Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for Asia in the first four years of the Obama administration, told The Australian: “The combination of new Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, and Admiral Harry Harris has brought a much needed strategic focus to what the US needs to do in the South China Sea to underscore its commitment to firmly held international principles, such as freedom of navigation and the legal resolution of territorial disputes. If you’re looking for consistency and continuity of US policy over decades, between Democrats and Republicans, it is around the issue of preserving the sea lines of communication.
“It is clear the US wants a good relationship with China but these principles are not up for negotiation.”
Since the appearance of the story in the Journal, momentum in favour of the freedom of navigation action has increased.
The effect of the leak is that if the Obama administration now does not undertake a freedom of navigation action, it will be seen to have backed away from asserting America’s core traditional position.
Washington sources said Mr Carter was proving a strong and assertive defence secretary.
Mr Obama was unable to get his first choice — Michelle Flournoy — to take the post to succeed Chuck Hagel, who was widely regarded as a poor defence secretary somewhat overwhelmed by the job.