US national security strategy calls competition with China its ‘most consequential geopolitical challenge’
- American cooperation with Nato, G7 and ‘like-minded democracies’ to form core of post-Cold War strategy, says top Biden adviser
- Guidance declares competition between democracies and autocracies a priority along with transnational challenges
“Autocrats are working overtime to undermine democracy and export a model of governance marked by repression at home and coercion abroad,” he added.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking hours after the strategy’s official release, declared that the “post-Cold War era is over”.
“The competition is under way between the major powers to shape what comes next,” he said in a speech at Georgetown University.
Earlier on Wednesday, Sullivan said the fundamental premise underpinning the strategy was that the US had entered a “decisive decade” with respect to the two broad challenges.
“This decisive decade is critical, both for defining the terms of competition, particularly with the PRC, and for getting ahead of massive challenges,” he added, referring to China’s official name.
“Geopolitical competition changes, and often complicates, the context in which shared challenges can be addressed while those problems often exacerbate geopolitical competition, as we saw with the early phases of the Covid-19 pandemic when the PRC was unwilling to cooperate with the international community,” the document stated.
The Chinese embassy in Washington said that the new policy aims to spread disinformation, hold China back, “smear” it with America’s cold war mentality and interfere in its internal affairs.
“The China-related content of the US National Security Strategy hypes up major-power competition, zero-sum game and ideological confrontation,” said embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu. “Playing up [the] ‘China threat’ cannot solve America’s own problems and will only lead the world down a dangerous abyss.”
Added Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Mao Ning in Beijing: “The US needs to follow the principle of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation” and work to bring US-China relations back on track.
The Biden administration’s latest strategy identifies American security concerns in the coming years and is meant to provide clearer guidance that builds on an interim national security policy document released in March last year, with a similar emphasis – and much of the same language – on China.
“And while the paper also pledges to build the broadest coalition of nations to enhance the collective capacity to solve global challenges, it will be difficult to fulfil that promise if a country as powerful as China is absent,” he said.
“We should take the administration at its word that it is willing to cooperate with geopolitical rivals to address shared challenges,” Russel added. “A major omission, however, is a strategy for obtaining urgently needed cooperation from recalcitrant major players like China.”
By singling out China and not mentioning Russia in his opening remarks to reporters on Wednesday, Sullivan underscored an intention to not allow Moscow’s war against Ukraine or threats to use nuclear weapons to distract from the Biden administration’s assessment that Beijing is a more crucial challenge, according to Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
“We wouldn’t call Russia a great-power threat any more, either,” she added. “I think the administration correctly assessed that in order to compete with China we have to stay focused, and we couldn’t be distracted by other challenges which are absolutely important but are not of the same severity or calibre as what China presents.”
“It’s far more integrated into the international system than Russia is. It’s less risk-taking relative to Russia. And I think that it poses a much more systemic long-term challenge than Russia does,” Wyne added.
Sullivan said the administration’s strategy was to continue to invest domestically in “underlying sources and tools of American power influence” and “build the strongest possible coalition of nations” to enhance collective influence.
In terms of international cooperation, he said the US would adopt a “dual-track approach”. On the one hand, it would cooperate “with any country, including our geopolitical rivals” on shared challenges, and on the other, it would seek to “deepen and sharpen our cooperation with like-minded democracies”.
“But the strategy also makes clear that we avoid seeing the world float solely through the prism of strategic competition. And we will not try to divide the world into rigid blocs. We are not seeking to have competition tipped over into confrontation, or a new Cold War,” Sullivan added.
The expanded national security strategy comes nearly two years into the Biden administration. Sullivan said the administration did not release it earlier because it would have been “imprudent in such a fast-moving and consequential moment”, alluding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The interim guidance had stressed the need for Washington to shore up alliances with democratic countries. It explicitly called out China as “the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system”.
However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than seven months ago has led to thousands of civilian casualties as well as disruptions in global energy and grain shipments, making clear how easily Biden’s vision for a rules-based order led by democracies can be undone.
“Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” is cited as one of many goals in the document’s “global priorities” section in which “out-competing China” tops the list.
China’s economic and military influence globally has put pressure on Biden to message more effectively to a large group of countries that do not fit into the US leader’s labels, said Mastro.
The Biden administration has had to contend with the fact that “the majority of the world is no longer democratic or developed”, she said. “China’s making this plea for the rest of the world, so we really need to do a better job of interacting” with those whose system of government differs from that of the US.
Additional reporting by Bochen Han