Senators Approve an Asia Veteran as No. 2 Diplomat, Underscoring US Efforts to Keep Focus on China

AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File
National Security Council coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell testifies during his confirmation hearing to become Deputy Secretary of State on Capitol Hill, Dec. 7, 2023, in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators on Tuesday confirmed a veteran of U.S.-Asian engagement and security as the State Department’s second-ranking diplomat, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.

The approval of President Joe Biden’s nomination of Kurt Campbell as deputy secretary of state underscores decades of efforts by Biden and his modern predecessors to turn the United States’ main foreign policy focus to China as the big challenge for America going forward.

Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks and the Israeli offensive and regional fighting that followed have made Biden only the latest U.S. leader forced to pivot attention back to Middle East conflicts, however.

The Senate approved Campbell 92-5 in a show of bipartisan support. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont joined the Republicans voting no.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Dec. 7 after his nomination, Campbell pointed to the security significance of the date — the anniversary of a surprise attack from Asia, by Japan, that drew the United States into World War II.

“But I would also say December 7 teaches us other things as well,” Campbell told senators. “And that is the redemptive power of democracy,” helping to make allies and partners of Japan and other like-minded nations in Asia.

Campbell’s most recent roles include serving as deputy assistant to Biden and coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs on the National Security Council.

Campbell was central to Biden’s push to reinvigorate the diplomatic grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India. His work is credited with helping to ease historic tensions between South Korea and Japan and shape U.S.-China policy.

Campbell in his December appearance before the foreign relations committee called Iran a “strategic nemesis” and “antagonist” to the U.S. but not an enemy, opposed calls by Sanders and some Democratic senators to condition military aid to Israel, and argued for strong military support to Ukraine in its war against Russian invaders.

Campbell succeeds Wendy Sherman, who retired in July.