The United States "wants very much" to stabilize relations with China and believes Beijing also seeks to do so, White House Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell said Thursday, as he highlighted the element of competition in the relationship, which he said the U.S. will manage to avoid conflicts.
Reviewing the takeaways of the first face-to-face summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali last month, Campbell said that the U.S. side had a primary goal of building a floor under the relationship "to signal that we want very much to stabilize relations between the United States and China".
Speaking at an Aspen Security Forum event in Washington, Campbell said that based on what he saw in Beijing and in Bali, he believes "China is also interested in stabilizing U.S.-China relations", both in the short and initial medium terms.
China has long expressed the hope that the U.S. side would meet halfway to promote the sound and stable development of the world's most important bilateral relationship, which have sunk to their lowest level in four decades.
"The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle their relationship," Xi told Biden in the Bali summit. "I also look forward to working with you to bring China-U.S. relations back to the track of healthy and stable growth to the benefit of our two countries and the world as a whole."
Campbell said: "We've benefited from the fact that President Biden and President Xi had a long relationship — they worked together as vice-presidents, a lot of interactions — and so they were able to meet with that experience as a backdrop, and I think that helped considerably."
He said that with the summit, Washington also wanted to make sure that it had the "appropriate lines of communication" with Beijing and to build greater predictability and understand what each country's goals and ambitions are, both in the short and medium term.
The official said that there will be "a resumption of some of the more practical, predictable elements of great power diplomacy", over the course of the next several months, referring to start of senior officials' interactions as agreed by the presidents at their summit.
Campbell said the dominant characteristic of the U.S.-China relationship will continue to be competition, but Washington wants to drive that competition into peaceful arenas and build the guardrails and foundation that will prevent the relationship moving into destabilizing places.
That outcome is "critically" in the interest of the United States and the region at large, he added.
Campbell's idea of "competing with guardrails" was laid out in details in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine in September/October 2019, when he was chair and chief executive officer of the Asia Group.
The article, "Competition Without Catastrophe", co-written with Jake Sullivan, then a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explored "how America can both challenge and coexist with China".
Sullivan, now Biden's national security adviser, said on Oct 12 that Washington is "not seeking competition to tip over into confrontation or a new cold war".
China's Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi has said that China and the United States undeniably have competition in areas like the economy and trade, and China does not fear such competition.
"However, we do not agree that China-U.S. relations should be simply defined by competition, because this is not the entirety or the mainstream of this relationship. At the same time, competition should have boundaries and, more importantly, be fair play," Wang said in a speech in New York late September.
Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang said on Tuesday that during the Xi-Biden meeting, both presidents stressed the importance for the two countries to manage differences and avoid conflict and confrontation.
The U.S. defines China as the most serious competitor and the most serious long-term geopolitical challenge, out of "grave" strategic misperception and misjudgment. Because of that, it has imposed export controls, import restrictions, investment reviews, as well as measures in tech cooperation, industry supervision and industrial subsidies, Qin said.
In the latest move, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to be elected speaker when Republicans take control of Congress in January, on Thursday named Republican U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher to lead the Select Committee on China, which is being created in the House of Representatives to focus on economic and security competition with China.