Trump Appoints Naval Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr. as New Ambassador to Australia
On Friday, February 9, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed his intent to nominate Harry B. Harris Jr., the Commander of the United States Pacific Command, as American Ambassador to Australia.
Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and American father, Harris is the first Asian American to hold the rank of Admiral in the U.S. Naval Forces. After earning an M.P.A. from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an M.A. from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Services, Harris became a naval flight officer in 1979.
During his 39-year career, Harris has “served in every geographic combatant command and has held seven command assignments, including the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the U.S. Sixth Fleet, and VP-46,” the White House said in a statement.
The U.S. government has not appointed an ambassador to Australia since September 2016, an unprecedented situation that was seen as a sign of deterioration of the relationship among the two traditional allies.
Tim Fischer, former Deputy Minister of Australia, described the absence of a U.S. envoy to Australia as a “diplomatic insult,” reflecting Australia’s low priority on the U.S.’ political agenda. He also believed that the two countries’ dispute over refugee settlement was the source to blame.
Harris’s nomination comes amid increasing concerns over Australia’s rising economic dependence on China, its largest trade partner, and U.S.’s declining influence in the region.
Known for his hawkish stance against China’s increasing military expansion in the South China Sea, Harris has openly criticized China’s construction of artificial islands in the area as building the “Great Wall of Sand.”
Although it is still unclear how Harris will address the sensitive relationship between Australia and China, Trump’s pick of a “China Hawk” to Australia serves as a sign that the U.S. will not continue tolerating China’s growing geopolitical influence. The appointment reaffirms the traditional strong alliance between U.S. and Australia and sends a message that the U.S. still values Australia as its crucial ally in the region.
China sees this new appointment as unfavorable and describes Harris as the “most prejudiced” ambassador choice for Australia. Chinese military analysts argue that Trump’s appointment of Harris is an attempt to pull Australia back from China’s influence and into the American camp of alliance.
However, many Australian news outlets react to this event with a positive attitude. SBS World News, an Australian news publication, called Harris “Australia’s friend, China’s foe.” Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has also personally welcomed Harris as the new ambassador on twitter.