The White House’s top official for Asia said Tuesday that he believes the US and China can live in peace but warned there will be “enormously difficult” challenges facing the relationship.
“Do I think it’s possible that the United States and China can coexist and live in peace? Yes I do. But I do think the challenge is enormously difficult for this generation and the next,” Kurt Campbell, the head of Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council, told the Asia Society think tank.
China has been identified as the top foreign policy priority of the Biden administration. Campbell said to counter China, the administration will put regional focus on the Indo-Pacific.
“You’ll see this movement from the Middle East, and it will be painful, in all likelihood. We’ll see some real challenges in places like Afghanistan, but a much greater focus on the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
Campbell said the US will “step up our game substantially” in Southeast Asia to advance US interests. Boosting ties is tricky for the US in Southeast Asia since most countries do not want to take Washington’s side over Beijing, their regional neighbor. Campbell touted “vaccine diplomacy” as one way to strengthen relationships with Southeast Asian countries.
“We’ve taken it on board with our own vaccine programs, but also working with the Quad. We are deeply engaged to ensure that we will provide vaccines in 2022 to Southeast Asia and the Pacific. We think this is the most important contribution that we can make in the next little while,” he said.
The Quad is an informal alliance whose members are the US, Japan, Australia, and India. The group is seen as a possible foundation for a NATO-style anti-China alliance in Asia. President Biden held the first summit between the Quad leaders virtually in March. Campbell said Biden will host the Quad leaders in Washington for an in-person summit later this year.