US must focus more on Asia: top diplomat

August 15, 2011


Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. - File Photo

SYDNEY: American foreign policy needs to transition from the Middle East to Asia, a top US diplomat said Monday while rejecting any notion that recent economic woes signalled the United States was in decline.

Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, added in an interview with The Australian newspaper that there was more to US-Asia diplomacy than Washington's relationship with Beijing.

“One of the most important challenges for US foreign policy is to effect a transition from the immediate and vexing challenges of the Middle East to the long-term and deeply consequential issues in Asia,” Campbell said.

He made clear this did not mean Washington would neglect its responsibilities in the Middle East, but was rather a desire to deepen relations with the Asian region.

And while efforts were being made to enhance Washington's dialogue with China, it was more than just relations with Beijing that were important.

“I think what you see is an across-the-board effort (by the US) to articulate India as playing a greater role in Asia,” said Campbell, a key aide to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Also, revitalising relations with ASEAN - both ASEAN as an institution, and with its key members such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore, and revitalising what used to be a very important relationship with the Philippines.”

Campbell said America's economic troubles, that came to a head this month when Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's credit rating, meant he was having to project a more basic message to Asia - that the United States is in the region to stay.

He rejected any notion that the United States was in decline.

“At the end of the Vietnam War there was enormous dialogue about US power and whether we could continue to be effective,” Campbell told the newspaper.

“At the end of the Cold War there was rhetoric that the Cold War was over and that Japan had won.

“It has been frequent to hear of American turmoil and internal decline. But we have repeatedly proved critics wrong.

“The underlying fundamentals - economic performance and political stability - make me confident that we can do so again.”Campbell is in Australia as part of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue in Perth.