New balance called for on US strategy in Asia

Updated: 2013-06-21 11:36

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily)

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New balance called for on US strategy in Asia

Economic and cultural policies 'more enduring in the long run'

Daniel Russel, US President Barack Obama's pick as top diplomat for East Asia, believes that US rebalancing of strategy for Asia, underpinned by security concerns, needs to be diversified.

In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Thursday, Russel proposed that diversification of the rebalance strategy is of "first and foremost" importance.

The security element underpinning the Asia strategy of rebalance is hugely important; it will not go away and it must not go away, according to Russel, who was nominated by Obama on May 15 as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs to replace Kurt Campbell, who resigned in February.

"We must strengthen that," said Russel, who is now a special assistant to Obama and senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council.

"But there is more to America than hard power," said the 59-year-old career diplomat. "In fact, it is the economic agenda, the energy agenda, the education agenda, the values agenda, the people-to-people connection, the public diplomacy, that I think in the long run will have the most significant and enduring impact in this young, thriving and dynamic region."

Many experts, such as Kenneth Lieberthal of Brookings Institution and Stapleton Roy, the former US ambassador to China, have suggested that the US should adjust its rebalance policy, which has focused too heavily on the military aspect.

The growing US military posturing in the Asia Pacific has not only caused anxiety in China, which believes the strategy is aimed at containing China, it has also worried some other countries who do not want to be forced to choose between China and the US. Such a concern was discussed when Chinese President Xi Jinping met Obama at Sunnylands, California, on June 7-8.

Russel described China as "a hugely important and hugely consequential country in relationship with the United States" and said there is a need for balance between the cooperative elements and competitive aspects of the bilateral relationship.

One of his challenges, he said, will be to ensure that two countries cooperate more.

"In our competition, we are assured that the competition is a healthy one," he told the one-hour hearing in a relatively relaxed mood compared with several contentious hearings for Obama's nominees, such as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew.

Only two Senators, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, questioned Russel at the hearing.

Russel, with his wife and two sons sitting behind him, said the US is looking for a model of practical cooperation with China that delivers benefits to both people, and to the region, in areas like climate change.

He praised the recent Xi-Obama agreement on working through the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the so-called "super greenhouse gasses" that are commonly used in air conditioners and refrigerators, saying it "will pay dividends down the road".

"North Korea is the other area where our positive cooperation is not only possible, but essential," he said, adding that both Presidents Obama and Xi are committed to deepening dialogue and cooperative efforts to denuclearize the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Meetings on Wednesday in Beijing between China and the DPRK, and in Washington between the US, Japan and the Republic of Korea have both expressed the hope of resuming the stalled Six-Party Talks.

Russel, who is expected to be confirmed easily, said he will do everything in his power to lower the temperature in the East and South China Seas and push claimants onto a diplomatic track.

Joining the US diplomatic corps in 1985, Russel also served as the National Security Council director for Japan, the ROK and the DPRK from 2009 to 2011. He previously was director of the State Department's Office of Japanese Affairs.

His Asia experience also includes serving as consul general in Osaka-Kobe, Japan, from 2005 to 2008, and early assignments at the US embassy in Seoul.

Widely regarded as a Japan expert, Russel prepared for Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to China in April and participated in the Xi-Obama summit at Sunnylands.

Kenneth Lieberthal of Brookings described Russel's style as relatively low key. "Overall, he is a calm, professional and pragmatic individual who knows how to get things done in Washington," he said.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described Russel as having "solid experience in dealing with the full range of issues in the Asia-Pacific region".

(China Daily USA 06/21/2013 page1)