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Pentagon issues new directive on deterring China ‘aggression’

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on June 7, 2021. (Photo by AP)

The Pentagon has been tasked to develop the military forces to deter China in line with Washington’s years-old strategy that considers Beijing the main threat.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin issued an internal directive on Wednesday, calling on military forces to sharpen their focus on China.

“Now, it is up to the department to get to work,” Austin said.

"The initiatives I am putting forward today are nested inside the larger US government approach to China and will help inform the development of the National Defense Strategy we are working on," Austin said.

To ensure that his directive is followed, Austin will be personally responsible for the implementation of the classified recommendations of the task force.

Deputy defense secretary Kathleen Hicks said a large portion of Pentagon’s $715 billion budget request for 2022 would be devoted to confronting China.

“The [People’s Republic of China] is increasingly competitive, and it has the ability, uniquely, to challenge the international system and American interests within it,” she said during a virtual event hosted by the hawkish Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

“In advancing American interests, the department (Pentagon) must be ready to not only serve in a supporting role to our diplomatic and economic tools… but to also deter military aggression. This is especially true with regard to the PRC.”

Many of the task force’s recommendations remain classified, and the Pentagon released few details about its work.

In a separated Pentagon release, senior military officials said that the guidance seeks to “align the department with the prioritization of China.”

One official said the directive calls for investment “in America’s unparalleled network of allies and partners” and the bolstering of “deterrence across all domains of warfare.” 

The Pentagon directive was issued as President Joe Biden's administration is seeking to expand its presence in the Pacific, to challenge China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan).

Biden, himself, has already described China a major concern of his administration and sought to bolster ties with allies to challenge Beijing.

Beijing has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei under the "One China" policy, which is in principle recognized by almost all world countries.

But successive US administrations and other Western governments have been seeking independent relations with Chinese Taipei.

Biden has, likewise, taken a hostile posture against China, including over Chinese Taipei. 

The US and China have been at odds over a range of other issues, including alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong, and most of the South China Sea as well as the origin of the coronavirus. 

China hoped for an improvement in relations under Biden, who succeeded Donald Trump in January, but the Biden administration has shown no sign of backing down on hardline policies toward China.

Tensions have recently mounted between the militaries of the world’s two largest economies, in part thanks to increased US military activity in sensitive areas like the South China Sea.

The United States frequently dispatches warships to patrol the disputed waters and sends spy planes on missions near China’s coast.

Calling the US a “risk creator”, China warned Washington against its military activities in the sea, saying that potential close military encounters between the air and naval forces of the two countries in the region could trigger accidents.

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