US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday issued a directive to Pentagon personnel asking them to intensify their focus on China, which the United States considers its biggest strategic competitor.
“It is now up to the administration to get on with the work,” Austin said after issuing the internal directive.
The order, the details of which are classified, follows an assessment conducted in February by the task force that the Biden administration established to review the Defense Department’s strategy toward China.
“The initiatives that I’m laying out today are intertwined with the broader US government’s approach to China, and will help advance the national defense strategy that we are working on,” Austin said.
For his part, a senior official in the Ministry of Defense indicated that the working group identified “a gap between words and deeds, between the priorities that have been announced towards China and what we have seen in a number of areas.”
“Today’s directive is to ensure that the ministry respects these priorities,” the official added.
Austin said the order would “improve the department’s ability to revitalize our network of allies and partners, enhance deterrence, and accelerate the development of new operational concepts and emerging capabilities.”
Pentagon operations over the past two decades have focused largely on countering militants in the Middle East, not on a modern army like China’s.
In 2018, the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy identified China as a major strategic competitor, but the task force found that little had been done to address the challenges posed by Beijing.
The US military is currently seeking to expand its presence in the Pacific at a time when Beijing’s hostility towards Taiwan, which China considers an integral part of its territory, is increasing.
The United States also maintains a large military presence in the Middle East, even though it has begun withdrawing its remaining soldiers from Afghanistan.
To ensure that his directive is followed, Austin will be personally responsible for implementing the task force’s confidential recommendations.