News / Asia

Former US Diplomat Warns Of Intractable US-China Tensions

Phil Mercer
One of the key architects of Washington’s foreign policy focus on Asia says there will always be tensions in the relationship between the United States and China.  Kurt Campbell, who last month retired as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific after four years in the job, made the warning in a speech in Australia.
 
In his first public address since leaving his post at the U.S. State Department, Kurt Campbell said the ability of China and the United States to co-exist in the Asia Pacific region is the most critical foreign policy challenge of the century.
 
The former diplomat told a meeting of international policy experts at Sydney University that the relationship between Washington and Beijing will affect politics around the world. Campbell said that the leaders of the two great powers appreciate the need to find “contours of coexistence,” but there will always be tensions.
 
He told the gathering that officials in Canberra often did not fully appreciate Washington’s desire to coexist with the Chinese.
 
“I think Australians tend to not recognize how deep and sustained American commitment to working with China," he said. "For the United States probably the most important foreign policy goal of the 21st century is to figure out how to work together to coexist with China in the Asia-Pacific region.  It is extraordinarily important that we find ways to work together, to cooperate.”
 
Campbell played a strategic part in normalizing the policy of the United States towards Burma, after generals in the Southeast Asia nation ended decades of military rule.  Since leaving the government, the former assistant secretary has started a new consulting company called the Asia Group that advises businesses, governments and civil society groups across Asia.  

For one of the firm's first announced projects, the Asia Group has joined a foreign consortium trying to win a contract to modernize Burma’s Rangoon International Airport, which was built in 1947.
 
Sean Turnell, an economist at Sydney’s Macquarie University, who closely monitors events in Burma, says that it is common for former politicians and diplomats to cash in on their expertise in the private sector.
 
“On the up side I mean someone like Campbell would certainly know the issues in and out.  I guess it is really just an issue whether positions taken in the past mean that you could yield influence in the future in a commercial sense," said Turnell. "But, yes, it is one of those things, I think, more or less around the world that political power very often turns into economic power.”  
 
The opening up of Burma to visitors and investors has led to a flurry of interest from an array of foreign businesses, eager to benefit from a massive redevelopment of infrastructure, including roads, hotels and airports.

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