The Pacific may be the part of the world most likely to see a “strategic surprise,” US Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said in comments apparently referring to potential Chinese ambitions to establish bases in the Pacific islands. .
Campbell told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that the United States has “enormous moral, strategic and historical interests” in the Pacific, but has not done enough to help the region, unlike countries like Australia and New Zealand. .
“If you look and ask me, where are the places where we are most likely to see certain types of strategic surprises (bases or certain types of deals or deals) could well be in the Pacific,” he told an Australian. focused panel.
Campbell called it the issue that “worried him the most for the next one or two years,” adding: “And we have very little time, working with partners like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, who have an interest in the Pacific, to intensify our game in all areas ”.
Campbell did not elaborate on his baseline reference, but lawmakers in the Pacific island republic of Kiribati told Reuters last year that China has drawn up plans to upgrade an airstrip and bridge on one of its remote islands to about 3,000 km (1,860 miles) southwest of China. the US state of Hawaii.
Construction on the small island of Kanton would offer China a foothold in a territory that had been firmly aligned with the United States and its allies since World War II.
Kiribati said in May that the Chinese-backed plans were a non-military project designed to improve transport connections and encourage tourism.
Campbell said the ways the United States and its allies needed to do more in the Pacific included fighting COVID-19, the issue of fishing and investing in clean energy.
Campbell followed up on comments he made last week that Washington needed to “step up its game” on economic engagement in Asia.
He said Australia had privately urged the United States to understand that, as part of its strategic approach, it needed “a comprehensive, committed, optimistic trade role.”
Campbell has touted the so-called Aukus pact, under which the United States and Britain agreed to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines, as well as summits between the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, as evidence that U.S. partnerships are causing than China “heartburn”.
But some Indo-Pacific countries, many of which count China as their biggest trading partner, have lamented what they see as insufficient economic commitment from the United States after Donald Trump abandoned a trade deal now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Transpacific Association.
Biden told Asian leaders in October that Washington would begin talks on creating an economic framework in the Indo-Pacific, but few details have emerged and his administration has avoided moves to rejoin trade deals that critics say threaten the markets. American jobs.
Australia’s ambassador to Washington, Arthur Sinodinos, told the CSIS panel that Australia was continuing to raise the issue with the US Congress and that “we have not lost hope” that US trade policy will be reconsidered.