Biden Calls for China Review During First Pentagon Visit – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced plans for the Pentagon to review its national security strategy for China to recalibrate the US approach with Beijing.
Biden’s call for a new strategy review task force comes because the new administration increasingly recognizes that the US faces increasing challenges from China’s modernized and more assertive military.
The President announced the review during his first visit to the Pentagon as Commander in Chief. Defense Department officials described the review as a “sprint” effort that would put a strain on US intelligence, troop levels in the region, defense alliances with China and more.
Biden said the task force would make recommendations to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “so that we can take a strong lead on China-related issues.” He announced the task force in a speech to Pentagon staff after he and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Defense Department brass on Wednesday afternoon.
Biden is determined to deviate from President Donald Trump’s approach to China – a relationship that put economic and trade concerns above all else and then crashed into a brick wall after the coronavirus pandemic.
The task force is expected to present its results to Austin within four months. No final public report is expected, but Pentagon officials will discuss recommendations with Congress and others.
At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Austin said he was agreeing to a recent Pentagon report that China’s goal is to develop a military by 2050 that is equal to and in some ways superior to the United States.
“While that may be their goal, I would … want to make sure that never happens,” Austin said.
Last week Austin also announced a “global posture review” designed to ensure that the military presence around the world is “in line with our national interests” and “we have the right skills in the right places.” The Pentagon also produces an annual report on the state of the Chinese military.
Austin hired Ely Ratner, a top Pentagon advisor, to lead the review. Ratner was Biden’s Deputy National Security Advisor as Vice President and also a China specialist during the Obama administration.
Biden takes stock of the military early on, as it depends on the turmoil of the Trump years and is unusually focused on domestic and internal issues.
While defense leaders await Biden’s instruction on possible new approaches to security threats overseas, Austin is making the coronavirus pandemic a top priority and ordering new assessments on how to eradicate sexual assault and extremism among the military.
On his first day in office, Austin released a note to the force underscoring his commitment to finding ways the military can help the government move “further and faster” against the pandemic. There are already more than 24,000 members of the National Guard who logistically support the vaccination program and fire up to 50,000 shots a day.
Last week, the Pentagon announced that it would deploy more than 1,100 soldiers to five vaccination centers at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is the first wave of increased military support for the national vaccination campaign.
The military is preparing to deploy the first team of approximately 222 service members to a vaccination center in California, and it is ready to deploy four similar teams to other centers when FEMA is ready. FEMA has asked the Pentagon to deliver up to 10,000 soldiers to 100 centers, but Austin will gradually approve the teams once the locations are identified.
In a brief exchange with reporters after his remarks, Biden declined to say whether he would try to crack down on China to deal with the pandemic. The virus first appeared in Wuhan Province, and Trump blamed China for its rapid spread.
The World Health Organization said in a report released this week it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the Biden administration will not take back WHO’s comment until it has time to review the results.
“I’m interested in knowing all the facts,” said Biden.
During his tenure at the Pentagon, the president also took a tour of the African Americans in the Service Corridor, an exhibition honoring members of the Black Service.
The new Secretary of Defense Austin is the first African-American Pentagon chief.
AP writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.