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US senior diplomat calls for cool heads

Updated: 2013-01-12 01:51
By Chen Weihua in Washington ( China Daily)

Assistant secretary of state says peace necessary for Asia's prosperity

As tensions flared this week between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, a senior US State Department official said the United States wants cooler heads to prevail.

"We want both countries to recognize that Northeast Asia is too important to the global economy," Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said on Thursday at a talk on Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace center in Washington.

"We cannot afford continuing tension to degrade relations between the two most important countries in Asia — Japan and China — not only for our security, but our economic prosperity going forward. That's the central message."

He said the US has been involved in quiet diplomacy in the region. On Thursday afternoon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met visiting Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai in a closed-door meeting at the State Department.

On Thursday in Beijing, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said China's vessels and aircraft will continue regular missions to safeguard the nation's sovereignty.

Campbell and officials from the White House and the Pentagon will leave for Tokyo next week to meet Japanese officials for consultations over the issue.

Campbell believes that a more effective policy is to work behind the scenes rather than in the public spotlight.

Zha Daojiong, a professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, said that if the US truly remains neutral on the Diaoyu Islands issue as it claims, it should have a meeting that includes China, Japan and the US to show that it's not biased.

"We want to pay attention to details and see what the US is doing, not what it is saying," Zha said after Campbell delivered a keynote speech focusing on a new comprehensive US strategy toward Asia.

Campbell, who has been instrumental in shaping Obama's policy toward East Asia in the past four years, said the US is committed to building a strong, multifaceted and comprehensive partnership with China.

He described this as a very high goal that requires hard work but is a very important aspect of US foreign policy.

"We do this because the world expects the US and China to get along, that we work to overcome our differences, and we work intensively to understand each other and appreciate each other's perspectives," he said.

He said the US encourages all countries in Asia to have a good relationship with China. "We believe it's in their best interest and it's in our best interest. They are not the only ones who want a good relationship with China. We do as well," Campbell said.

"No country needs to choose between the US and China, or India or Japan," he said.

Campbell said that countries that are most successful in Asia and elsewhere usually have managed very effective relations with all countries, in particular the US and China.

He said that there is a deep consensus that the history of the century is going to be written in Asia.

Despite the existing mistrust between China and the US, Campbell said he is confident there are people in both nations who are committed to overcoming the barrier of distrust and misunderstanding in order to build a better relationship.

But he said that there is a lack of people with the depth of knowledge about Asia to fill important senior positions in the US government.

Orville Schell, director of the Center on US China Relations at the Asia Society, said in an interview with China Daily that one thing people have missed since then-US president George W Bush is the very constructive and positive role someone like Hank Paulson played — someone who is high up in the US government and whom the Chinese side feels comfortable with.

Paulson was the US Treasury secretary from June 2006 to January 2009.

"I hope now in the new administration after January, maybe Vice-President (Joe) Biden will be designated to play such a role," Orville said.

"Whenever we have such a person, (Henry) Kissinger, (Zbigniew) Brzezinski or Mike Oksenberg or Hank Paulson, relations tend to be smoother," he said.

Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn

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