SYDNEY (AFP) - Caroline Kennedy arrived in Australia on Friday (July 22) to take up her post as US ambassador, vowing to end a period of US "absence" in a region increasingly influenced by China.
With Washington stepping up diplomatic engagement across the South Pacific to counter growing Chinese influence, slain US president John F Kennedy's sole surviving child touched down in Sydney to present her credentials.
"There is a big agenda and I can't wait to get started," she said, effectively ending a stretch of more than 500 days in which the United States had no ambassador in the country.
"I think everyone feels that it is unfortunate that it is taking so long to confirm ambassadors," she said, referring to the now laborious and fraught process of the US Senate confirming key diplomatic appointments.
Ms Kennedy, a former US ambassador to Japan, hailed moves to open three new embassies in the Pacific Islands, while admitting "there has been a lot of absence". "There has been a lot of work ongoing even though there hasn't been an ambassador, so now we'll see if having an ambassador makes a difference, I hope I can show that it does."
Her arrival comes more than halfway through President Joe Biden's term.
Many of Mr Biden's diplomatic nominations have been delayed by Republican rivals in the now hyper-partisan Senate.
On arrival, Ms Kennedy, 64, recalled her honeymoon to Australia, her father being rescued during World War II off the nearby Solomon Islands by locals, and championed the planned return of the peace corps - which her father founded - to the Pacific.
Ms Kennedy was three years old when her father entered the White House in 1961 and, along with her younger brother John Jr, charmed the public, with Neil Diamond later inspired by her to write the song "Sweet Caroline."
After her father and uncle were assassinated, her brother died in a plane crash in 1999.