US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin issues directive on addressing China challenge


US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday issued directives to the Department of Defence to better address the security challenges posed by China as America’s number one pacing challenge, officials here said.

These initiatives – some of which will remain classified – are designed to focus departmental processes and procedures and better help department leaders contribute to whole-of-government efforts to address the challenge from China.

These directives, based on the final recommendations of the Department’s China Task Force, were developed in consultation and coordination with interagency partners and will complement the multi-faceted work on China policy of departments, agencies, and the White House, the Pentagon said.

Many are intended to streamline and strengthen cooperation with the US allies and partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.

“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 Defence Strategy we are working on,” Austin said. “Now, it is time for us to move forward,” he added.

“The efforts I am directing today will improve the Department’s ability to revitalise our network of allies and partners, bolster deterrence, and accelerate the development of new operational concepts, emerging capabilities, future force posture, and a modernised civilian and military workforce,” Austin said.

According to the Pentagon, the directives also established Austin’s intent to directly oversee the Department of Defense’s China-related policies, operations, and intelligence as the Task Force’s recommendations are incorporated into ongoing reviews and Department-wide processes.

President Joe Biden announced last February the establishment of the Task Force. It had a specific two-fold mission: to conduct a baseline assessment of China-related programs, policies, and processes at the Department of Defence; and to provide the Secretary with a set of top priorities and recommended courses of action for the Department.

Members of the Task Force were detailed from across the Department of Defence, including representatives from all the Services, several Combatant Commands, the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defence, and the Intelligence Community.

During its tenure, the Task Force conducted hundreds of interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of policies, analysis, and intelligence. The report was submitted in April.

The recommendations of the Task Force are one contribution to the larger US government approach, nested inside the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance and complementing the multi-faceted work on China policy of departments, agencies, and the White House.

The recommendations will help inform the development of the National Defence Strategy and other ongoing reviews and processes, the Pentagon said in a fact sheet.

During a hearing on the fiscal 2022 Budget Request for the Defence Department last month, Austin told the members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defence that China is “currently and will remain our pacing challenge going forward.”

China claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China has impeded commercial activity like fishing or mineral exploration by countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.

US naval ships regularly sail through the disputed South China Sea in a bid to assert freedom of navigation in the region.





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