US doesn’t want ‘regime change’ in China, diplomat says

Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said the fall of communism would be undesirable right now.

US doesn’t want ‘regime change’ in China, diplomat says

The U.S. government does not seek “regime change” in China akin to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said Wednesday at a forum in Washington.

Responding to a question about a recent article in Foreign Affairs penned by a high-profile former lawmaker and a former Trump administration official calling for the United States to adopt the goal of defeating communism in China, Campbell said he disagreed.

He told the forum at the Stimson Center that such an objective would be “reckless and likely unproductive” for U.S. interests amid multiple global crises that are already stretching Washington’s capabilities.

“We need to accept China as a major player and [accept] that doing constructive diplomacy with them is in American strategic interests,” Campbell said, listing the invasion of Ukraine, the Israel-Gaza conflict, famine in Africa and “challenges in the Red Sea” as priorities.

“The world is dangerous and unpredictable enough right now,” he said. “I do not believe it is in our interest at the current juncture to add to our list: Let's try to topple the other leading power on the global stage.”

The article was written April 10 by Mike Gallagher, a now former Republican lawmaker who chaired the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, and Matt Pottinger, who was former President Donald Trump’s deputy national security advisor.

It argued the Biden administration’s policy of “managing competition” with China was short-sighted and that Washington should return to a Cold War-style foreign policy aimed at “winning” the competition by removing a communist regime and replacing it with a democracy.

‘Overestimated our ability’

Campbell was confirmed as the deputy U.S. secretary of state in February after serving since 2021 as Biden’s chief Indo-Pacific foreign policy adviser on the White House’s National Security Council.

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President Joe Biden, right, greets China's President President Xi Jinping, left, at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, USA, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP)

He previously served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2009 to 2013 under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Obama administration, and said his experience told him the world views U.S. efforts at “regime change” poorly.

Allies throughout Asia “would be highly critical of an effort to depart along this path” and could reconsider their support for America if regime change was the objective, the No. 2 U.S. diplomat said.

He also suggested it was not certain that a non-communist government in Beijing would adopt foreign policy positions any more palatable to Washington than those of the current Chinese government.

“For years we have overestimated our ability to fundamentally influence the direction of Chinese foreign policy,” Campbell said, advocating for “a high degree of modesty of what we think is possible with respect to fundamental changes in how China sees the world.”

The world’s two major powers had to learn to live together, he added.

“Despite our differences, I do think, at the current juncture, it makes more sense to … send clear signals of areas where we have red lines and concerns, but also to do what you can to coexist,” he said.

Edited by Malcolm Foster.