President Biden revealed Wednesday that the Department of Defense has established a wide-ranging task force that will conduct a strategic review of his administration’s strategy toward China amid mounting tensions in the Pacific.
Newly appointed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior military officials briefed Biden on the task force’s structure and goals during his first visit to the Pentagon. Biden said the task force will provide recommendations to Austin “within the next few months” on how best to “chart a strong path forward on China-related matters.”
“It will require a whole government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress and strong alliances and partnerships,” Biden said at a press conference. “That’s how we’ll meet the China challenge and ensure the American people win the competition of the future.”
The task force will consist of 15 civilian and military officials within the Defense Department, according to a fact sheet detailing the announcement. Ely Ratner, the special assistant to Secretary Austin, will lead the initiative.
Top priorities will include an assessment of how to leverage strategic alliances, technology and other potential tools to check China’s influence in the region. The task force was established weeks after Austin, a retired four-star general, noted that China was the “most significant threat going forward” to U.S. interests.
Tensions between the U.S. and China escalated during the Trump administration. The two nations engaged in a lengthy trade dispute that has yet to be fully resolved and former President Donald Trump repeatedly accused China of withholding critical information about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. American military forces have also sought to counter China’s effort to expand its control of territories in the South China Sea.
Aside from the review of strategy toward China, Biden called on the Pentagon to lead efforts to reimagine the country’s strategic priorities on issues such as climate change and cybersecurity.
“There is no aspect of our agenda in 21st-century leadership where the women and men of the Defense Department do not have a role, where its helping curb the pandemic here at home and around the world or addressing the real threats of climate change that are already costing us billions in impacts on our bases and our national security or being part of an ongoing fight for racial justice,” Biden said. “You are essential to how we must rethink and reprioritize our security to meet the challenges of this century, not last.”
Biden noted that he would work to bring a “responsible end to wars that have dragged on for far too long while continuing to ensure that terrorist threats cannot endanger the American people.” Last week, the Biden administration ordered a review of U.S. troop deployments around the world.
“I believe force should be a tool of last resort, not first,” Biden added. “I understand the full weight of what it means to ask young proud Americans to stand in the breach.”