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Senate confirms Kurt Campbell as No. 2 US diplomat

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Joe Biden’s top Asia foreign policy aide, Kurt Campbell, as deputy secretary of state. 

Campbell, previously the Indo-Pacific Affairs coordinator on the White House’s National Security Council, was confirmed in an overwhelming 92-5 vote to replace Wendy Sherman, who retired in July.

During his confirmation hearing in December, Campbell said he would prioritize the strategic threat posed by China if confirmed, and coax the Senate to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea to help push back against Beijing’s expansive South China Sea claims.

“Even our allies and partners say, ‘Hey, wait a second. You’re holding China to account to something you yourself haven’t signed up for?’” Campbell said at the time. “We’ve gotten very close in the past; I’d love to get that over the finish line. It’ll be challenging. I’m committed to it.”

During the hearing, he was praised by Democrats and Republicans alike, with Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Republican from Tennessee who was the ambassador to Japan during the Trump administration, praising Campbell for his “most helpful, most insightful” guidance.

In the Obama administration, Campbell was credited as being the architect of the president’s “pivot to Asia,” which aimed to reorient U.S. foreign policy away from the Middle East toward East Asia. In the current White House, he has been credited with reinvigorating “the Quad” dialogue between the United States, Australia, India and Japan.

Campbell’s appointment shows the Biden administration’s increasing focus on China in its foreign policy. The longtime public servant was described as being possibly “the biggest China hawk of them all” by Politico upon his appointment to the White House in 2021.

However, he also led the charge in organizing last year’s high-profile summit in San Francisco between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, which paved the way for the ongoing easing of diplomatic tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Edited by Malcolm Foster