World Austin's task force is toughest move yet on China as Biden Pentagon mulls options
Biden's 1st 100 days: Promises kept, broken, or in progress
Here's a look at how President Joe Biden is measuring up against the markers he set for himself. As a candidate and incoming president, he had promised a series of swift and sweeping actions to address the range of challenges he inherited.
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.
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.
Biden's tricky China balancing act
As its 100-day mark nears, the new administration's strategy in dealing with the surging power is still taking shape — but some elements are coming into focus.He has struck a more measured public tone than his predecessor on some issues but an even sharper one on others, while preserving some of President Donald Trump's confrontational policies — and the Trump administration's overarching view that Beijing is a challenge to be confronted.
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."
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.”
President Biden's first 100 days: What he's gotten done
President Joe Biden has moved fast since his January 20 swearing-in, signing a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill into law less than two months into his term and issuing more executive orders so far than his three predecessors. © Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images A first-grader works on an English exercise on the first day of class in Los Angeles on April 13, 2021. Those efforts have paid off, with the administration reaching the milestones of 200 million coronavirus shots delivered and vaccine eligibility opened to everyone 16 and over before Biden's 100th day in office.
“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.”
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.”
5 winners and 3 losers from President Biden’s first congressional address
Winner: Obamacare. Loser: Wall Street.“After just 100 days — I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” Biden said during his speech. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.
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Susan Wright, congressman's widow, makes US House runoff in Texas .
Rep. Ron Wright died just weeks into office after a COVID diagnosis. His widow, endorsed by Donald Trump, is now in a runoff for his seat.But who she will face remained too early to call. With nearly all votes counted, Republican Jake Ellzey led Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez by 354 votes in the race for the second runoff spot in Texas' 6th Congressional District, which has long been GOP territory.