The so-called "Asian tsar" of the new Joe Biden administration has pledged a stronger US presence in the Indo-Pacific region but warned future generations will face a difficult challenge dealing with an increasingly bellicose China.
White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell has strongly criticised China's economic coercion of Australia and said the actions of the rising superpower have further strengthened the alliance between the two Western nations.
Speaking to the Asia Society, which is headed up by former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, Mr Campbell affirmed America's deep interest in our region.
"There is a deep recognition of the importance of Asia writ large and you will see that from the president on down," he said.
"I think we recognise for an effective Indo-Pacific approach you must do more in southeast Asia," he added, saying the Biden administration is looking to "step up" to balance China's fast growing influence.
While that rhetoric will be welcomed by the Australian government it serves to highlight the worsening relations between China and the West.
Mr Campbell told the group in an online forum event that it was possible for China and the US to coexist in peace but the challenge was enormous.
China a challenge for future generation
He said the Biden administration will look to craft a strategy that presented China with opportunities but also a response if it takes steps "antithetical to the maintenance of peace and stability".
There were likely to be "periods of uncertainty, perhaps even periods of occasional raised tensions," he said.
"I do think the challenge is enormously difficult for this generation and the next."
The same goes for Australia and its leaders as China has shown no willingness to deescalate its confrontational approach towards the Morrison government.
"I don’t want to be pessimistic for Australia, and Australia has tried quietly and carefully, but I see little yield,” Mr Campbell lamented.
“And I’m not sure that [China] has the strategic thinking to go back to a different kind of diplomacy towards Australia right now. I see a harshness in their approach that appears unyielding."
Mr Campbell said China had been increasingly assertive in recent times, taking on many countries simultaneously, a strategy that contrasted with how it operated in the 1990s.
He cited Australia as a country which he expected to drift away from its alliance with the US as it forged closer ties with China, but he now believes that ship has sailed.
Mr Campbell also served as the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Obama administration when the then president made his famous strategic "pivot" to Asia. But it was ultimately criticised by some who questioned the commitment behind America's rhetoric at the time.
'It is the people who pay': China again lashes Morrison government
Almost on cue China's foreign spokesperson fired another shot down under just hours later, warning Australia and its people could suffer from further trade sanctions after confirming strained relations led to punitive tariffs placed on Aussie goods in the past 12 months.
Severely damaged diplomatic ties sparked action from Beijing against Australian barley, beef, coal, copper, lobster, timber and wine.
While the country has typically kept an air of plausible deniability, that was dropped when Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was asked about Australian agricultural products losing market share in China at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
"We will not allow any country to reap benefits from doing business with China while groundlessly accusing and smearing China and undermining China's core interests based on ideology," he told reporters.
"When a certain country acts as a cat's paw for others, it is the people that pay for misguided government policies."
Mr Zhao said falling market share for Australian farm produce showed how Canberra's approach served Australia.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Scott Morrison was dealing with a very different China under President Xi Jinping than previous administrations.
He argued successive coalition governments stood up to Beijing on foreign interference and investment in the face of increasing assertiveness.
"We will not put economic interests first, we will put the broader national interest first," Mr Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra.
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