A new article by former US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs Kurt Campbell might contain a veiled warning for Taiwan.
Writing in the Financial Times, Campbell said that until Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) came to power last year, the prevailing view was that Beijing was prepared to shelve hotly disputed issues for a later date and be content to maintain an ill-defined “status quo.”
However, now, China is no longer simply responding, but acting on its own initiative, Campbell said.
He said that by many accounts, Xi is the most powerful leader at this stage of his tenure of any previous Chinese Communist Party leader since Mao Zedong (毛澤東).
While Campbell — one of the most highly respected and knowledgeable US diplomats to specialize in China — does not actually mention Taiwan in the short article, the nation and its problems with Beijing, would seem to fit neatly into his theory about the new shape of China’s foreign policy.
In the past, Campbell said, China watchers saw its actions as “reactively assertive,” suggesting that Beijing’s rulers were simply taking the necessary steps in response to prodding or provocations from surrounding states.
However, the situation has changed with Xi in power, with “various military deployments, policy proclamations, provocative naval maneuvers and rhetorical stridency” in the East and South China seas.
Campbell said the conventional wisdom was that China was primarily focused on its domestic imperatives and “unanticipated accidents and incidents were the worry, not premeditated gambits.”
He said Xi’s ambitious economic reform and his much more robust rhetoric “all suggest that we are entering a new phase.”
Campbell said that, by all accounts, Xi plays a dominant role in the formulation and execution of “matters big and small.”
There is a much more concerted coordination at every level in the Chinese government and “the current set of provocations are not haphazard, they have been carefully choreographed,” Campbell added.
“Recent Chinese steps and the centrality of Xi’s role is yet another reminder of the importance of concentrated, regular, high level diplomacy with China to accurately gauge intent and to send consequential messages,” he said. “Perhaps nothing in the world is more important.”