Washington's Backpacker in China

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell told the Australian that one of Washington’s “most important challenges” is to deepen relations with Asia. As he put it, U.S. foreign policy needs to shift “from the immediate and vexing challenges of the Middle East to the long-term and deeply consequential issues in Asia.” He cited supporting a larger role for India in the region and bolstering relations with ASEAN as two steps forward, while clarifying that furthering the U.S. relationship with Asia doesn’t mean neglecting the Middle East.

China is abuzz with chatter about the new U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke. He arrived in China over the weekend with little pomp and circumstance, carrying his own luggage and traveling in a normal car, which led the state news agency Xinhua to nickname him the “backpacker.” Locke, a Chinese-American, said upon arrival that he was “both humbled and honored to stand here before you as a child of Chinese immigrants representing America, the land of my birth, and the American values my family holds dear.” Still, some Chinese media wondered whether Locke would be more pro-China than previous ambassadors. Meanwhile, China’s new aircraft carrier completed its first round of sea trials. Xinhua said that the “maiden voyage went smoothly.”

Once again on Friday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the international community to stop giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “comfort in his brutality” through political and economic support. She challenged governments to “get on the right side of history.” And last week, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the press that Washington had imposed sanctions on state-owned enterprises in Belarus. She said that the sanctions were a reaction to “the continued incarceration of political prisoners, the crackdown on political activists, journalists, and civil society representatives” and called on the government of Belarus to release all political prisoners.