United States warns of possible 'strategic surprise' in Pacific, says it needs to work with New Zealand to 'step up our game'

"We have a very short amount of time."
"We have a very short amount of time." Photo credit: Getty Images.

The Pacific may well be the part of the world most likely to see "strategic surprise," the U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said on Monday, in comments apparently referring to China's ambitions to expand its influence and establish bases there.

Campbell told an event hosted by Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies the Pacific was a region where the United States has "enormous moral, strategic, historical interests" and where it had not done enough, unlike countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

"If you look and if you ask me, where are the places where we are most likely to see certain kinds of strategic surprise - basing or certain kinds of agreements or arrangements, it may well be in the Pacific," he told an Australia-focused panel.

"And we have a very short amount of time, working with partners like Australia, like New Zealand, like Japan, like France, who have an interest in the Pacific, to step up our game across the board," Campbell added.

Campbell did not elaborate on what he meant by bases, but lawmakers from the Pacific island republic of Kiribati told Reuters last year China has drawn up plans to upgrade an airstrip and bridge on one its remote islands about 3,000km (1,860 miles) southwest of the U.S. state of Hawaii.

Campbell said ways the United States and its allies needed to step up their game in the Pacific included in countering COVID-19, over the issue of fishing, and in investment in clean energy.

Campbell also followed up on remarks he made last week in which he said the United States needs to "step up its game" on economic engagement in Asia.

He said Australia had privately urged the United States to understand that as part of its strategic approach, "we have to have a comprehensive, engaged, optimistic, commercial and trade role." Reuters

Reuters