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President Joe Biden is poised to nominate Kurt Campbell to be deputy secretary of state, in a move that will catapult the influential White House Indo-Pacific tsar to the second-ranking diplomat in the US.
The White House plans to nominate Campbell, a veteran Asia policy official who previously served at the state department and Pentagon, imminently for the role, according to people familiar with the situation.
During his tenure as the inaugural White House co-ordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, Campbell has been very influential in a job created to put more emphasis on Asia policy as the US deals with the rise of China.
The veteran policymaker was the architect of resurrecting the Quad, a security grouping that includes the US, Japan, Australia and India. He was also instrumental in creating Aukus, a landmark agreement with London and Canberra that will enable Australia to procure a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines using highly sensitive US technology.
Campbell was also the driver of efforts to strengthen relationships with American allies and partners in Asia and Europe. Most recently, he was credited with helping Japan and South Korea put historical wartime disputes behind them and bringing the leaders of both countries together for a historic summit with Biden at Camp David.
One person familiar with the situation said Campbell would prioritise Asia policy as deputy secretary of state, but would play a role in non-Asia issues. He will succeed Wendy Sherman, who retired this summer. He is also expected to focus on trying to institutionalise some of the policy projects that he created when he was at the White House.
Campbell did not respond to a request for comment. The White House and state department also did not respond.
Zack Cooper, an Asia expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said that under Campbell the White House had been the “driving force” for much of the administration’s Asia policy. But he said his move would give the state department more influence in inter-agency discussions.
“It may also accelerate the administration’s shift from policy innovation to policy implementation and institutionalisation, which will be increasingly important as the 2024 election draws near,” Cooper said.
Campbell will require Senate confirmation, but experts say he has relatively strong support among Republicans who see him as tough on China and a strong proponent for alliances.
During the Obama administration, Campbell served as the top Asia official at the state department and was the architect of an early effort to focus more on the Indo-Pacific in what was called the Asia “pivot”.
While the move is a promotion for Campbell, some allies are nervous about his leaving the White House given the central role the National Security Council has played in developing policy on China and the Indo-Pacific. But others stress that he will have a big public platform that will enable him to maintain an influential role in policy debates.
One person familiar with the situation said it was a “line call” in terms of whether allies would benefit more from having Campbell at the state department or the White House.
His pending move is the latest in a series of Asia-related personnel shifts. Sarah Beran recently succeeded Laura Rosenberger as the top White House China official. Meanwhile, Mira Rapp-Hooper has recently become the top White House official for east Asia and Oceania.
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