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Top Obama officials coming to Australia -

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Top Obama officials coming to Australia

Broadcast: 26/10/2010

Reporter: Leigh Sales

Lateline speaks to Dr Kurt Campbell, the US State Department's top official for East Asian and
Pacific Affairs, who will be travelling to Australia with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and
Secretary of Defence Robert Gates.


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: In less than two weeks two of the Obama Administration's top officials will
arrive in Australia for talks.

The arrival of the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates,
is timely given the Australian Parliament is currently debating the nation's involvement in
Afghanistan, as we heard earlier.

The visit also coincides with the important ASEAN forum, where the rise of China and its
implications for the region will be the backdrop.

Dr Kurt Campbell is the State Department's top official for our region, as the Secretary of State
for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

He will be travelling to Australia on the Clinton Gates trip and he joined me earlier from

Dr Campbell, thank you for being with us.

Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates are due in Australia in less than two weeks. What is the US hoping
to get out of that visit?

of all let me just say it's great to be with you and I'm thankful to be able to speak to your
audience directly.

Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates will be going to Australia for this year's AUSMAN - it's our
regular meeting between our respective foreign Defence Ministers on both sides where we're able to
sit down and work through what is really for us just an anchor relationship in Asia - our
relationship with Australia.

This meeting is particularly important for obvious reasons. It will be the first such session
between our two sides actually since the beginning of the Obama Administration.

The one that was previously scheduled - Secretary Clinton on her way down during the tragic
earthquake in Haiti and was forced to come back. So she has been looking forward to this, we talk
to her about it all the time.

This particular session will be held in Melbourne. She's spent quite a bit of time in Australia but
she's never been to Melbourne so she is looking forward very much for a little down time.

She's going to spend time with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Rudd, who she has really gotten to
know well over the course of the last several months. And obviously will be very much looking
forward to meeting the Prime Minister and talking with her colleagues down there.

We really are looking to reaffirm the relationship in the most positive ways. We're working on so
many things - both at a bi-lateral basis, strategically in Afghanistan and on critical
transnational issues like climate change.

So we have got an enormous agenda and frankly just looking to reaffirm the importance of our
relationship going forward.

LEIGH SALES: There's currently a debate in the Australian Parliament about the nation's involvement
in Afghanistan.

President Obama wants to start force reductions in Afghanistan in the middle of next year. Does
that mean Australian troops will also be able to begin a draw down at that time?

KURT CAMPBELL: You know, to be perfectly honest, I will simply say at a strategic level we are
extraordinarily grateful for the support of Australia in our common pursuits in Afghanistan.

The specifics of withdrawals, timing, numbers - that is really at a level above my pay grade, as we
say in the United States.

And at the same time I don't think at this particular juncture we want to send a message that we
are not closely tied together on the importance of the period ahead.

So I would simply say that one of the things that Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton will be
carrying with them is a message from the president - and indeed from the American people - of the
gratitude, respect and admiration of the role that Australia has played in Afghanistan today.

LEIGH SALES: An opinion poll in the Sydney Morning Herald this week had almost 50 per cent of
Australians saying that Australia should no longer be involved in Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister has nominated the US alliance as one of the key reasons that we are involved.
What would you say on behalf of the administration to the Australians who oppose it?

KURT CAMPBELL: Well, look, first of all there is a gratitude on the part of the United States. But
it is not just the United States. There are many other nations involved in Afghanistan - NATO,
Japan, many other countries in Asia are deeply engaged - Korea -in an attempt to build a more
stable society there and to deny Al Qaeda a beachhead from which to launch attacks of the kind that
we saw on 9/11.

I think we're trying to be very careful in how we undertake this overall mission - very reasonable.
There isn't a lot of, you know, language that doesn't reflect the fact that we know very clearly
how difficult this is.

I'd simply like to say that we appreciate having the Australians with us in a fight. We think that
this is a mission that is important and vital - not just for the United States, but

for many states including Australia overall.

And so we do think it's important and the role that Australia plays in the global community is
significant and people look to Australia in terms of making judgments about the way forward in the

LEIGH SALES: If we can turn now to the region - as the ASEAN summit begins later this week -
president Obama has talked about the need for greater engagement with Asia. Why?

KURT CAMPBELL: Well, look, there's no secret the drama and storyline of the 21st century is going
to be written in the Asian Pacific region. There is just no doubt about that. If you look at every
indicator in terms of trade, economics and politics, the rise of China, greater significance of
India, the continuing role of Japan, our role, Australia's...

It's an unbelievably significant period. We are living on the sort of the tectonic shift period in

And there needs to be a deep, profound recognition of the Asian century, the Pacific century and
that we're trying to rise to meet that challenge in a variety of ways: Strengthening our bilateral
security partnerships and alliances, of which Australia is critical; Working in a variety of
institutions, what we call architecture.

Next week Secretary Clinton represents the United States at the East Asia summit. That is a
downpayment on president Obama joining the organisation as a full member next year in Jakarta.

We will need to play a much more consequential, open and optimistic role in trade and economics
going forward. We've listened carefully and we've heard that from our Asian friends.

Overall, the United States must underscore clearly and consistently that we recognise for our
interests - and frankly for the interests of the other players in the Asian Pacific theatre -that
an American role is an indispensable ingredient in success going forward.

LEIGH SALES: You describe US influence as being an "essential ingredient". Do you consider the US
and China as being in competition for regional influence?

KURT CAMPBELL: Look, the truth is there is no more complex relationship on the planet today than
the one that exists between the United States and China.

We have a deep interest in finding ways to work with China. In fact all countries in Asia recognise
the need to find a constructive manner in which to engage with China.

It is very important given China's role on a host of issues from climate change to trade to
proliferation to all manner of economics.

Dealing with China is just simply a fact on the global stage. And the United States has stated very
clear at the highest level, consistently that we seek to have a positive, constructive and a
positive relationship between our two countries.

That does not mean that there isn't a lot of competition that is underway.

There's competition on economics; there's competition for a variety of things in the Asian Pacific
region. But what we are trying to do is to make sure that competition is expressed in appropriate

The truth is there's competition between a variety of states in Asia. What we're seeking is to
establish a degree of trust in transparency in the region that gives everyone the confidence as we
make our way forward.

LEIGH SALES: And do you believe that China's playing its role appropriately in that context?

KURT CAMPBELL: Look, I think there are areas in which we can point to real successes between the
United States and China. And between China and the larger world.

I also think there are a lot of areas that we can expect greater commitments from a variety of
countries in the Asian Pacific region, including China.

LEIGH SALES: In recent months the US and China have clashed over the South China Sea, with China
upping its rhetoric about its claims to the South China Sea and the US resisting that. How
significant is that issue?

KURT CAMPBELL: Well, look, I'd be careful-

Thank you for the question but I would be careful about how to describe that supposed clash.

If you look very carefully at what Secretary Clinton said in Hanoi at the ASEAN regional forum and
what the United States has said subsequently, we have been extraordinarily careful not to mention
any particular nations associated with this initiative.

We have talked about a process between the various claimants to be done in a peaceful way - a
transparent and collaborative way that respects the rights of seafaring nations, freedom of
navigation and the like, and that we are concerned by rising incidents that affect a variety of
countries in the South China Sea, including frankly China and its fisher fleet.

Ultimately, we think this is a process that's best dealt with by cool-headed diplomacy and we see
the beginnings of a diplomatic effort between ASEAN and China that would build on the 2002
statement of a code of conduct, which we think is entirely appropriate.

We are not a claimant. We do not take sides. And we don't offer particular views about the various

What we do insist upon is that we have a strategic interest in how these issues are dealt with and
that we insist they're dealt with in a peaceful and diplomatic framework.

LEIGH SALES: How should Australia position itself in our region against the backdrop of China's
growing power?

KURT CAMPBELL: Well, we've seen some interesting debates that are ongoing in China. Should China-
excuse me. Should Australia simply rely on a relationship with the United States or should it
diversify and scrap that relationship and think about a relationship solely with China?

These I think are extreme and they are positions that are- frankly don't equate with the complex
reality of the Asia Pacific region.

What I think is appropriate for Australia is to continue to build its strong critical partnerships
with a variety of states, including the United States, Japan, India, Indonesia, other countries in
South East Asia to make sure that Australia is anchored in strong forums like APEC, like the East
Asia Summit, like the G20. That is exactly what Australia has done.

And also to seek to have a full and vibrant relationship between Australia and China.

None of these issues involve trade-offs. They involve working comprehensively across a range, a
spectrum of initiatives simultaneously. And that is exactly what I think a succession of Australian
governments have done and the current administration is dealing with quite effectively.

LEIGH SALES: Dr Campbell, you mentioned the G20. The G20 Finance Ministers have been meeting in
South Korea this week where they've agreed not to weaken their currencies to bolster their exports.

How anxious is the US about a possible currency war, particularly given its concerns about China
undervaluing its currency?

KURT CAMPBELL: Thank you for the question. Let me tell you that we are given occasional advice
about how to be successful - or, more importantly, how to avoid being fired from positions like
this at the State Department. One of the things that I am reliably assured about is I should never
talk about currency issues.

Let me also say that is reaffirmed quite strongly by my wife who just returned late last night from
the negotiations at the G20 in South Korea.

So if you would ask me more appropriately about child care over the course of the last three days I
could give you a much better answer about soccer and diet than I could about actually what
transpired on the ground in Seoul.

So I think I will have to artfully dodge that question and just simply say we're fully committed to
working with our partners the G20.

LEIGH SALES: Well I don't want you to be fired, nor do I want you to be in trouble with your wife,
so let me move on to Indonesia where president Obama is due to visit shortly. How would you
characterise the strength of Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia at the moment?

KURT CAMPBELL: Can I just answer a slightly different question.

First of all we're very excited about the fact that the United States and Indonesia have launched a
comprehensive strategic partnership. We are moving much more rapidly on a range of issues - science
and technology, climate related issues, education and also business and trade.

This is vital and it's important, it reflects Indonesia's growing role, not just within ASEAN as a
whole but on the world stage.

There is constant debate and discussion about what is the status of fundamentalism inside
Indonesia. I would simply say, take a look at recent elections. They point to the fact that there
is a strong moderate consensus about Indonesia's role in the world.

Fundamentalist parties don't do as well as some fear, and I think there is a deep recognition that
extremist groups do not reflect the will of the Indonesian people. And so on this particular front
we are encouraged by signs of the direction that the country is going and has proceeded over the
course of the last few years.

LEIGH SALES: Circumstances have forced president Obama to defer two planned trips to Australia. Is
he likely to visit Australia in his first term?

KURT CAMPBELL: The second piece of advice that people give you is don't talk about the president's

All I can tell you is that we are looking forward to intensifying our engagement with Australia. We
want no one to think that we take this relationship for granted. We are working very hard at the
working level and obviously Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates are very much looking forward to
their engagement in Australia.

I know the president has talked publicly about his desire to have a chance to sit down with Prime
Minister Gillard. I know how much the president is committed to the relationship. And I will simply
say that we will do everything possible to step up our overall engagement between our two countries
going forward.

Dr Campbell, we always very much appreciate you making time to speak to Lateline and we thank you
once again. Good night.

KURT CAMPBELL: I really appreciate it. Thank you for the time. Looking forward to touching down in
Melbourne in a couple of weeks.