Kurt Campbell, an Asia scholar with a strong record on Taiwan, has been nominated US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
The position is a high-profile job of enormous importance to Taipei. If he is confirmed by the Senate, Campbell will become a major figure in the administration of US President Barack Obama, proposing and structuring policies that directly affect Taiwan.
Campbell is believed to favor the launching of a new Taiwan Policy Review that may get under way this spring.
He is close to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and was her chief adviser on Asian affairs during her campaign for the presidency last year.
She has been pushing for his nomination since January, but it was held up by what White House sources have described as “a few hiccups” in the exhaustive vetting process and by the reservations of a presidential political adviser, who wanted someone who supported Obama during the Democratic primaries.
In an article he wrote for the Taipei Times in October 2007, Campbell appeared to support the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Taiwan.
Referring to the administration of former president George W. Bush, he said: “There is the possibility that the US has quietly decided not to risk China's ire with a decision to sell the fighter planes that Taiwan so clearly needs for its defense, given the manifest increase in the Chinese military's capabilities.”
“By delaying this decision at the outset rather than simply treating it as a normal and perfectly reasonable request, the Bush team may have inadvertently created the context for a much bigger deal than they bargained for. In the face of China's unrelenting military buildup, and even with attention focused more on Iraq than Asia, the Bush team must soon make clear its ultimate intentions of defending Taiwan, given the growing concerns,” he wrote.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year, Campbell said: “Beijing remains uncertain about how best to manage the still-powerful independence movement in Taiwan. The issue presents an acute dilemma for China's leaders, whose individual and collective legitimacy could be undermined either by the loss of Taiwan or by the problems that would ensue from a military conflict over the island.”
“Chinese authorities perceive a realization of its fears in US efforts to promote a cooperative network of regional ballistic missile defense programs, which Beijing fears could lead to a de facto US-Australia-Japan-ROK-Taiwan collective defense alliance. This is a strategic competition that the US can only engage in effectively with an appropriate balance of renewing our soft-power efforts and rebalancing our military commitments to reassure our friends and allies and dissuade potential adversaries from taking provocative actions,” he said.
“In order for China to be compelled to act as a responsible stakeholder, it will prove increasingly important for policymakers to devise a strategy that is capable of ensuring the maintenance of American power and influence in the Asia-Pacific for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Campbell suggested that the US clarify its position on Taiwan and continue to build strong bilateral relations with Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan.
“China's rise to a sustained great power status in the global arena is not preordained, nor is it necessary that the US and China will find themselves at loggerheads over Taiwan, increasing trade frictions, regional rivalry in Asia or human rights matters. The US and China are currently working together surprisingly well on a wide array of issues,” he said.
“However, so long as China's intentions and growing capabilities remain unclear, the US and other nations in the region remain wary,” he said.
A Washington-based Taiwan expert who spoke with Campbell after his nomination was announced told the Taipei Times that Campbell was very well-informed on Taiwan and had talked “in depth” with Taiwanese leaders.
He said Campbell was in favor of greater direct contact between the US and the Taiwan militaries.
Other sources said that Campbell was from the “hawkish” wing of the Democratic Party and that he would work hard to deepen the US-Japanese alliance.
Campbell is the CEO and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security and is a director of the Aspen Strategy Group. Prior to that, he was a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
During the administration of former US president Bill Clinton, he was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific in the Pentagon, a director on the National Security Council and White House fellow at the Treasury.
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