Former US assistant secretary of state for East Asia Kurt Campbell on Thursday said that the US and China should stay out of Taiwan’s presidential election next year.
“We should really have hands off the democratic process — that’s important,” he said.
Campbell said the US might remind its Chinese friends that “sometimes outside activities by any big power can have unintended consequences.”
The most important message the US could send in the coming months would be to let the election “play out” in Taiwan.
“We would urge Chinese friends to develop contacts across the political spectrum and maintain dialogue on economic and commercial initiatives that are important between China and Taiwan,” Campbell said.
He said that some interpretations of the recent Taiwanese elections suggested there was a “substantial group” in Taiwan that wanted to “take a moment, take a breath and evaluate the current circumstances.”
Such a development was normal in national discourse and the US should encourage that process and “respect the wishes of the Taiwan people,” Campbell said.
Campbell made the remarks during his keynote address to the Jamestown Foundation’s fifth annual China Defense and Security Conference held at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington.
Now head of Washington-based Asia Group, Campbell said the “lion’s share” of this century’s history would be written in the Asia-Pacific region.
The region is going to be “unbelievably dynamic,” he said.
Campbell said that he had worked at the Pentagon and at the US Department of State and that no two places could be more different.
The Pentagon was “on steroids,” while the State Department was “on life support” with respect to budgets, he said, adding that the State Department has to summon all of its “native cunning” to shape events going forward.
“If we play our cards right, we will be a dominant player in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come,” Campbell said.
Campbell said that he had spent quite a bit of time with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and that Xi had a “very hard-headed” approach to security dynamics.
Xi’s predecessors in Beijing were elderly men, but Xi was often “the last man to leave the bar,” he said, adding that Xi was “extraordinarily engaging and comfortable in his own skin.”
Campbell said that when he was in the US government, he found that it was “extremely difficult” to get any form of cooperation with China.
“The irony is that one of the few areas where we have an arena in which the two countries can take some comfort is around the issue of the Taiwan Strait,” Campbell said. “The unofficial relationship between the US and Taiwan over the last few years has actually grown considerably at a time when US-China relations have not veered into crisis and China-Taiwan relations have improved dramatically.”
He said that Chinese leaders and diplomats took “some comfort” from the way the US and China had directly or subtly acted on issues of peace and stability across the Strait and from the improvement of economic ties between China and Taiwan.
Campbell said that if the US manages its alliances with allies in Asia properly, it would be better able to deal with any major problems that might arise with China or over security across the Strait.
“Our alliance structure has never been more relevant,” he said. “It’s not sexy, but it’s essential.”
Campbell said the US clearly had an important role maintaining its unofficial relationship with Taiwan.
“That relationship has flourished in recent years and it has taken place at a time when US-China relations and US-Taiwan relations have generally improved,” he said
Campbell said that a “virtuous cycle” was under way and that it should continue if at all possible.
He said he is pleased that the US has a “much higher engagement” level with Taiwan than it has had in the past.
“I am not going to go through everything here, but we now have a set of circumstances where in terms of our military dialogues, our political dialogues, our high-level visits, Taiwan is on par with any country we have in Asia,” Campbell said.
“And we are doing that within a larger context that respects the dynamics between China and Taiwan,” he said.
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