U.S. Indo-Pacific Coordinator Campbell: The Era of Engagement with China is Over

The “era of what has been widely described as engagement [with China] is over,” Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s (NSC) Indo-Pacific coordinator, said during a May 26 appearance at the event.

Campbell said during an appearance at a Stanford University event Wednesday that U.S. policy toward China will now operate under a “new set of strategic parameters,” adding that “the dominant paradigm will be competition.” Campbell said Chinese policy under Xi Jinping is largely responsible for the shift in U.S. policy, citing China’s military conflict on its border with India, its “economic campaign” against Australia and the rise of China’s “war-wolf diplomacy. Beijing’s behavior, he said, symbolizes a shift toward “harsh power, or hard power,” which “suggests that China is determined to play a more assertive role.

Campbell’s blunt comments came after President Biden announced that he had ordered the U.S. intelligence community to “redouble” its efforts to determine the source of the new coronavirus, following conflicting assessments of whether its origin was natural or from a laboratory leak. The move is sure to anger Chinese officials, who have repeatedly rejected any suggestion that “the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab.

Bloomberg said Campbell knows exactly what it’s like to negotiate with the Chinese diplomats of the moment. He was one of the U.S. officials who participated in a high-level U.S.-China dialogue in Alaska last March. Campbell said President Xi is at the center of a new approach to U.S.-China relations. He described Xi as “a strong believer in ideology, but also quite unemotional,” adding that the Chinese leader is “not very interested in the economy.

Campbell said that since taking power in 2012, Xi has “almost completely dismantled the mechanisms that were designed for collective leadership for nearly 40 years. He said senior Chinese diplomats, such as Politburo member Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, are “completely outside the 100-mile radius” of the Chinese leadership’s inner circle.

Campbell said allies will be central to U.S. efforts to counter China in the coming years. The U.S. has tried to establish the importance of its work in the Quad Group, which includes India, Japan and Australia. And Biden’s first meetings with foreign heads of state at the White House were with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

We believe the best way to deal with a more assertive China is to work with allies, partners and friends,” Campbell said. He said, “The best China policy is actually a good Asia policy.” Nonetheless, he said the United States will need to allay fears of U.S. decline in Asia and provide a “positive economic vision” for the region. Campbell said, “In fact, for the first time, we are now shifting more of our strategic focus, our economic interests, our military forces to the Indo-Pacific region.”