June 15, 2024

“Let me just cut right to the chase”: Kurt Campbell gives blunt update on US engagement with Taiwan amid China’s aggression

Kurt Campbell, the Deputy Assistant to U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific
Kurt Campbell, the Deputy Assistant to U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific

In a blunt update on Friday, Kurt Campbell, the Deputy Assistant to U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, said China last week used the visit of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives “launch and intensify pressure campaign against Taiwan to try to change the status quo.”

“Let me just cut right to the chase,” Campbell said, “This is how we see it, Last week, the PRC used the visit of a U.S. Speaker of the House, a visit consistent with our one-China policy, and is not unprecedented as a pretext to launch and intensify pressure campaign against Taiwan to try to change the status quo, jeopardizing peace and security across the Taiwan strait and in the broader region.”

“China has overreacted and its actions continue to be provocative, destabilizing Indo-Pacific,” he said.

He added that China launched missiles into the water around Taiwan, declared exclusion zones around Taiwan that disrupted civilian air and maritime traffic.

You can listen to his entire remarks below

Thank you, everyone, and thanks for joining.  So I think you all saw the invite that went out for the call.  I know some of you have been asking for the latest on China and Taiwan, so what we wanted to do today was set up a quick call sort of laying out our thinking on the past couple of weeks, what we see happening over the longer term, and, of course, to answer a few questions.

Just for the ground rules, this call is on the record.  It is embargoed — the contents of the call are embargoed until the end of the call.  And our speaker on the call is Kurt Campbell, who is Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific.

And my last note on this, before I turn it over to Kurt — I know there’s been some trouble with the dial-in.  We have a number that you can call in after the call is over to relisten to the call, and we’ll also have a transcript out for everybody.  So, again, apologies for that inconvenience.

With that, I’ll turn it over to Kurt to get us started, and then we’ll take as many questions as we can. 

Kurt, over to you.

MR. CAMPBELL:  Thanks very much.  And good afternoon, everyone.  As part of our ongoing public engagements on China and Taiwan and after an eventful week last week, I want to spend just a few minutes providing a brief update today on where we are and how the United States is approaching China’s provocative behavior, and then answer your questions.

And let me just cut right to the chase.  Here’s how we see it: Last week, the PRC used the visit of a U.S. Speaker of the House — a visit that is consistent with our One China policy and is not unprecedented — as a pretext to launch an intensified pressure campaign against Taiwan and to try to change the status quo, jeopardizing peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region.

China has overreacted, and its actions continue to be provocative, destabilizing, and unprecedented.  China launched missiles into the waters around Taiwan.  It declared exclusion zones around Taiwan that disrupted civilian, air, and maritime traffic.  It has sought to disregard the centerline between the PRC and Taiwan, which has been respected by both sides for more than 60 years as a stabilizing feature, with historic numbers of military crossings over the last week.  It surrounded Taiwan with more than a dozen warships; even today, several warships remain around Taiwan.  And it has imposed sanctions on Speaker Pelosi and her family, and taken coercive economic measures against Taiwan.

Our response to that behavior was responsible, steady, and resolute.  We demonstrated that we will not be deterred and made clear to the world what the PRC was doing.  President Reagan [Biden] directed the USS Ronald Reagan to stay on station as the PRC continued its provocative activities.  We continue to support Taiwan and our partners, many of which — the G7, Australia, the UK, the EU, and ASEAN — have also expressed concern in public statements.  And we’ve reinforced our ironclad alliances, as we did on August 9th with the joint air force exercise with Japan near Okinawa.

Throughout these past weeks, the United States has held firm to our longstanding key objectives: preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the broader Indo-Pacific region.  This is critical to regional and global security and prosperity.  It’s in all of our interests, and we are committed to continuing to seek peace and stability going forward.

That commitment to peace and stability is why our policy towards Taiwan has remained consistent for decades and across administrations.  We remain committed to our One China policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.  We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side, and we do not support Taiwan independence, and we expect cross-Strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.

China’s actions are fundamentally at odds with the goal of peace and stability.  They are part of an intensified pressure campaign against Taiwan, which has not ended, and we expect it to continue to unfold in the coming weeks and months.  The goal of this campaign is clear: to intimidate and coerce Taiwan and undermine its resilience.

We will continue to take calm and resolute steps to uphold peace and stability in the face of Beijing’s ongoing efforts to undermine it, and to support Taiwan in line with our longstanding policy.

These steps, across a range of areas, will unfold over the coming weeks and months because the challenge is long term.  We will not be reflexive or knee-jerk; we will be patient and effective.

We’ll continue to fly, sail, and operate where international law allows, consistent with our longstanding commitment to freedom of navigation, and that includes conducting standard air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks.

We will continue to fulfill our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act.  That includes supporting Taiwan’s self-defense and maintaining our own capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize Taiwan’s security, economy, or society.

We’ll continue, consistent with our One China policy, to deepen our ties with Taiwan, including through continuing to advance our economic and trade relationship.  For example, we’re developing an ambitious roadmap for trade negotiations, which we intend to announce in the coming days.

And we will ensure that our presence, posture, and exercises account for China’s more provocative and destabilizing behavior, with a view towards guiding the situation in the Western Pacific towards greater stability.

There’s more to come in these areas and others in the days and weeks ahead.  Before I take your questions, I’ll add just a couple more comments on our dealings with Beijing. 

We have and will continue to keep the lines of communication open with Beijing, and we call on Beijing to reopen those channels it has closed — not for our sake, but because this is what the world demands of responsible powers. 

Which party chose to cut off channels that enable responsible risk reduction and crisis communication?  China –while, by contrast, the United States has continued to reach out and seek to manage the situation responsibly.

Which party suspended climate talks, which doesn’t punish the United States but the world?  Again, the answer is China.  The world’s largest emitter is now refusing to engage in the crucial steps necessary to stand up to the climate crisis.  This will slow progress as the international community works towards a successful COP later this year.

We think these are the wrong choices by China.

Now, to wrap up, what we’re discussing today is not about our One China policy.  We reaffirm that.  It is about which party is undermining the status quo that has upheld peace and stability — a peace and stability that has worked for all.

The international community has made clear that it has an interest in that peace and stability, and the United States will do our part to preserve it.  This is not about bilateral U.S.-China dynamics; it’s a question of what’s in the best interests of the region and what’s in the best interest of the international community.

I’ll stop there, and I’ll look forward to take your questions.

Thanks, [Moderator].

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thanks, Kurt.  Could we please give out the directions to ask a question?  Thank you.

MR. CAMPBELL:  Hi, Nick.

Q    Thanks very much for doing this.  Two straightforward ones and a bigger one.  You confirmed the Freedom of Navigation Act that you guys have announced publicly will not involve an aircraft carrier.  Can you confirm the Chinese have cut off talks about other topics it hasn’t made public, including North Korea?

And the big question: You know, you say you don’t accept changes to the status quo; Beijing openly says it’s creating a new normal.  So what can you actually do to return the status quo ante?  Thanks.

MR. CAMPBELL:  Well, look, we don’t make any comments about either the nature of our crossings or the timings across the Taiwan Strait.  So I have nothing further about Taiwan Strait crossings, Nick.

I think our statement makes clear what our responses will be to China’s provocative actions to try to alter the status quo, and I think you’ll see more to come.

What was your second question?  Just if I could ask — I’ sorry, Nick — I — quickly?

MODERATOR:  Could we re-open Nick’s line?

MR. CAMPBELL:  I’m sorry, Nick.

OPERATOR:  One moment, please.

Mr. Schifrin, if you would press one then zero, once again, please. 

MR. CAMPBELL:  Sorry, Nick, I didn’t have my — my pen handy.  So, if you could — your second question, please? 

MODERATOR:  I think — so I’m not sure if Nick was —


MODERATOR:  — able to dial in.  Oh.

OPERATOR:  Yeah, we got his line.  One moment, please. 

Mr. Schifrin, your line is open.

Q    The second one was just: Can you confirm the Chinese have cut off talks on other topics that it hasn’t made public, including on North Korea?

MR. CAMPBELL:  So, Nick, I would say we do have lines of communication that are open, but they have made a public statement about areas that they have suspended talks.  And I don’t have anything further beyond that.  And we’re still at early stages, and so we do not know if China is going to take any further actions.

Q    Hi, Kurt.  Thanks a lot.  Good to see you.

MR. CAMPBELL:  Hi, Michael, how are you?  Thank you.

Q    Good.  Thanks.  So, on the question of Taiwan arm sales — I mean, do you think that the new capabilities formed by the PLA justify a switch in approach to your arm sales policy towards Taiwan?  I mean, specifically, there’s been some criticism that the administration has focused too much on outfitting Taiwan for, say, a full-invasion scenario at the expense of, like, a blockade scenario.  So, I’m curious, are — is your thinking on that changing? 

And with regard to coordination with allies, is it possible that you will increase coordination with G7 countries or other Indo-Pacific allies on this?  Could we see a — you know, some sort of coordinated Taiwan Strait transits in the future?  Thanks.

MR. CAMPBELL:  Yeah, so — well, first of all, let me just say that what we’ve seen, over the course of the last year in particular, is an unprecedented number of allies and partners speak out, both publicly and in statements, about their interest to seeing the continuance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. 

And as I indicated today, there are a large number of countries that are keenly interested in preserving that peace and stability.  I’ll leave it at that, in terms of our consultations and engagements with those partners, specifically.

As I’ve indicated, the Taiwan Relations Act requires us to provide appropriate defensive articles and capabilities to Taiwan.  And those articles are designed to most effectively engage on those defense issues that are related to the evolving security circumstances that Taiwan faces.  And so, the kinds of things that you described are indeed taken into our calculus, and you will see that going forward.

Hi, Ellen.

Q    Hi, Kurt.  I’ve got a question regarding the bilateral relationship, and then one with respect to China’s actions in Taiwan.  The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Chinese officials are making plans for Xi Jinping to travel to the G20 in Bali in November, then to Bangkok for APEC.  (Inaudible) and perhaps to meet with Biden.  Are you likewise preparing for the President to meet with Xi?  And would that be Bali or Bangkok?

And then I have a second question.  Would you like that now or after you’ve answered that one?

MR. CAMPBELL:  Do you want to just give me the second one, Ellen, so I have it, and then I’ll — and then I’ll write it down.  Thank you.  

Q    Okay, great.  So, China — China clearly has changed or, as you say, undermined the (inaudible) around Taiwan.  What is your policy goal given the PLA’s new ops tempo around Taiwan? 

And secondly, how are you going to achieve that goal given PLA’s capabilities and how good they are (inaudible) gray zone squeeze plays?

MR. CAMPBELL:  Yeah, thanks, Ellen.  Those are good questions.

So, first — on the first question, I can confirm that the two leaders, when they spoke last, discussed a possible face-to-face meeting during their recent call and agreed to have their teams follow up to sort out the specifics.  We don’t have anything further in terms of details on time or location. 

And then to your second question: Look, I tried to lay out clearly that our policy remains consistent, in terms of taking the necessary steps both with our own capabilities and working with allies and partners, to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. 

And what you’ve seen in the last year and a half is unprecedented engagement with allies and partners.  Much of that has to do with our larger goals to maintain peace and stability, and that inevitably involves evolutions in our deployments, our strategies, and our engagements.  And I think you’re going to see that continue as we go forward, Ellen. 

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thanks, everyone.  So, again, I’m sorry, we have a hard stop, so we have to end the call here.  But we will make sure to get everybody the transcript and the audio link to listen in. 

As a reminder, this call was on the record, and the contents of the call — the embargo will lift on that after this call ends.  Thanks again for joining.

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