Fostering partnership: the view from Washington: Kurt Campbell explains US policy in the Indo-Pacific region and responds to questions.

AuthorCampbell, Kurt

The United States understands that the lion's share of the history of the 21st century is going to be written in the Pacific. The operating system, for example the things that fit together in a complex way--including freedom of navigation, issues associated with trade, our forward deployed engagement with allies and partners and the rule of law --taken together have given us over the last 40-50 years the most important progress on the planet in history. Our goal, as we deal with a more complex region, is to ensure that elements of that operating system remain intact, that it is negotiated carefully among participant nations if there needs to be adjustments, that we maintain elements of a free Indo-Pacific and that those characteristics remain dominant as we go forward.

We all acknowledge that there are challenges to that system. We are concerned by a recalcitrant North Korea, a country that still demonstrates its nuclear ambitions. We are concerned by some elements of Chinese power and some of its aspirations in the Indo-Pacific region. We are concerned by regional tensions in a variety of places. We are worried about setbacks in democracy in countries like Burma/Myanmar. We look more generally at a region that will be called on to play a critical role if we are to address issues like climate change and combating the pandemic in an effective way. What the Biden administration is trying to do in a complex way is to respond to the current challenges.

The most important ingredient in a successful strategy is for the United States to respond domestically. We all understand that in many respects that the United States has been wounded, that there are elements of our democracy that have been challenged and that the Covid-19 virus has been extremely difficult, as it has been elsewhere. The president has insisted that the most important ingredient in our overall strategy is to recover domestically, to focus on our economic revival and, where possible, to try to heal some of the divisions that have become so apparent and were on full display on 6 January. So the primary focus of the initial period of the Biden administration has been on engaging domestically.

At the same time we are also focused on working with allies and friends. You will have seen that in deep discussions in Europe, the president's initial diplomacy across Europe, including with the G7, G11 and also, more recently, with the bilateral engagements with countries like Japan and South Korea. There is also the fledgling initial effort of the 'Quad', the grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India, as part of an effort to bring together democracies with an interest in the maintenance of peace and stability across the region as a whole.

We are thrilled by the initial diplomacy and engagement that we have had with New Zealand. I believe that we will engage closely and deeply with APEC. We are also looking forward to hosting a visiting delegation in Washington DC from New Zealand. We are involved in strategic discussions about every element of our shared approach to the region and to the world. We are grateful for the deep partnership, frankly, with Wellington. I expect that we will be talking intensively about our shared perspective of challenges and opportunities in Asia, about the Pacific and some of the challenges that the Pacific faces in terms of health, matters relating to climate change and the health of fishing stocks--things we think will be critical in our bilateral relationship.

Having worked closely on New Zealand for decades, I am extremely ambitious about what we can accomplish together. I am grateful for the partnership that we share on so many issues. The United States has recently joined the Christchurch Initiative, which we believe was an extraordinarily effective mechanism to explore the root causes of extremism online and in all of our societies. I do want to say that in the United States there are so many admirers of New Zealand. Frankly, in many respects, even during our dark periods and challenging times, we look to New Zealand for inspiration and motivation, both as a model for how we can go about our own democracy but also for its leading role in international relations, global politics and particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. We are excited about what we can accomplish economically, strategically, politically, militarily and across a number of existential issues like climate change.

Defence issues

What role does the United States see New Zealand defence and security apparatus playing on regional security challenges?

Where we look for New Zealand leadership is a stronger role in the Pacific. We believe that is going to be critical for maintaining oversight of key fishing areas, security engagement with partners in the Pacific, occasional efforts at peacekeeping and working within multilateral groupings. We believe that New Zealand has a critical role to play in UN peacekeeping as it always has. We would like see New Zealand play a role in maritime engagements more directly and active engagement in multilateral fora where the United States plays a leading role. I see New Zealand playing a very positive role. If anything, I would like to see the United States and New Zealand more actively engaged across the board, including in the security side in the Pacific. That would be my ambition for the next five to ten years. Frankly, the country that needs to do more here is not New Zealand but the United States.

Australia is often very critical of New Zealand's low defence spend. What is the United States' view?

I think that the partnership between Canberra and Wellington is actually quite strong. All countries struggle with arriving at the right measurement for the security picture. We have had very strong discussions with New Zealand about the way forward in terms of investments and the like. Countries can always do more but as we look at the past challenges that we faced in...

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