Austin Highlights China Threat in First Briefing

As a Pentagon task force begins reviewing the department’s approach toward China, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III used his first media briefing to reiterate that Beijing is the top “pacing threat” for the military and the U.S. needs to ensure its deterrence can remain credible.

“From the Department of Defense standpoint, … my No. 1 concern and my No. 1 job is to defend this country and protect our interests,” Austin said. “And so, we in this department are going to do everything possible to ensure we have the right operational concepts, the right plans in place, and that we have resourced the plans with the right capabilities to present a credible deterrence not only to China, [but to] any other adversary who would want to take us on.”

President Joe Biden, in his first visit to the Pentagon on Feb. 10, announced the formation of the Department of Defense China Task Force, which will define new priorities and “decision points so that we can chart a strong path forward on China-related matters.”

The task force will include up to 15 civilian and uniformed members, who will review modernization requirements, basing and access in the Indo-Pacific, intelligence, and alliances related to China policy. The review will be released in about four months.

Austin said there might still be ways for China and the U.S. to work together, as long as it’s in America’s best interests.

“And so there no doubt are some areas where we see common interests and there may be an opportunity to engage, but it will be from a standpoint of promoting our best interests,” Austin said.

The Pentagon in its 2018 National Defense Strategy said China is exerting its influence in the region through military outreach.

Austin said he discussed Chinese threats during the NATO defense ministerial meetings Feb. 17-18, saying allies can help the U.S. “better think through operating concepts and investment strategies when it comes to meeting that challenge.”