Biden point man Kurt Campbell returns to an Asia that has pivoted

Biden point man Kurt Campbell returns to an Asia that has pivoted

Old hand welcomed back but faces new tests, from China to Koreas to ASEAN

TOKYO — In his book codifying the Barack Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy, Kurt Campbell bemoaned the National Security Council’s overreach into diplomacy. Then assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Campbell saw pitfalls in the centralization of foreign policy in the White House and out of the hands of career diplomats.

Five years later, Campbell is set to join the Joe Biden White House as the NSC’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, a new position that has already been dubbed “Asia czar.” Whereas outgoing President Donald Trump left Asia roles unfilled for months, announcing Campbell’s appointment has been seen as a signal of Biden’s commitment to the region.

In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi applauded the return of familiar faces such as Campbell. “The new U.S. administration’s posture to emphasize the region is welcome,” he said in a Friday briefing. “I feel that [Campbell] and others in the new administration have deep relations with our government.”

But Asia and its ties with the U.S. have changed since the days of the Pivot or “Rebalance,” and the return of Campbell, its architect, raises at least some skepticism.