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US 'pivot to Asia': Is John Kerry retooling it?

A focus of American resources on Asia was a major priority when Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of State. But it is unclear if John Kerry will follow her approach exactly, many regional analysts say.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (c., with Sen. Robert Menendez) welcomed new Secretary of State John Kerry (r.).

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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When John Kerry spoke at his confirmation hearing to become secretary of State, Asia experts took notice when he seemed to back away from a key aspect of President Obama's vaunted "pivot" to Asia.

"I'm not convinced that increased military ramp-up [in the Asia-Pacific] is critical yet," Mr. Kerry said at the January hearing. "That's something I'd want to look at very carefully."

The "rebalancing" of America's focus and resources – away from the Middle East and toward a rising Asia – was considered part of the legacy of Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton. China had been put on notice that the United States was reasserting itself as an Asia-Pacific power. But was Kerry suggesting, as some surmised, that the US would now focus more on engagement with a rising China? Was he signaling that the "pivot to Asia" is no longer a guiding priority?

Or, as a senior State Department official suggests, was Kerry simply saying that the US, which has played a key role in Asia's security and prosperity for decades, will be cautious not to do anything that might jostle the region? "Anything that could upset [what we've helped accomplish in Asia] has to be looked at very carefully" – including a potentially unsettling military buildup, says the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


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