By Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden will nominate Tom Udall, a former U.S. senator who represented New Mexico, to be his ambassador to New Zealand, the White House said on Friday.
The decision comes as Biden works to shore up alliances in the Asia-Pacific to present a united front on what he has described as Washington’s key foreign policy challenge: China.
Biden officials have had little high-level, face-to-face contact with Beijing since a first senior diplomatic meeting in March in Alaska, where the Chinese side expressed anger at U.S. sanctions announced just ahead of the talks.
New Zealand has been an important ally in the region, and on Friday hosted Biden, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and China’s Xi Jinping for a virtual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on managing the global pandemic.
Biden hopes to use the 21-member forum and other multilateral groups to combat what it sees as China’s unfair trade practices and other issues. The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Chinese officials over their crackdown on Hong Kong, just one of several flashpoints between the two countries.
“This position – working with one of our closest partners and allies – is integral as we work closely with New Zealand to confront the challenges facing our nations – including COVID-19, climate, and China,” Udall said in a statement.
On Friday, the White House also said Biden would nominate career U.S. foreign service members as ambassadors to Brunei, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Botswana. Brunei is also an APEC member. All of the positions require Senate confirmation.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Sonya Hepinstall)