Transcript: Jake Sullivan and Kurt Campbell talk with Michael Morell on “Intelligence Matters”

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – 

INTERVIEW WITH JAKE SULLIVAN KURT CAMPBELL
CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL
PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:

Kurt, Jake. I want to welcome you both to the show. Jake, this is your second time with us. It’s good to have you back. And Kurt, this is your first time, so welcome. And I hope to have you back sometime to talk in more detail about your career and the broader issues of East Asia.
KURT CAMPBELL:
Thanks, Mike. It’s great to be with you.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Neither one of you will be surprised that on Intelligence Matters, we’ve talked about China a lot. Most people who come on the show see it as the most fundamental foreign policy challenge that we face as a nation. But almost to a person, nobody can outline a strategy for the way forward.

And you guys just did that in an article that you wrote for Foreign Affairs called, Competition Without Catastrophe: How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist With China. So that’s what I want to talk about. I thought it was a terrific article. People should go read it. But before we get to that, I do want to ask you, Kurt, about Hong Kong. And really two questions. How would you characterize the dynamic in Hong Kong among the protestors, and then between the Hong Kong government and the protestors? And then how would you characterize how Beijing is thinking about this and what their policy options are?
KURT CAMPBELL:
Yeah, like, that’s a very hard question. But I would say essentially, the protestors are increasingly agitating for changes in Hong Kong that will be impossible for the mainland to support. I think what the demonstrators were trying to get at is the removal of a very narrow piece of legislation that would allow Hong Kong to continue to exist in this netherland, a Chinese city but with a degree of self-determination and ability to set its own local laws and other regulations.

I think what many of the demonstrators are agitating for is something that is far beyond that. And what we are starting to see now is the fracturing of this complex city. So it is not simply the chief executive, Carrie Lam and the security services that have taken an increasingly tough line, Mike, against the demonstrators. But there are now elements actually in Hong Kong society independently that view these guys as troublemakers.

So I think down this line is likely to be more violence, probably at a simmering level. There are a lot of people that ask the question, “Are we likely to see a Tiananmen in Hong Kong?” I think that’s deeply unlikely. China has a huge number of tools in their toolkit that they can use over a sustained period. They’re patient, they’re careful.

Tiananmen was a profound example of the weakness of their system, and they’ve sort of determined that they’re never going to find themselves in that set of circumstances again. I can assure you that they’re thinking about this in a very resolute, careful way. And they’re going to be put pressure on these guys over a period of not weeks but months. And they’ll be prepared to ride it out. So I think the chances of, like, an orgy of violence are actually quite low. I think what’s much more likely is the kinds of unrest that we’ve seen over the last couple of days.

And many of those demonstrators are not as sympathetic frankly to audiences in the West. They look like they’re prepared for combat. They’re fully armored. And so they don’t have the same sort of resonance of the umbrella demonstrations that we’ve seen over the past couple of years. So it’s a long answer to say that this is not going to go away. It’s going to be low-level street violence for a significant period of time. What will happen is, Hong Kong will increasingly be less attractive to Western capital and Western headquarters. There’s going to be more anxiety about that city, and I think it will increase–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Singapore will be the big winner here, no?
KURT CAMPBELL:
Well, you know, Singapore’s a small island, Mike, so, you know, there’s only so many, you know, luxury high rises that you can build there. So I think, in fact, what we’re seeing across Asia is a looking for strategic alternatives. There’s only so much you can put in Singapore, so it means that somewhere else, both for manufacturing, high tech and headquarters is going to emerge. Now my bet is over time it’s going to be places like Vietnam. Probably a re-look at Tokyo as an international city. But clearly, there is capacity that needs to be taken care of here.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Okay, so back to the Foreign Affairs article. Why did you guys decide to do this?
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Well, a big part of our motivation for writing the piece was that there was a broad recognition across party lines, across politicians and policymakers alike that we needed an adjustment in approach in U.S.-China relations. So everybody was sort of agreeing on the diagnosis, which was we have to do things differently from how we’ve done them, because some of our basic assumptions were wrong.

And Kurt wrote a piece with another colleague of ours, Ely Ratner, sort of laying out that diagnosis. But then the question emerged, okay, so what then? How do you actually put forward a strategy for the United States that has positive elements to it, that gives some guide to decision-makers about how to manage this big challenge?

And we were both struck by the fact that the Trump administration had seized on this phrase “strategic competition.” And for your listeners, whenever foreign policymakers put the word strategic before a noun, it usually means they aren’t quite sure what they’re going for.

So you hear people in Washington talk about strategic patience, which really means we’re waiting for something, we’re not quite sure what, or strategic ambiguity, which is, we don’t exactly know what we want to communicate, but it’s definitely going to be strategic. And strategic competition to us really begged the question, what are we competing for, why, and what does winning actually look like? And so we wrote a piece that tried to tackle those questions.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And is the approach that you guys came up with, is it something that you two sat down and talked about and came to a consensus on? Or were you both thinking the same way, and that brought you together? How did this happen?
KURT CAMPBELL:
I’ll jump in. So I would say, it was a product of really substantial back and forth, which frankly, Mike, continues. I think we were pleased with the outcome of the piece and its reception. I mean, we’ve been, you know, generally received favorably. I think that’s terrific, in terms of people agreeing that it’s an important contribution to a debate.

But I think the key really, if I could offer, is in the specifics. Like, you know, so as a framework it’s terrific, but how does it apply directly to how you would deal with problems in 5G? How do you handle directly issues in the South China Sea? And that’s where it becomes more difficult.

I think it does though suggest what’s interesting about this period, there’s such a significance to the U.S.-China relationship right now. But there’s almost no real strategic dialogue between our two countries about the way forward. And that more than anything else alarms me currently.
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Just to add one thing. It’s interesting what Kurt says about even today he and I are having a back and forth. We don’t actually entirely agree on every specific. And there are some sentences in the piece I like more, and some sentences in the piece that he likes more.

But we converged I think in a place that for me reflects something deeper about the U.S.-China debate right now, which is that interestingly, you’re hearing different diagnoses, how big of a threat is China, how much of this should be a new Cold War or not? But actually, even though people are answering those diagnostic questions somewhat differently, there’s more convergence around prescription than you might think.

From folks who sound softer on China and folks who sound harder on China, when you push each of them, you find that, yes, there are differences. But they in the main tend to converge around certain points. And that’s what we found in going back and forth in this debate.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So walk us through the framework.
KURT CAMPBELL:
Sure. So we basically start with the premise that the United States and China as two big continental-size powers are going to have to learn to live with each other. That there’s not going to be some ultimate end state of total victory or total defeat for either side. There’s going to have to be a steady state of coexistence.

And so our argument is basically to find for the United States a way of establishing a steady state in four areas that is as favorable as possible to U.S. interests and U.S. values. So we argue in the security domain, that the answer does not have to be U.S. primacy or U.S. dominance. It has to be U.S. deterrence. Our ability to deter China from engaging in aggressive action in the region and to prevent a war in the region. And we have some specifics of how we suggest getting there.

In the economic domain, it doesn’t mean a total decoupling of the U.S. and Chinese economies and a separation of the world in the kind of warring economic camps, a la the Cold War. But it does require that the United States get together with its allies and partners to set the rules and standards on technology and trade and intellectual property in ways that pose a choice to China. Either they can level up to us, or they’re going to have to accept a certain status in the international system that is less than what they have right now.

Then we argue, in the domain of politics, values, ideology, that this isn’t necessarily a traditional, Cold War style rivalry between capitalism and Communism. It’s something more challenging in a way, because China’s more flexible ideologically, but definitely is advancing an alternative model to the United States.

And our argument is that, if we go around the world and are just anti-China everywhere, we’re going to end up in a situation where we’re trying to beat something with nothing. That we need to be pro good governance, pro democratic institutions, pro alternatives to development that fit better with our economic and political model than China’s. And then finally, in the domain of global governance where the U.S. and China are going to have to cooperate with one another on big issues, our argument is that we can no longer as we have for the past few decades view Chinese cooperation with the United States on issues like climate change as a favor they’re doing for us.

We’ve tended to think of it that way. We go to Beijing and hope they’ll give us something. But rather as fundamentally in their interest. And so rather than cooperate first and only then compete, our argument is, we have to be prepared to compete all the way through and only cooperate after we’ve really set those terms of competition effectively. But we have to look at these areas, whether it’s global health or climate that are so essential that we work together on, not as China doing us a favor, but rather as two powers who each have responsibilities and capacities doing their part.
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Mike, can I also say, I think an underlying feature of our piece is to try to remind Americans, and particularly the leadership, that we have some inherent strengths that we tend to forget in this process. And we thought a little bit about other periods of deep strategic competition, you know well with the Soviet Union, with Japan when we were facing off economically.

And we tended during those periods to discount a lot of the tremendous, deeply held capabilities of the United States, in terms of our ability to innovate, our values and the like. And we I think are asking, as we enter into those first phases of the debate about where the U.S.-China relationship should go, not to repeat the lessons of the past in which we talk about how weak we are and China is 10 feet tall. That is not accurate. China has many problems, lots of challenges. And we have many strengths that we tend to underestimate as we approach this problem.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So if we don’t get this right, where do we end up? Where are we heading? And why don’t we want to go there?
KURT CAMPBELL:
So look, I think the bad news is that almost invariably, we’re heading into a period of much deeper strategic competition in a variety of areas. And it’s going to require a rethinking of what are the main pursuits of our foreign policy and national security. And that’s going to be wrenching and difficult, Mike, in the best of circumstances.

But in the worst of circumstances, we might take steps that are deeply antithetical to American strategic interests. We all, and Jake and I talked about this, recall an earlier period of competition or conflict with another country that was tinged with a racial dimension in which we locked up large numbers of Japanese Americans in the early 1940s.

We are attentive to the risks that this could be seen as, like, you know, let’s not have Chinese students in the United States. Let’s look more carefully at, you know, kind of soft power penetrations in the United States more generally. What we are suggesting here is that we have to be very careful as we approach this, and to understand and fully regard that the strengths of our system, our openness really will see us through this set of circumstances.

But I think we also have to recognize, and we talked about this a lot, it’s hard to do a deep strategic reevaluation in the best of circumstances, right? But Mike, we’re far from that domestically. We are as riven and as divided on most issues. I think we do point out, this is an area in which there is a degree of consensus between Democrats and Republicans. But much of that consensus is actually around areas where we did not get it right. There is not as much consensus about how to move forward. And so I think the next couple years, in the best of circumstances, is likely to be difficult. That’s where I would be.
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Yeah. One thing I would add is, a point we make in the piece is that some of the current conversations around China tend to overestimate the existential threat of China, but underestimate the competitive power of China in a lot of different dimensions.

So we are not in nuclear brinksmanship a la the Berlin crisis or the Cuban missile crisis, with China. You know, I don’t think we have to fear China taking over the world militarily in a way that people were genuinely concerned about with Soviet power, or rolling across the European frontier.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Proxy wars in Latin America or Africa.
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Right, exactly. But yet so much of our strategic thinking is rooted in that kind of Cold War memory, and so the emphasis on the military dimension, the emphasis on staying ahead of the Chinese in these security aspects, I think to a certain extent misses the real nature of this competition, which lies much more in technology, in economics, and in proving out the value of a model. Our open democratic model versus their authoritarian, kind of techno-authoritarian, state capitalist model.

And in order to effectively succeed, yes, there are important dimensions in our foreign policy and our strategy. But as we say in the piece, there’s also a lot about us running faster, not just slowing China down. And us running faster is fundamentally all about investments in infrastructure, innovation, education, and immigration, to Kurt’s point. That the last thing we want to do to try to win is to take away one of our great competitive advantages and start closing our borders including the Chinese talent and brains.

But that I think, getting this wrong, could mean that we take our eye off the real issue here. And ultimately lose out over the long term in the competition, because we’ve kept ourselves in a Cold War mindset that is fundamentally self-defeating.
KURT CAMPBELL:
Just on that, Mike. So I think to the extent that there are camps of sorts that are forming, I would say, hardliners tend to view the challenge primarily in military terms. Like, let’s invest in new platforms, in new capabilities. And I think what we try to dispel in the piece is that that dimension of the competition, while important, is by no means the long or most important part of what we need to engage on.

I think the other part of the debate where frankly I’m more comfortable is that this is really a clarion call to investment in R&D and science and infrastructure and all of those things that have made the United States the leading technological strategic player on the international stage. And I think, and you know, the critics would say, there’s the Democrats again talking for a new Marshall Plan and lots of–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Spending all this money.
KURT CAMPBELL:
Spending all this money. But I think I’ll take that debate, and I’ll try to make the argument why the second part of it is going to be critical.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So guys, if we were backing government, and your four-point plan was presented and discussed, improved at deputies meeting and at principals meeting and a meeting with the president, and it was all approved, what would an implementation strategy look like? How would you actually do this?
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Well, the first thing that I think we have to do is break down some of the traditional silos that are built into the national security decision-making process. That, you know, if you ran it up as you were just describing, through a traditional interagency process with committee meetings followed by more senior committee meetings followed by the most senior committee meetings and then sent every cabinet agency their talking points and their marching orders, I don’t think we would be entirely successful.

In fact, I think an implementation plan has to start with thinking of this as an integrated mission set requiring an integrated mission team. I would almost want to see a group stood up that was not just coming over for once a month check-ins, but was working across every dimension of this, the economic, the technological, the political, the security on a daily basis.

Breaking down these kind of bureaucratic and administrative silos. That’s the first thing that I would want to see. The second thing, and we’ve seen the exact opposite in the Trump administration, is really empowering people out in the region. Empowering our assistant secretaries who are at the tip of the spear, empowering our ambassadors, empowering our senior military commanders out there to a much greater extent than we typically are comfortable with.

Because so much of this work, not just in the Asia Pacific, but globally now because of the global nature of this challenge, is going to be the daily spade work of being out there helping shape the rules, shape perceptions, rebuilding alliances and relationships that are going to be critical to making this all work. So those are two of the things that I would want to make sure that we did in trying to actually implement a successful strategy, because otherwise, it’s really not going to be worth the paper it’s printed on.
KURT CAMPBELL:
On that, Mike, so I would say, if you looked at the last time where the nation entered into a large set of big questions about where the United States goes, there’s invariably almost architectural implications of that. So the last time was in the late 1940s. We built Washington a whole bunch of new institutions, the National Security Act of 1946–
MICHAEL MORELL:
CIA, NSC, et cetera–
KURT CAMPBELL:
CIA, exactly. So I haven’t talked to Jake about this, but part of what has to happen next is a debate about what are the changes that are going to be necessary? Right now inside the U.S. government, a huge burden falls on three or four people that are essentially in the National Security Council directorate to coordinate this most incredibly intricate relationship between the United States and China.

Now I happen to know that Jake thought deeply about this in the last, you know, election about what kind of sort of bureaucratic innovations that there might be. So I would say that, more than anything else, we have to retool our government. I don’t think there is going to be as much brick and mortar. I think it’s going to be how to reorganize lines of communication. But I will say one last thing, Mike.

We have to realize that for the last 20 years, we have been on an incredibly deep and largely unsuccessful set of expeditions in the Middle East, and we have trained an enormous cadre of people who can tell you about Afghanistan and about Iraq. One of the things that I am struck by when I go inside the U.S. government or talk to experts is that the level of expertise on Asia and on China at this time is actually quite limited.

You’re one of the rare people, you came up out of the East Asia Bureau at the CIA. But you know that the Agency is dominated by Middle East expertise, and they’re not that strong frankly on Asia. And we can replicate that through most of our dominant institutions. Look at the high command of our military. Most of the senior guys cut their teeth in Iraq or Afghanistan. They’re making their first trips to Asia. That’s terrific. We’ve got a cadre that’s up and coming with more experience, but that’s going to take time.

So the way you asked the question suggests that, okay, we’re going to be able to turn the corner if there’s a new administration. No. This is going to be a generational push that we’re going to have to make early investments. We’re going to have to be patient. We’re going to have to look for early harvest, but recognize that this is a much longer effort that’s going to be necessary.
JAKE SULLIVAN:
If I could just add one small point on this.
KURT CAMPBELL:
This is how Jake and I do back and forth.
MICHAEL MORELL:
This is good.
KURT CAMPBELL:
He gets the last word. (LAUGH)
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Yeah. One small point. Kurt’s wrong. No. (LAUGH) No. It goes beyond government too in really important ways. You’ve written, Michael, with Amy Zegart and with others about the relationship between Washington and Silicon Valley. And with so much of the playing field in the U.S.-China relationship being kind of occupied by issues either directly or indirectly related to technology.

Another implementation challenge is going to be, how do we marshal and mobilize the collective energies of a lot of talent and capacity outside of government who have complicated views about Washington and about being a tool of U.S. national security policy, but whose expertise is absolutely vital to succeeding here. And the same thing goes to the point we were making earlier about domestic investments to a whole bunch of stakeholders who you wouldn’t traditionally think of as being in the national security space, who we are now going to have to make a part of this larger mobilizing effort.

That’s not going to be easy either. You know, I would really like to see a way for us to establish effective public-private kind of connections that go beyond just commercial diplomacy or summits and so forth, but that are really about directing the tools and energies of America writ large, not just the American government, towards this challenge.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So as far as you guys know, is there anybody inside the Trump administration who is trying to think this through? Or are they just fundamentally in a different place?
KURT CAMPBELL:
I think there are a couple of people. I have high regard for this fellow at the NSC named Matt Pottinger who, Mike, I think you know was a Marine and was also a reporter that covered China for years inside the country. So he knows China and Asia.

I think it’s not an easy path. You know, he has to watch himself carefully, but I think he’s able. What I’m more struck by is the lack of consensus actually inside the administration. And this is brutal infighting at its most intense. And lots of folks have different perspectives. There are senior economic officials that just want to cut a deal that will help the president get reelected, sell as much farm products as possible. There is another group probably on the security side that realized we need to make longer-term investments than any time. And then there are others that are really looking for a much more short-term, intense set of competitions around technology and the like.

And so I don’t think there’s much of a consensus. And in fact, I think the Trump administration has been designed to not have policy actually. Because policy inhibits the ability of the president to do what he wants to do. And so people think, oh god, that this is somehow an accident. But in fact, the reason that there isn’t a really functioning interagency process is that it doesn’t allow the president to switch course immediately.

And so you have senior officials that are trying to do two things. One, maneuver the president on issues of their concern, and just as importantly, guard against rear-guard actions of rivals that will direct the president to go in another direction. And what is interesting, it appears that the president entertains in his head both the sense that he can cut the historic deal, and the notion that China is our inevitable competitor. And how those two coexist in his brain, and what the outcome will be is the stuff of day-to-day, bureaucratic infighting.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So Jake, to what extent did the Obama administration at the end, because I left 2013, to what extent did you guys start thinking about this in a different way than previous administrations had, and that we even in the beginning of the Obama administration thought about it?
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Well, I think it actually started before then. It’s interesting. Today, people look back at the Obama administration and say, they didn’t quite fully grasp or understand the nature of the challenge with China. They weren’t sighted on it as clearly as they should have been.

Yet, at the time, when Kurt and I were in government together working in the state department, the criticism was, “You guys are too up in China’s face.” We worked together with Secretary Clinton on an article that she wrote which introduced this notion of the pivot, which later became called the rebalance to the Asia Pacific.

And one of the criticisms of the pivot or the rebalance was that it was too confrontational or aggressive vis-à-vis China. So there’s been a little bit of a rewriting of history. But what I would say was that, the basic proposition behind the rebalance, which Kurt was a driving force around was this idea that we were over-weighted in the Middle East and underweighted in the Asia Pacific, which is where much of the history of the 21st century was going to be written.

And so I think we got that right. And I think we got right also that a good China policy is a good Asia policy. That you can’t just think of the relationship in bilateral terms. You have to embed it in a larger approach to a rich and complex and diverse region. I think we got that right.

And then finally, I think we got right that there was as much an economic piece to this as there was a security piece. I think where we fell short in the Obama administration was in following through on many of those dimensions, some of which kind of became the victim of other priorities, like the Iran deal, the opening to Cuba, the Paris Climate Agreement. Others frankly foundered on politics, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But a lot of the skeleton for what is going to be required for a good strategy was being constructed at the time, and part of the shortcoming was one of implementation.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So guys, one of the reactions that I had when I read the article is that, in order to implement the policy and in order for the policy that you outlined to be successful, you’re talking about some pretty fundamental changes in the United States. You’re talking about some pretty fundamental changes in views about our role in the world and China’s role in the world. And likewise, you’re talking about some pretty fundamental changes in China’s view of itself and view of its role in the world. So given that, I’m wondering how hard this will be to implement, how likely it is to be successful. Have you thought about that?
KURT CAMPBELL:
Look, I think it’s going to be the hardest foreign policy and national security challenge that the United States has faced in its history. If you compare it, Mike, I agree with Jake that the challenge from the Soviet Union was existential. And it was life or death. You’re hiding under the desks, you know, training as a kid.

But that challenge in most respects was monochromatic. It was sort of black and white. We knew where the lines were drawn. The challenge of China is going to be in almost every aspect of our lives. Information technology, military, socioeconomic, political. And it’s going to be enduring.

We point out in our piece that, if you look at a lot of the strategy that, you know, was around the Soviet era, it was really the idea that the contradictions in the system would bring the Soviet Union down, right? Communist Russia. We don’t believe that that will likely be the case in China. And I actually think that the real challenge in U.S.-China relations is to convince the Chinese through actions that the reverse is not the case.

Because a lot of what animates Chinese thinking is the idea of American decline. And in fact, that has been a feature of Asian politics and strategy in a really weird way for about 30 years. There had been expectations after the Vietnam War, after the Korean War, after the Cold War, Mike, after the global economic crisis, that the United States was on the way out of the region.

But each time, we have managed to not only maintain our position on the playing field, but in many respects come back more powerful and more diversified. That is what’s involved today. And it requires a full-on commitment on the part of the United States. What’s going to be most important in my view is to re-knit together some domestic coalition that supports an optimistic, engaged, trade mission in the world. I think it’s possible, but I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult. Parts of both the Democratic and Republican Party believe this, but large parts of both parties now have many (ENGINE NOISE) questions about trade more generally.
JAKE SULLIVAN:
You know, it’s interesting. There are a lot of daunting aspects of the question you ask, starting with the fact that our politics are such that you can get a real yo-yo effect from president to president, and that makes the implementation of any kind of consistent strategy very difficult.

But there are also some, I guess I would describe them as green shoots out there. So, for example, Marco Rubio, Conservative Republican, Elizabeth Warren, Progressive Democrat are both talking about industrial policy in ways relevant to kind of national security and being on a footing to effectively compete with China. That’s an interesting convergence of left and right that I think can be built upon.

Similarly, you have in the China challenge kind of something in it for everyone. So for the lefties, it can be, well, we have to do early childhood education in America, because China’s doing early childhood education. You know, for the hawks it’s more in the kind of military security domain. But there is something unifying about a competitor the size and throw weight of China that I think could allow for propulsion that can survive some of the political waves and tides.

But that raises another challenge that I think is really important for us to manage for. On the one hand, I do think we should look to the China challenge as a mobilizing force. On the other hand, if we turn China into the defining evil of our time for decades to come, that will be self-defeating. That is also the way our–
MICHAEL MORELL:
That’s a tough place to walk–
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Very hard. And that, I think even more important than maybe the partisan fight over this, or the bureaucratic struggle over this, really that’s the space to watch. As politicians and policymakers on both sides increasingly frame lots of issues around China, can they keep it from metastasizing into the life or death struggle that Kurt was just warning us off of. Boy, I’m not sure that in our current politics we have the subtlety to be able to do that. But that’s a big piece of business.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So maybe we can finish up here by just ticking through some specific issues, and how you think we would approach them under your framework. You mentioned this earlier, Kurt, actually. So South China Sea.
KURT CAMPBELL:
So I think in the current environment, it’s essential to reframe it, Mike, to be honest. And I think the most important dimension of the South China Sea is freedom of navigation. And we have to continue to demonstrate that, both in civilian and military arenas more generally.

And I think we have to make clear that the country that is most at risk by limitations on freedom of navigation is actually China. And if tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, the first thing that will be harmed will be insurance on shipping. Which will then increase the price of all the goods and services that China is shipping through the South China Sea, largely ironically to Japan and the United States. I think in the short-term that requires a heady and determined commitment to continue to ply the waters of the South China Sea. And we did that, Mike, for years under some tension with the former Soviet Union. Other countries have challenged that. I see that as being very clearly in, not just the short-term but the long-term interests of the United States.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs.
JAKE SULLIVAN:
I think the United States is going to have to speak out with more clarity and more consistency on human rights abuses and repression in China across the board. And the Uyghurs is an incredibly important part of that, because of the just sheer scale and depravity of the repression that’s occurring in Xinjiang Province.

I think there are specific policy steps that the U.S. government can also take. For example, cutting off U.S. companies from supplying any of the technologies or tools that carry out that repression. And being prepared to work with the rest of the international community, including groups like the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to speak with one voice on this issue.

And I think this is an area where, actually, you know, President Trump is uniquely bad at this, but even in the Obama administration, we ebbed and flowed when it came to these values-based issues. And I think whoever follows Donald Trump, whether in 2021 or 2025, is going to have to put a big focus on this, not being the only issue in U.S.-China relations, but being one that is followed through on in a more consistent manner than we’ve done today.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Huawei.
KURT CAMPBELL:
There are other Chinese technology firms that I think the United States can engage with and do business with. I think, Mike, so all three of us have had the privilege to work in government. And so we know a little bit more about Huawei than perhaps others do. I believe that we should make a substantial international campaign, but more effectively, not just insist to other countries, but be persuasive–
MICHAEL MORELL:
We need to show them some evidence.
KURT CAMPBELL:
I will basically underscore too that, the nations that are primarily the closest with us in the Five Eyes have been the nations that have been most attentive to this challenge. And I would put Australia and Great Britain in that category. Even then, most countries have decided that they’re going to do some business with Huawei and not shut them out completely.

That’s probably going to be that mixture of things more generally, but I also believe it is incumbent on China. They have been arrogant about Huawei. And frankly, if you look at what steps they are taking in the designation and definition phase of 5G, for instance, this international negotiations, they are playing hardball with potential customers, saying that if you support our metrics that we’d like to see in the code, then we’ll do good deals for you subsequently. That’s really not the way to do this.

But what China has been very effective at doing, Mike, particularly on finance and technology, is split potential coalitions from emerging that demand different behavior on the part of China. And that’s where I get back to Jake’s good point. What this is really a clarion call for is a much more effective diplomacy. And so you look at what Jake and Bill and others were able to do on Iran.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Bill Burns.
KURT CAMPBELL:
That is Bill Burns, sorry. It’s a multifaceted, incredibly intricate, highest order of importance inside the U.S. government to construct an international coalition of pressure and diplomacy. We’ve never tried any of that with China, largely because we didn’t want to offend them, and we wanted to get things done.

I think part of what this piece and previous stuff that both of us have written about calls for is an end to a more romantic view of China and much more hard-headed, like, look, let’s treat this like a normal diplomatic problem, which means using hard tools on a range of issues, not just Huawei, but on the other matters that you’ve raised as well.
MICHAEL MORELL:
I think you guys have done a great service here in getting this discussion started, and hopefully it’ll get filled out by others. And we’ll actually make some progress on this. But thank you very much for joining us.
KURT CAMPBELL:
Thanks Mike.
JAKE SULLIVAN:
Thanks for having us.
* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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