Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:56 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:56 | SYDNEY

Kurt Campbell would be good for Australia


Andrew Shearer

8 January 2009 13:54

If they turn out to be true, media reports that Kurt Campbell will be Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia are welcome news.

Campbell is a longstanding friend and advocate of Australia in Washington. He is engaging, straightforward and – importantly – ‘gets’ Australia and Australians. As a deputy assistant secretary in the Clinton Pentagon he worked closely and productively with Australian officials, including during the East Timor crisis in 1999. He is a strong supporter of the Australia-US alliance, and his close links with the Clintons mean he will have the ear of the incoming Secretary of State. As a tough, experienced and effective bureaucratic infighter he will be an important asset to Australia’s diplomatic efforts to engage the new administration.

Campbell’s appointment is also likely to be widely welcomed in Asia. He has worked at the coalface of America’s Asian alliances and – a consummate networker — is widely known and respected in regional capitals. Japanese policymakers in particular are likely to be relieved if Campbell assumes an influential position in the Obama Administration’s national security team. There has been nervousness in Tokyo that Obama’s Asia policy team would be dominated by China hands and that an increasingly hesitant Japan would find it hard to get a hearing.

News that Obama plans to appoint a separate North Korea envoy to conduct the attention-sapping and so far largely fruitless Six-Party Talks is also welcome. Leading those talks has left Chris Hill, the current Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, with little time for the important long term task of strengthening US bilateral relations with Japan, South Korea and China – let alone giving the countries of Southeast Asia (particularly Indonesia) the attention they merit.

Campbell is a hard-power Democrat and an unapologetic proponent of an active and engaged US role in Asia. He is a strategic thinker, a tough negotiator and an energetic driver of policy. He wouldn’t give Australia or other US allies a free ride – we (and Tokyo) will have to keep pulling our weight. But we would have a serious figure in Washington with whom we’d be able to do business.