An interesting tidbit that seemed to get lost in the Senate’s rush to confirm John Kerry as Secretary of State this week were the comments he made during his nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about US policy toward China. When asked about the administration’s “pivot” to Asia—which, according to last year’s new Defense Guidance paper, meant dedicating more military resources to the region—Kerry said he was “not convinced an increased military ramp-up is necessary yet” and, what’s more, the danger in doing so could be to make Beijing’s leadership “wonder whether the US is trying to [en]circle us.”
So the questions that should have been asked are: Was Kerry signaling a change in the administration’s own policy? Is the administration, in the face of the looming self-inflected wound of sequester and $500 billion more in defense cuts, admitting it simply can’t carry out its plans? Or was Kerry simply reflecting his own rather conventional liberal position that, in spite of two decades of annual double-digit increases in Chinese military spending—much of which is aimed at denying American projection of power in the region—the real problem is just one of perception, not China’s growing aggressiveness.
Well, it’s a little late now to get answers to those questions from Secretary Kerry. However, with Chuck Hagel’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, it’s not too late to ask whether Kerry’s comments reflect his as well, and/or whether it also reveals new thinking on the part the administration.