Joe Biden is poised to name Kurt Campbell, a veteran foreign policy expert, to serve in the newly created role of Asia tsar, in a move designed to reflect the growing importance of US-China relations.
Mr Biden will soon announce his choice of Mr Campbell, a former top Pentagon official who also served as the top state department Asia official during the Obama administration, said three people familiar with the move.
The Financial Times reported last month that Mr Biden was considering creating the new position inside the White House because of the rising importance attached to tackling a range of challenges from China.
One person familiar with the decision said it was partly taken because of the need to better integrate China policy across different government agencies with a veteran Asia expert at the helm. The person said Mr Biden recognised that China was an issue that every government agency — not just the traditional foreign policy, defence and economic-related departments — would have to grapple with more than in the past.
Mr Biden will come into office on January 20 facing a range of challenges, from how to deal with Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong to trade policy. He will also have to decide whether to maintain some of the tougher actions on China that Donald Trump launched in his final months in office.
Mr Campbell is close to Antony Blinken, the incoming secretary of state, and Jake Sullivan, the incoming national security adviser. He is married to Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor who was expected to become Treasury secretary but lost out to Janet Yellen, the former Fed governor.
“Kurt is the most important architect of Asia policy in the Democratic party of his generation,” said Michael Green, a Republican foreign policy expert who served as the top Asia adviser to President George W Bush. “He . . . led the so-called ‘pivot’ to Asia in the Obama administration, which was largely about pushing back against Chinese coercion in south-east Asia.”
Mr Green added that while the new role of Asia policy co-ordinator was “a bit unusual . . . the signal it sends about prioritisation on Asia and on our allies in particular will be very powerful”.
Along with Mr Sullivan, Mr Campbell, who has close ties to policymakers in Japan, is viewed as being one of the more hawkish Democrats on China. In an article in Foreign Affairs magazine two years ago, he said Washington needed a “clear-eyed rethinking” of its approach to Beijing after years of the US foreign policy establishment wrongly forecasting China’s path.
“Nearly half a century since Nixon’s first steps toward rapprochement, the record is increasingly clear that Washington once again put too much faith in its power to shape China’s trajectory,” Mr Campbell wrote with Ely Ratner, who is expected to become the top Pentagon Asia official.
In a separate Foreign Affairs article this month, Mr Campbell said US strategy for the Indo-Pacific region would benefit by drawing lessons from European history, including “the need for an allied and partner coalition to address China’s challenge to both”. He said the Trump administration had caused huge strains on alliances in Asia.
Mr Biden has signalled that rebuilding US relationships, including for the purposes of a creating more leverage with China, will be a top priority.
“Donald Trump himself strained virtually every element of the region’s operating system,” Mr Campbell wrote with Rush Doshi, a China expert who is expected to be named a China director at the National Security Council.
The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
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