Biden says Pentagon to review strategy toward China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday the Pentagon would review its strategy toward China, looking at pivotal areas including intelligence, technology and Washington’s military footprint in the region.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the political situation in Myanmar at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The review will be among several others the Pentagon is already carrying out, ranging from troops in the Middle East to policy toward NATO.

Both countries are at loggerheads over issues from technology and human rights to Chinese military activities in the disputed South China Sea, with each accusing the other of deliberately provocative behavior.

Under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, the Pentagon made countering China its top priority, something Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has signaled will continue.

Speaking during a visit to the Pentagon, Biden said Austin had briefed him on a new China task force that would look at the military’s strategy related to China.

Biden said China and issues related to it would require government agencies working together, along with bipartisan support in Congress and strong alliances.

“That’s how we’ll meet the China challenge,” Biden said, flanked by Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a 15-member task force would be created at the Pentagon to review the strategy and present recommendations within four months.

Earlier this week, two U.S. carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea, as China accused the United States of damaging peace and stability.

The United States has contested China’s extensive territorial claims in the region, accusing it of militarizing the South China Sea and trying to intimidate neighbors such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, which have claims that overlap with China’s in the resource-rich area.

But recent interactions between Chinese and American forces in the South China Sea have been safe and professional, officials say.

It was Biden’s first visit to the Pentagon since his Jan. 20 inauguration as president.

Reporting by Steve Holland, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Chris Reese; Editing by Peter Cooney