Democratic and Republican administrations for years have unofficially seen China, with its designs on military supremacy and goals of global economic domination, as the top U.S. adversary worldwide.
On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin formally told the Pentagon to focus its attention on Beijing’s military buildup and place the Asian nation at the center of U.S. defense policy.
Mr. Austin issued an internal directive, initiating a number of Department of Defense-wide efforts to address what they consider the security challenges posed by China. They will be “nested” inside the larger U.S. government plan of action and become part of the National Defense Strategy still being worked on, officials said.
The efforts will “improve the Department‘s ability to revitalize our network of allies and partners, bolster deterrence and accelerate the development of new operational concepts, emerging capabilities, future force posture and a modernized civilian and military workforce,” Mr. Austin said in a statement.
The new directive is a result of a report submitted by the Department of Defense’s China Task Force, established in February at President Biden’s direction. Its mission is to assess current China-related policies within the Pentagon and provide a set of recommendations and courses of action going forward.
“This directive from the secretary is ultimately about getting the department‘s house in order and ensuring that it lives up to the stated prioritization of China as the No. 1 pacing challenge,” a senior defense official said Wednesday, briefing Pentagon reports on the condition of anonymity.
Pentagon officials spoke only in the broadest terms about what new initiatives the task force recommended, such as alliances and partnerships, how the Defense Department approaches deterrence and any emerging capabilities and future force posture.
“I’m not going to get into specifics about classified directives or assessments as well as regional security issues,” the senior defense official said.
Secretary Austin will directly oversee the Department of Defense‘s China-related policies and operations as the task force’s recommendations are incorporated into Pentagon policy going forward, officials said.
The task force conducted hundreds of interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of internal military and intelligence documents going back multiple administrations. They found what they called a ‘say-do’ gap between the stated prioritization of China as the No.1 pacing challenge and the level of resources and attention it received.
“The 2018 National Defense Strategy was critically important in highlighting the need to prioritize China but the directive today is really about ensuring that the Department (of Defense) lies up to that prioritization,” the senior defense official said.
In April, the task force delivered its initial assessment to Mr. Austin and senior military and civilian leadership in the Pentagon. The task force will now stand down, Department of Defense officials said. Any of the recommendations that result in official Defense Department policy will be implemented through usual channels, officials said.
“I want to thank everyone on the task force for their hard work and the skill they lent to hat was a spring-like effort,” Mr. Austin said. “Now it’s up to the department to get to work.”