The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is signaling it is prepared to confront — and when necessary, militarily counter — a rising China, as Beijing continues to challenge Washington for primacy on the global stage.
Biden used his first visit to the Pentagon as commander in chief Wednesday to announce the formation of a new Defense Department China Task Force, charged with reexamining the U.S. approach in areas from strategy and force posture to technology and intelligence.
“The task force will work quickly, drawing on civilian and military experts across the department to provide within the next few months recommendations to [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin on key priorities and decision points so that we can chart a strong path forward on China-related matters," Biden told reporters.
“It will require a whole-of-government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and strong alliances and partnerships,” the president added. “That's how we'll meet the China challenge and assure the American people win the competition of the future.”
Biden’s critics have repeatedly seized on China as an area of weakness for the recently elected president, loudly harping on what they describe as his inability to stand up to Beijing during the recent U.S. presidential campaign.
“China would own our country if Joe Biden got elected,” former President Donald Trump told his supporters last August.
At another election rally in North Carolina in September, Trump warned, "Joe Biden is weak and will always cave to China."
Fueling the political rancor, Trump and his allies pointed to a U.S. intelligence assessment before the presidential election that concluded China “prefers that President Trump — whom Beijing sees as unpredictable — does not win reelection.”
In contrast, Biden’s policy advisers sought to portray a candidate with a more somber approach, recognizing that the U.S. and Chinese economies are too closely intertwined to “fully decouple” but that pushback against Beijing was needed.
“Right now, by every key metric, China’s strategic position is stronger, and America’s strategic position is weaker,” Antony Blinken, now U.S. secretary of state, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce two months before the November presidential election.
New Defense Secretary Austin voiced similar concerns during his confirmation hearing last month.
“China is ascending,” he told lawmakers, calling Beijing “the most concerning competitor that we're facing."
"They are working across the spectrum to compete with us," he added. “We have to make sure that we begin to check their aggression."
The Pentagon on Wednesday said the new China Task Force would work at a “sprint,” aiming to produce a series of recommendations to guide Washington’s policies toward Beijing within months.
Value of 'Chinese model'
Biden administration officials have previously warned that the need to confront China extends beyond the military and economic spheres, emphasizing that Washington must work equally hard to compete with China’s sales pitch to the rest of the world.
“China is essentially making the case that the Chinese model is better than the American model," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a virtual forum last month.
“They're pointing to dysfunction and division in the United States and saying, ‘Take a look at that. Their system doesn’t work. Ours does,’ ” he said.
U.S. officials have also consistently raised concerns about China’s industrial espionage, its theft of biomedical information and the potential manipulation of technology, like 5G cellular networks.
There have also been ongoing tensions over Beijing’s initial handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Chinese officials have repeatedly tried to blame on others.
Asked Wednesday after his remarks at the Pentagon if China’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and its alleged refusal to share critical information was deserving of punishment, Biden was noncommittal.
"I'm interested in getting all the facts," he said.