Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Why Biden’s choice for ‘Asian Czar’ could destabilize Beijing

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Joe Biden has chosen Obama administration veteran Kurt Campbell for a newly created post as senior Asian policy official, spokesperson for the president-elect’s transition team said Wednesday.

Campbell is a former Pentagon official who went on to become America’s senior diplomat for Asia in Hillary Clinton’s State Department. He is a mainstay of Washington’s political establishment – polite diplomat, skilled bureaucrat, and respected foreign policy theorist – and has an impressive network of connections in Asia and on Capitol Hill.

In the Biden administration, Campbell’s title will be “Indo-Pacific coordinator”. (Biden apparently rejected an earlier suggestion to call the new role an “Asian Czar.”) Campbell will report directly to National Security Council Advisor Jake Sullivan and be granted broad authority to integrate Chinese politics through “each government agency. “

Washington post columnist Josh Rogin greet Campbell’s appointment as a move that “should reassure nervous Asian allies that the Biden administration is taking China’s challenge seriously.”

But it can raise hackles in Beijing. Campbell is a Chinese falcon, widely recognized as the architect of the Obama administration in 2012 ”.pivot to AsiaWhich called for a more confrontational approach to dealing with China while strengthening US military resources and diplomatic relations in the rest of the region.

Campbell developed the approach in a 2016 book, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia, and a series of subsequent articles in Foreign Affairs. In one 2018 test co-authored with Ely Ratner, who is expected to take a senior Asian-related post in the Biden administration, Campbell essentially sided with the Trump administration in declaring the policy of engagement failed America of four decades with China.

“Washington has once again put too much faith in its power to shape China’s trajectory,” they wrote. “All sides of the political debate got it wrong: the free traders and financiers who foresaw an inevitable and growing openness in China, the integrationists who claimed that Beijing’s ambitions would be tamed by greater interaction with the international community, and the hawks who believed that China’s might would be reduced by perpetual American primacy. Neither carrots nor sticks influenced China as expected. ”

Critics of Obama’s pivotal strategy, which was later renamed “rebalancing,” argued that it rising tensions in Asia-Pacific because he signaled to Beijing that the United States was determined to contain China militarily. Some have even argued that the Communist Party’s shift to a more authoritarian style of governance under Xi Jinping was a direct response to American change.

In one 2019 trial titled “Disaster-Free Competition,” Campbell and Sullivan point out that containment was not a pivotal strategy goal. Cold War-style “containment” will not work in dealing with China, they argue, because China is a much more formidable competitor than the former Soviet Union. The goal of American policy should be to find out how to coexist with China, not how to change it. US policymakers, they suggest, risk repeating old mistakes if they assume that “competition can succeed in transforming China where engagement has failed – this time, forcing capitulation or even collapse.”

In one New Foreign Affairs test, published this week, Campbell and co-author Rush Doshi, director of the Brookings Institution’s China Strategy Initiative, discuss how the United States can ‘solidify’ security in Asia by focusing on building alliances in the region, a task they recognize as the most difficult in the history of modern political art. “

It’s also one of the most urgent – and Campbell now has a chance to put his theory to the test.

Clay chandler
clay.chandler@fortune.com

This edition of Eastworld was curated and produced by Grady McGregor. Reach it atgrady.mcgregor@fortune.com.

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