WASHINGTON: The State Department’s top official dealing with Asia says the American relationship with China is “much more challenging, much more complicated than the one we had with the Soviet Union.”
Speaking at a conference hosted by the Center for a New American Security, Kurt Campbell, assistant Secretary of State for east Asian and Pacific affairs, offered a few oblique references to just how the United States will manage that relationship. One of the most interesting was mention of the importance of the relationship between South Korea and Japan, who have a tortured relationship borne in part from Japan’s occupation of Korea during World War II and the traditionally xenophobic treatment of Koreans in Japan.
Seoul and Tokyo recently agreed to sign an agreement to share classified information, an important step forward to closer military ties between the two countries. How difficult is this relationship? South Korea’s Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin canceled a trip to Japan several weeks ago. He was sign two agreements, the one on sharing military intelligence and the other on logistics.
Campbell said the US also “needs to engage with countries in East Asia” to provide training facilities and “partnering.” This he called “one of the great military-diplomatic challenges of the next 15 years.” He pointed to the recently signed agreement to regularly station Marines in northern Australia as a step forward.
Most of Campbell’s speech was the expected State Department stuff, long on history and gratitude to friends in the region, short on specifics. But he did mention how “proud” he was that Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist whose flight to the US Embassy in Beijing elicited so much international respect and Chinese anger, was studying in the U.S. with his immediate family.
That episode exemplifies just how complicated and uncharted relations between the two global giants are. It also demonstrates how both sides can work together when it suits them.