Campbell said that tension over the islands was threatening “not only our security, but our economic prosperity going forward.”
The most effective diplomacy on these issues, he said, took place “behind the scenes” and the US was deeply engaged in that diplomacy and was “very active” with all involved.
In South Korea, the Washington team will also work to improve relations between Seoul and Tokyo — riven by the Japanese use of “comfort women” during World War II, and more recently by their rival claims to islands known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
Pressed about US actions over the deteriorating situation surrounding ownership of the Diaoyutais, Campbell said it was one reason why “this comprehensive team” was going into the region next week.
“This is going to be one of the top topics on the agenda,” he said.
Campbell said he was urging all parties to exercise “care and caution.”
He said the US was committed to building a “strong and multifaceted” relationship between the US and China.
“The future and the history of the 21st century is going to be written in Asia,” Campbell said.
“The lion’s share of the history is there. The wheel has turned and we are now proceeding on our national destiny, which is as an Asia-Pacific partner,” he said.
Despite current tensions, Campbell said that he could “not be more optimistic about the period ahead.”
He said the US had “turned a corner” and realized that its destiny was in Asia.
However, “persuasion and speeches” would not be enough and action was needed, he said.
“America’s friends” in Asia were “careful, strategic and very cautious,” he said.
It was going to take several more years to “sustain, strengthen and cement” the US rebalancing toward Asia, but he stressed that he believed it was “the most important strategic innovation in American foreign policy in 50 years.”
Additional reporting by CNA