The White House’s top official for Asia said on Wednesday that the era of US engagement with China is over, and now, the two countries’ relationship will be defined by competition.
“The period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end,” said Kurt Campbell, the head of Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council. Speaking at an event hosted by Stanford University, Campbell said US policy towards China will now follow a “new set of strategic parameters” and that “the dominant paradigm is going to be competition.”
Campbell blamed the shift in policy on Chinese President Xi Jinping and said Beijing is shifting its policies to “harsh power, or hard power.” Campbell said the best way to confront China is “to work with allies, partners, and friends.”
Boosting military cooperation with allies in Asia is key to the Biden administration’s China policy. As part of this strategy, the US is strengthening the group known as Quad, whose members include the US, Australia, India, and Japan. President Biden held the first-ever summit between Quad leaders virtually in March. Campbell said the US is planning to convene an in-person Quad summit for this fall.
In the Obama administration, Campbell was the top Asia diplomat in the State Department and is seen as the architect of what became known as the “pivot” to Asia. While President Obama began reshuffling some resources to the Indo-Pacific to challenge China, his disastrous interventions in the Middle East got him bogged down, and the pivot was not fully realized.
Campbell says Biden’s Asia pivot — which is a continuation of Trump’s — is for real. “For the first time, really, we are now shifting our strategic focus, our economic interests, our military might more to the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
The Pentagon recently identified China as the top “pacing threat” facing the US military, and military leaders are repeating the mantra. President Biden has also made it clear that China is his top foreign policy priority. In his first address to Congress, Biden said the US is in competition with China to “win the 21st century.” To compete with China, Biden said he told President Xi that the US will militarize the Indo-Pacific “just as we do with NATO in Europe.”