Kerry next in line for top state position

Updated: 2012-09-06 02:22

By Tan Yingzi in Charlotte, North Carolina (China Daily)

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With US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveling halfway around the world, there has been speculation among Democrats at their party's national convention about who might succeed her if President Barack Obama is re-elected in November.

Kerry next in line for top state position
US Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) tours the stage area ahead of the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 5, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

A name generating lots of buzz is John Kerry, the former senator from Massachusetts who lost in his 2004 presidential bid against president George W. Bush. As chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry is seen as the leading candidate to become the top diplomat in a second Obama term.

Clinton, who has drawn accolades even from Republicans for her leadership at the State Department, has said she plans to retire from politics after Obama's current term ends in January. Political observers and pundits have suggested that Clinton, who waged a sometimes-bitter primary campaign against Obama for the Democrats' 2008 nomination, might again run for president in 2016.

Kerry, a heroic Navy veteran and later outspoken critic of the Vietnam War who tried to parlay his military record into a victory over Bush eight years ago, will deliver a national security-themed speech on Thursday, the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The DNC will conclude later that night with Obama's speech accepting the 2012 nomination.

This juxtaposition of Kerry's and Obama's speeches has triggered rumors about the 68-year-old senator's possible future.

"Kerry has the best chance to become the secretary of state in Obama's second term," Cheng Li, an expert on US-China relations at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told China Daily.

"He will easily get the confirmation at the Congress," Li said. "And Kerry's good relations with Congress will also make President Obama's job easier in the next term."

Kerry, who was the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific affairs under a Republican-controlled Senate, is regarded as a leading expert on the region. He also is known for his moderate stance toward China and close working relationship with Chinese leaders.

Before President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States in January 2011, Kerry gave a speech on US-China policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, saying the US needs to respond to China's rising economic influence with an economic renaissance of its own.

"After all, economics is not war. We can both come out of this well ahead of where we are now," the senator said. "And China's rise need not disrupt the international system that we have built. In fact, China's participation can renew that system and better equip it to deal with the challenges of the 21st century."

Others considered to be on the shortlist to become secretary of state are UN ambassador Susan Rice and Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon.

Rice served on the National Security Council and as assistant-secretary of state for African affairs during president Bill Clinton's second term. She was a foreign policy adviser on Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and served as a senior policy adviser to Obama in 2008.

"Though she has mainly focused on African issues and lacks experience on China, she is very capable and smart and will learn quickly," said Li, who used to work alongside Rice at the Brookings Institution.

Donilon, who has worked extensively with China in his current post, doesn't have traditional diplomatic experience, Li said.

"Also as a low-profile person, he may be better at advising the president," he said.

Accomplishments in national security and foreign policy are expected to be highlighted in Obama's speech on Thursday night. On Tuesday, the president's communications director, Dan Pfeiffer demurred when asked by China Daily at a DNC-related event in Charlotte if China would be cited in any way.

"Can't get ahead of the speech," Pfeiffer said before walking away.

If re-elected, Obama is likely to continue his first-term policy on China, said Michele Flournoy, a senior foreign-policy adviser to the campaign and former undersecretary of defense for policy.

"President Obama has been consistently building a comprehensive and cooperative relationship with China, working together on a broad range of issues of common interest," she said on Tuesday at a DNC-related briefing.

"I don't see any changes in the second term, and President Obama will continue to invest in this relationship, which is so critical to both of us economically and the stability across the region," Flournoy told reporters after the briefing.

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