US president-elect Joe Biden has picked an Obama-administration veteran, Kurt Campbell, to be his senior official for Asia policy, including the relationship with China, it was announced on Wednesday.
Campbell, 63, outlined his approach to Asia in a 2016 book “The Pivot” which advocated strengthening existing alliances and building closer relations with states like India and Indonesia in the face of a rising China.
He has since endorsed some of the tough approaches toward China adopted by the Donald Trump administration and praised some of Trump’s dealings with North Korea.
However, he has also criticised Trump for failing to engage sufficiently with the region as a whole and for undermining relations with key allies like Japan and South Korea.
In a Foreign Affairs article this week Campbell wrote of the need for “serious US re-engagement” in Asia and “ad hoc” coalitions and partnerships to sustain the existing order threatened by China.
Probably Campbell’s greatest challenge will be finding ways to recalibrate Trump’s fractious relationship with Beijing to allow for Biden’s aim of cooperation on issues such as climate change, while pursuing policies aimed at changing Chinese behaviour.
Last month, Campbell said Washington’s “ticket to the big game” in Asia was the US military presence and its ability to deter challenges to the current “operating system” – a reference to China’s bid to establish itself as the dominant regional power.
He said the US must also demonstrate a vision for “an optimistic, open trading system”, working with allies and denying China access to areas where it was necessary to maintain a cutting edge, such as artificial intelligence, robotics and 5G.
In his Foreign Affairs article, Campbell said Washington should move away from a “singular focus on primacy” and “expensive and vulnerable” military platforms such as aircraft carriers designed to maintain it.
Instead, Washington should prioritise deterring China through relatively inexpensive and asymmetric capabilities such as cruise and ballistic missiles, unmanned carrier-based aircraft, submarines, and high-speed strike weapons.