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World Austin's task force is toughest move yet on China as Biden Pentagon mulls options

01:40  04 may  2021
01:40  04 may  2021 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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One hundred days have passed, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s toughest moves on China so far have been two visits to the Indo-Pacific region and a task force working to deliver findings on possible policy changes sometime this summer.

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Austin returned to the Pentagon in a suit after four decades of service in the Army that peaked with his leadership of U.S. Central Command, managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He got ahead of criticisms that he would be weak on China early by calling the great power competitor the department's “pacing challenge” and surrounding himself with China experts. Some of those civilian experts are now working on an assessment to give Austin next steps for containing the often-aggressive regime in Beijing in the face of increasingly hostile activity against neighbors and U.S. partners such as the Philippines and Vietnam.

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Austin traveled to Indo-Pacific headquarters in Hawaii Friday for the changeover ceremony that makes Adm. Chris Aquilino the new commander. It was Austin’s second visit to the command and to the region since taking charge, but the Pentagon said the secretary's meetings with the new commander were more social than strategic.

“It was a very cordial meeting, lasted 30 to 40 minutes,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday. “No question, the pacing challenge that is China and Indo-Pacom's role in helping us meet that pacing challenge was a major topic of that."

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In public remarks at the changeover ceremony in Honolulu, Austin compared the “old wars” that he helped wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan with “the next major war.”

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“The way we’ll fight the next major war is going to look very different from the way we fought the last ones,” he said. “In this young century, we need to understand faster, decide faster, and act faster. Our new computing power isn’t an academic exercise.”

In an interview Monday with the Washington Examiner, former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Trump Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie warned that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is fielding thousands of IT professionals.

“The People’s Liberation Army has two entire divisions, simply devoted to cracking Pentagon systems, that's thousands and thousands of people just within the military do that,” said Wilkie, now a Heritage Foundation visiting scholar.

Asked how Austin has strengthened America’s defense posture toward China, Kirby pointed to the China Task Force. The commission is led by Ely Ratner, former Vice President Joe Biden's deputy national security adviser. Ratner's mission is to delivery a four-month “sprint” to assess where the department stands on China.

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Until then, the very creation of the task force is Austin’s most aggressive move yet on China.

“The China Task Force is the most clear manifestation of how seriously he's taking China as a pacing challenge,” Kirby said, noting its conclusions are due by mid-June. “They're continuing to do their work.”

In a departure from his usual reticence to delve into spending priorities, the spokesman also indicated the coming defense budget would put money behind the effort.

“We're getting ready to unveil the president's budget for DOD, that will come in in due time,” Kirby said. “I think you'll see this larger concern about great power competition and our focus on that part of the world reflected in budget priorities.”

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Kirby also sought to underscore that Austin’s first foreign trip was to visit Indo-Pacific allies and partners, including South Korea, Japan, and India.

“To listen to them about what they're seeing in the region and the threats from their eyes,” he said. “ And to listen to them about their concerns about China's increasingly aggressive and coercive behavior.”

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Tags: News, National Security, Department of Defense, Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, China, Heritage Foundation

Original Author: Abraham Mahshie

Original Location: Austin's task force is toughest move yet on China as Biden Pentagon mulls options

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