China wants stabilized relations with the United States in the short term as it faces domestic economic challenges and push back in Asia to its assertive diplomacy, White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said on Thursday.
Frustrations over China’s strict COVID-19 prevention measures boiled over into widespread protests last month, the biggest show of public discontent since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. The rules had contributed to a slowing economy, but the recent easing of restrictions have also created fresh concern that the virus could soon run wild.
Campbell said those issues, coupled with the fact that China had antagonized many of its neighbors, meant it was interested in more predictable ties with Washington in the “short term.”
“They’ve taken on and challenged many countries simultaneously,” Campbell told an Aspen Security Forum event in Washington, mentioning Chinese territorial disputes with Japan and India. “I think they recognize that that has, in many respects, backfired.”
“All of that suggests to me that the last thing the Chinese need right now is an openly hostile relationship with the United States. They want a degree of predictability and stability, and we seek that as well,” Campbell said.
In the next several months, Campbell said, the world would see “a resumption of some of the more practical, predictable elements of great-power diplomacy” between Washington and Beijing.
“I think we’re going to see some developments that I believe will be reassuring to the region as a whole,” he said without elaborating.
Campbell said Russia’s war in Ukraine had led to more behind-the-scenes discussions in the Indo-Pacific region about maintaining peace and stability over Taiwan, the democratically governed island China claims as its territory.
“If there were a challenge, it would have terrible consequences, strategically, commercially, and that is in no one’s interests. And so I think every country understands the delicacy here,” he said.