lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear deal later ripped up under President Donald Trump.

Jon Finer, Biden’s deputy national security adviser, had been the State Department’s preferred candidate to succeed Sherman and was considered the front-runner for the role, but the White House earlier this month said he was “indispensable” in his current job.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news service affiliated with Radio Free Asia, produced this report. It has been updated to include a statement from State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.


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