Kurt Campbell’s Asian Pivot

Aug 18, 2022

Kurt Campbell, National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator (aka Biden’s “Asia man”) has an important cameo role in Accidental Conflict.  As I note in the book, “In an earlier incarnation at the State Department, Campbell played a key tole in developing one of the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy initiatives — the ‘pivot to Asia.’” This was the crux of America’s emerging China containment strategy, building relations with other Asian nations through proposals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which excluded China.  Had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election, Campbell would have undoubtedly played a key role in executing a US China containment strategy under the TPP umbrella.

That, of course didn’t happen.  Following Clinton’s election defeat, Campbell went on the speaking circuit as a consultant, a think-tank leader, and author of the definitive book on the Asian pivot (The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia).  And now, he is taking over where he left off in the Obama administration, leading the charge of Biden’s China containment campaign.

In an August 12 press call, Campbell left little doubt of how current tensions over Taiwan fit into America’s increasingly confrontational position with China. He stressed that Speaker Pelosi’s recent visit is both “…consistent with our One China policy and is not unprecedented.” As such, he was highly critical of China’s “intensified [military] pressure campaign against Taiwan.”

I fear Mr. Campbell doth protest too much. Yes, a former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, did visit China — but that was 25 years ago and, unlike today, did not occur at a time of escalating conflict with China over trade and technology. And Pelosi’s support for democracy, especially when she compared it with the autocracy of the PRC, certainly seems to draw the notion of “One China” into question, as has a subsequent quick follow-up mission headed by Senator Ed Markey, Chairman of the East Asia Subcommittee of the US Senate’s all-important Committee on Foreign Relations. This fits the script all too well of Henry Kissinger’s recent concerns over an unfortunate US penchant for seeking “endless confrontations” with China.

Kurt Campbell has long been associated with America’s pivot of China containment. His take on the sharp escalation of Sino-American tensions over Taiwan drives that point home, adding more fuel to an already perilous trajectory of conflict escalation.

You can follow me on Twitter @SRoach_econ

Sign up for Stephen’s Dispatches: