SYDNEY — New U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy said Friday the United States needs to engage more with the Pacific region at a time when China is asserting its presence.
Kennedy spoke with reporters at Sydney International Airport after arriving to take on her new role. She is due to formally present her credentials Monday, filling a post that’s been vacant for 18 months.
Asked if the U.S. had drifted 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 U.S. needs to do more. We’re putting our embassies back in and the Peace Corps is coming, and USAID is coming back and we’re coming back,” she said.
“We haven’t been there for a while, but I think that is all tremendously positive, and I think the U.S. and Australia working together will make a big impact.”
Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, was ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration.
The Pacific holds great personal significance, she 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 legacy is something I’m really proud of, and I try to live up to,” she told reporters. “I think the fact that it means something to people around the world makes me really proud and want to be worthy of it and do what I can to continue the values that my father lived by.”
Asked about China’s growing assertiveness in the region, she said her focus was on the U.S. partnership with Australia on issues like security, economic engagement, climate change and health.
“I think that China certainly has a big presence here in the region, but I think our partnership does as well,” she said.
Kennedy said she first visited Australia 36 years ago on her honeymoon.
She said she’d heard President Joe Biden had caught COVID-19 but hadn’t spoken to him about it yet.
“I wish him the best,” she said. “He’s strong and healthy, and obviously I hear he has very mild symptoms, so hopefully he will be feeling better soon.”
Kennedy didn’t waste time in putting the media in line. When one reporter started asking a question while another was still speaking, Kennedy quipped: “Did you just talk over a woman?”
“I, I did,” the reporter responded, to general laughter.
Kennedy also declined to answer questions about Australian sports, including cricket.
“Well, I know there’s a lot of sports, in that there’s a lot of trick questions involved in sports, so I am not answering any sports questions,” she said.