As the United States undertakes its strategic rebalancing to the Asia Pacific, Chinese and Indian views are of particular importance to Washington. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell offered an inside perspective on the past, present, and future of the U.S. role as a Pacific power.
Trends of Thought: Campbell identified five broad trends in contemporary American thinking about Asia, all of which have various influences on policy:
A Potential Partner: A first line of thought sees China’s rise as the focus of all Asia policy, but does not view the U.S.-Chinese relationship as necessarily adversarial.
An Inherent Threat: A second, related group of thinkers views China as inherently threatening, a sort of modern-day Soviet Union with which the United States must inevitably compete.
Issue-Based: Others take an issue-based stance, recalibrating policy based on shifting priorities in fields ranging from democratization to terrorism.
Partnerships: A fourth category encompasses those who prioritize multilateral partnerships in creating a security architecture that guarantees a peaceful Asia.
Transnational Threats: A final group orients itself around emerging transnational threats such as climate change and energy security.
Multifaceted, Sustained Engagement: Campbell emphasized that successful Asia-Pacific policy depends on the United States maintaining close ties with all its partners in the region on a whole-of-government basis. While the military component of the American rebalancing to Asia usually receives the most attention, Campbell added, Washington’s diplomatic efforts are the policy’s real leading edge. It follows that the United States must get its budgetary house in order to reassure the global community that it can make good on its promise.
Rebalance the Rebalancing: Campbell countered the common narrative that the rebalancing comes at the expense or against the wishes of European U.S. allies. He explained that Washington’s traditional allies across the Atlantic share its belief that the Asia Pacific will be a major inflection point in the twenty-first century, and that they therefore support renewed American interest in the region. Likewise, Campbell underscored that the rebalance does not only enhance Washington’s focus on Asia in general, but broadens it from traditional hotspots in northeast Asia to include the entire continent.