Peter Mitchell, AAP US Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)
Donald Trump’s pick to be US ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse, says if confirmed he will keep a close eye on attempts by China to undermine the US-Australian relationship.
Culvahouse, a Washington DC insider and lawyer who helped Trump select Mike Pence for vice president and worked for past presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, also threw his support behind the US-Australia-Japan-India Quad alliance designed to combat China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific.
The 70-year-old from Tennessee appeared before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for a nomination hearing on Tuesday in Washington DC.
“Just let me say I view the strategic and security relationship between the US and Australia to be strategically critical and I will, if confirmed, make an assessment of efforts by third countries, third parties, to undermine that relationship,” Culvahouse told the hearing.
“If there are such efforts, including China, I will not refrain from forthrightly reporting up the chain to the (State) Department and to speak publicly if and as required.”
Culvahouse is one of Washington DC’s most prominent lawyers.
As well as being called on to vet vice-presidential candidates, including Sarah Palin for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, Culvahouse has provided legal work for multinational corporations including Exxon Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Goldman, Sachs & Co and AT&T.
Culvahouse said that legal work made him aware of China’s aggressive tactics.
He told the hearing “Australians are already quite sensitised” to China’s attempts to influence and mentioned the Australian government’s decision to ban Huawei from supplying 5G technology to the country.
“China is Australia’s largest trading partner and that gives it out-sized influence and out-sized opportunities to a nation that is already, let us say, aggressive and I know that from my personal experience representing US companies in the Asia-Pacific,” Culvahouse said.
“The Australians have recognised some of the aggressive efforts to influence them.
“They have done some house cleaning of past domestic legislation, creating a counterpart of our Foreign Agents Registration Act.”
Senator Bob Menendez, while quizzing Culvahouse about the Quad, suggested the pact should be expanded to include other Indo-Pacific nations.
Culvahouse said in light of “the geopolitical competition, if you will, from China and the region” he believed “the Quad initiative is one that definitely should be pursued”.
Culvahouse’s strong views about China replicate Trump’s first pick to be ambassador in Canberra, former US Pacific Command commander Harry Harris.
Harris, a China hawk, was diverted before his Australian confirmation hearing to the more potentially volatile US ambassador job in South Korea.
The US has been without an ambassador to Australia since former president Barack Obama’s appointment, John Berry, left in September 2016.