March 6, 2021

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Pentagon to review US position on China, says Biden

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US president says newly formed Pentagon task force will chart a path to ‘win competition’ with China.

The United States military is undertaking a comprehensive review of its strategic position against China, US President Joe Biden has announced, as tensions between Washington and Beijing rose this week over US navy exercises in the South China Sea.

In his first visit to the Department of Defense since taking office, Biden said on Wednesday that a new China task force would be formed at the Pentagon “to look at our strategy and operational concepts, technology and force posture and so much more”.

“We need to meet the growing challenges posed by China and keep peace and defend our interests in the Indo-Pacific and globally,” said Biden, who was joined by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The task force will be made up of 15 civilian and military officials, who have yet to be named, and will be headed by Ely Ratner, a former national security adviser to Biden assigned to Austin’s staff, according to a defence department fact sheet.

“It will require a whole-of-government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress and strong alliances and partnerships. That’s how we will meet the China challenge and ensure the American people win the competition in the future,” Biden said.

Since taking office on January 20, Biden and his team have placed new emphasis on addressing the US strategic challenge from competition with China.

US-China tensions

Tensions with China rose under the previous US administrations of President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama, and the defence department has begun to shift focus and resources to the Pacific.

Two US naval strike groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea this week after a US warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in disputed waters.

The exercise came days after China condemned the sailing of the USS John S McCain destroyer near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in what the US called a “freedom of navigation operation” – the first such mission by the US navy since Biden took office.

The busy waterway, through which as much as $5.3 trillion in global trade passes annually, is one of a number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship.

China has been infuriated by the US’s repeated forays in the South China Sea and has accused Washington of deliberately stoking tension.

China says it has irrefutable sovereignty over most of the South China Sea – a claim that has been declared to have “no merit” by the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Yang Jiechi, a senior Chinese official, that the US would “defend our national interests, stand up for our democratic values and hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system”.

Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on January 29 the US must be prepared to impose costs on China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, its crackdown on democracy advocates in Hong Kong and “bellicosity” towards Taiwan.

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