New Delhi: US President-elect Joe Biden Wednesday appointed top American diplomat Kurt M. Campbell as the ‘Indo-Pacific Coordinator’, putting to rest doubts about the future of a major strategic policy that aims to balance China’s rise.
The appointment came a day after the White House declassified a new document enumerating the Donald Trump administration’s objectives and action plan on the Indo-Pacific strategy with the aim of containing China’s rise.
This new title given to any American diplomat for the first time ever is an indication that the incoming Biden administration will follow the same path, if not a more enhanced one, that the outgoing Trump government followed when it came to keeping the limelight on arresting China’s rise in the region, while working out a more strategic partnership with some of US’ allies such as Japan, South Korea, Australia and India.
It was under the Barack Obama administration, in which Biden was the vice president, that the US began to put its focus on the Indo-Pacific region under its ‘pivot (later called as ‘rebalance’) to Asia’ policy.
Campbell had served as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under the Obama administration. He had played an instrumental role in chalking out the ‘pivot to Asia’ policy.
He is currently serving as the chairman and chief executive officer of The Asia Group.
US puts more focus on Asia
During his campaign, and after winning the US presidential election, Biden and his team largely ignored the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, just as the Trump administration had chosen to ignore Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ policy. This had triggered some doubts about the future of the Indo-Pacific strategy under the Biden administration.
Biden and his team, however, stated that it will continue to focus on China’s increasing belligerence in the region but their approach will be different.
In a recent article, Campbell along with Rush Doshi, of the Brookings Institution, said, “Distant European leaders are inevitably less concerned about China’s assertiveness than the Indo-Pacific states next door. Accordingly, the principal challenge facing the United States is to bridge European and regional approaches to Chinese challenges.
“That task is made more difficult by Beijing’s economic power: last month, China used last-minute concessions to successfully pull the EU into a major bilateral investment agreement despite concerns that the deal would complicate a unified transatlantic approach under the Biden administration.”
The article also noted that the US will need to be “flexible and innovative” in building its future partnerships as it puts more focus on Asia.
He also batted for a D-10 (a coalition of 10 democracies) that has been proposed by the UK, which will include the G-7 countries plus Australia, India and South Korea.
“One might have expected that for political reasons that the Biden administration wouldn’t want to use the term ‘Indo Pacific’ in order to separate itself from the Trump administration — much like the Trump administration didn’t use ‘Asia pivot’ or ‘Asia rebalance’ even though those strategies are similar to the Indo-Pacific idea.
“In all likelihood, the Biden team recognises that using Indo-Pacific makes good policy sense because it reflects the same vision articulated by its Quad and other partners in the region: In effect, that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are both worthy of strategic attention, given China’s increasing influence in both spheres,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, told ThePrint.
Kugelman added, “There’s not much daylight between the Trump administration’s declassified Indo Pacific strategy and the broader views of the incoming administration. There is a shared goal of working with allies and partners in the region to counterbalance China. This will likely be Campbell’s chief goal.”
‘Rebalancing towards Asia’
According to the declassified document on the Indo-Pacific strategy of the US, the Trump administration had made extensive plans to engage with India to enhanced its role as a “major defense partner” of America, while the broader contours of the policy was to maintain US’ ‘strategic primacy’ in the region. The aim was to check China’s “influence” but also solidify “an enduring strategic partnership with India”.
“Let’s not forget this rebalancing towards Asia began under President Obama and Mr Campbell was the one who drove this policy under which the US moved its naval deployment from the Atlantic to the Pacific, strengthened alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and strategic partners such as India,” said Meera Shankar, former Indian Ambassador to the US.
Shankar was the Indian ambassador when Campbell worked as an assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under Obama.