WASHINGTON—The new US pointman on East Asia on Monday vowed no let-up in Washington’s focus on the region, pledging to build cooperation both with US allies and a rising China.
“You can count on us to remain deeply engaged in the Asia-Pacific region because our interests are so profound in that region,” said Danny Russel, who took over last week as an assistant secretary of state.
President Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton both promoted a “pivot” or “rebalancing” toward East Asia, calling for the United States to shift priorities toward the fast-growing region.
But academics and diplomats have asked whether the pivot is losing steam in Obama’s second term, with Clinton’s successor John Kerry leading a major effort to revive Middle East peace negotiations.
Russel noted that he was the first of the regionally focused assistant secretaries of state to be named and confirmed under Kerry.
Russel also pointed to the string of high-level Asian visitors to Washington including Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang, who on Thursday will be only the second Vietnamese head of state at the White House since the former war enemies normalized relations.
‘Diversified rebalancing’ toward Asia
Kerry’s State Department hopes “to diversify that rebalancing” toward Asia “to make sure we are covering the span of issues of genuine interest and concern to all of us,” Russel told a news conference.
A career diplomat with expertise in Japan, Russel is generally considered more soft-spoken than his high-octane predecessor Kurt Campbell, a Clinton confidant who delighted in a punishing trans-Pacific travel schedule.
But Russel pledged continuity in US efforts to reach out to Asian nations, including in the high-stakes relationship between the United States and a growing China.
Russel pointed to Obama’s summit in California in June with China’s new President Xi Jinping and annual talks between the world’s two largest economies earlier this month.
“I have heard this directly, repeatedly, that the countries throughout the region expect and want the US and China to maintain a level of high-level dialogue and practical cooperation that will help generate positive results,” he said.
Pledge for cooperation with PH, other allies
Russel also pledged efforts to cooperate with the five US treaty-bound allies in the region—Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.
He voiced hope for greater economic reforms by Japan after Sunday’s election victory by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition, which ended an era of divided parliaments that contributed to the downfall of six short-serving premiers.
“If this is a step that will help facilitate greater continuity of leadership in Japan, I think it will be welcome by all of Japan’s friends,” Russel said.
Russel also stood firm on North Korea, saying that the United States was willing to return to negotiations only if the communist state moved to end is nuclear program.
“North Korea faces a fundamental choice—its pursuit of nuclear weapons has not and will not bring it security, and it certainly will not bring it international respect,” he said.
“North Korea has to show its seriousness of purpose and its willingness to negotiate a denuclearization agreement as it has committed to,” he said.
North Korea has repeatedly walked away from 2005 and 2007 aid-for-disarmament deals and in February carried out its third nuclear test, accusing the United States of hostility.—Shaun Tandon