America’s next ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, said she was committed to taking a stronger stance against China’s coercion in the Indo-Pacific once she takes up her position later this year.
Kennedy, the only remaining child of President John F. Kennedy, said the United States and Australia should do more together in the Pacific islands, noting that the reopening of the U.S Solomon Islands embassy could not have come soon enough.
Australia’s top intelligence chiefs travelled to Honiara this week for talks with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare but failed to persuade him to abandon the deal, which officials feel could pave the way for an eventual Chinese naval base, less than 2000 kilometres from Australia.
She said the U.S had a lot to learn from the way Australia had handled itself during a challenging period dealing with China’s coercion.
“Certainly Australia most recently has been challenged by Chinese economic coercion. And I think that the United States can learn a lot from their response. They’ve stood firm,” she said.
During the hearing, well-known Senators Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney pressed Kennedy about how hard she would go on China and whether the Biden administration had a proper strategy to deal with the superpower.
“I think that we have an opportunity through our partnerships and alliances working multilaterally throughout the region, to really create a comprehensive strategy that will strengthen deterrence and increase our own security,” she said.
“As we move forward into this increasingly tense time in the Indo-Pacific, I look forward to working with the Australians and with the Japanese, to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
“In a world where the liberal international order is being undermined, American values are more essential than ever,” she said, “There’s no country more committed to these values than our close ally and Five Eyes partner Australia,” she said, referring to the intelligence alliance.
In her testimony, Kennedy spoke of the important role Australians and Solomon Islanders had played in helping the US secure peace in the region during World War II, as well as helping her own father when he and his men were adrift in the South Pacific.
“I’ll always be grateful to the Australian coast watchers and Solomon Islanders who rescued my father during World War II. I know he hoped to be the first sitting President to visit Australia during his second term. If confirmed, I hope to be able to carry that legacy forward in my own small way,” she said.
Kennedy, 64, was joined at the hearing by her husband, Edwin and her son Jack, while her two daughters Rose and Tatiana watched online.
As the former US Ambassador to Japan, Kennedy said she thought “tensions” in the Indo-Pacific relating to China had increased dramatically since her time there and that faster more visible responses were required.
“I think it has become much more widespread, much more public, much more open. The South China Sea issues were certainly present and some of the economic coercion was certainly happening, but I think all of that has become more dramatic in the last five years.”
Kennedy’s comments came as NATO agreed to a request to step up cooperation in the Asia-Pacific area including in areas of maritime security, noting China’s unwillingness to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine was a “serious challenge to us all”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea would also work together in cybersecurity and other areas. Although Australia and other Asia Pacific countries are not members of the northern security alliance, they are considered friendly “partners”.
“NATO and our Asia-Pacific partners have now agreed to step up our practical and political cooperation in several areas, including cyber, new technology, and countering disinformation,” Stoltenberg said following a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers in Brussels.
“We will also work more closely together in other areas such as maritime security, climate change, and resilience because global challenges demand global solutions,” said Stoltenberg said.