Kurt Campbell, who served as the very able Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs during President Obama’s first term, is one of the strongest advocates in the US for the “pivot to Asia” and unapologetically asserts that with the failures of the EU and post-Soviet Russia to organize for the challenges of the 21st century, there are really only two global powers today. Deepening cooperation between the US and China and finding ways for these two countries to work together on the big issues, says Campbell in a piece for the FT, may be the most important diplomatic task facing the world today.
This idea will generate a lot of heartburn around the world. Not just in Brussels and Moscow, but in Asian capitals like Tokyo and New Delhi, the idea of the US and China meeting together and developing a common agenda for important world problems sets off alarm bells.
Yet Campbell’s core point is surely inescapable: it is vital for the peace of the world that the US and China understand one another as effectively as possible, and work to deepen and develop their dialog on a range of security, economic and other vital issues.
For the US, there’s no way to deepen the discussion with China without also building deeper understanding and trust with other interested parties; the US will gain little from discussions with China that are perceived to be over the heads or against the interests of our key partners and allies around the world. That isn’t impossible; other countries, especially in Asia, would on balance rather see the US and China have a good working relationship than a bad one.
Worries about a G-2 dominating the world are overstated. As economic and social development spreads, the world is becoming a much more complicated place and no single country or two-country clique can impose its will on the international system as a whole. Rather than worrying about an excess of power in one or two countries, the world should worry about failures of coordination and cooperation that make peace and prosperity harder to ensure. The US and China won’t agree on everything, but where we do agree, we should work together, and both sides should work to manage our disagreements as thoughtfully and carefully as possible.
[Photo of John Kerry and Xi Jinping courtesy of Getty Images.]