The new US ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, said Friday that the United States needs to engage more with the Pacific region at a time when China is asserting its presence.
Kennedy spoke to reporters at Sydney International Airport after arriving to take up his new role. She is due to formally present her credentials on Monday, filling a position that has been vacant for 18 months. Asked if the United States had moved away from the Pacific in recent decades, Kennedy said she was focused on the future.
“This is a critical area in the region, and I think the United States needs to do more. We are relocating our embassies and the Peace Corps will come, and USAID will come back and we will come back,” she said.
“We haven’t been there for a while, but I think all of that is tremendously positive, and I think the US and Australia working together will have a big impact.” Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, was ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration.
The Pacific has great personal meaning, he said, “since my father served in the Pacific (during World War II) and was rescued by two Solomon Islanders and an Australian coast watcher.”
“My family’s legacy is something that I’m very proud of and try to live up to,” she told reporters. “I think the fact that it means something to people all over the world makes me very proud and I want to be worthy of it and do what I can to carry on the values my father lived by.”
When asked about China’s growing assertiveness in the region, he said his focus was on the US partnership with Australia on issues such as security, economic engagement, climate change and health.
“I think China certainly has a big presence here in the region, but I think our partnership does as well,” he said.
Kennedy said he first visited Australia 36 years ago on his honeymoon. She said she had heard that President Joe Biden had contracted COVID-19, but had not yet spoken to him about it.
“I wish him the best,” he said. “He’s strong and healthy, and obviously I’ve heard he has very mild symptoms, so I hope he feels better soon.”
Kennedy wasted no time in bringing the media online. When one reporter started asking a question while another was still speaking, Kennedy quipped, “Did you just talk about a woman?”
“I did it,” replied the reporter, to general laughter.
Kennedy also declined to answer questions about Australian sports, including cricket.
“Well, I know there are a lot of sports, in the sense that there are a lot of trick questions involved in sports, so I’m not going to answer any sports questions,” he said.