US national security strategy aims to outcompete China, constrain Russia

The strategy also left the door open to cooperating with China, calling it central to the global economy. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - In its long-awaited national security strategy, the Biden  administration has called China the most consequential geopolitical challenge for America, while also acknowledging the need to work with the superpower to tackle global problems.

The 48-page document unveiled on Wednesday outlined two broad challenges for the United States: Outcompeting geopolitical rivals to shape the international order, and dealing with shared threats such as climate change.

The strategy argued that US leadership was vital to overcoming these challenges, and stressed that time was of the essence.

“This decisive decade is critical both for defining the terms of competition, particularly with the PRC, and for getting ahead of massive challenges,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

“If we lose time in this decade, we will not be able to keep pace with, most notably, the climate crisis, but other challenges as well,” he added.

The security strategy was unveiled 21 months into President Joe Biden’s administration because it was delayed due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The strategy, which was fleshed out in an interim document in March 2021, continued to describe China in similar terms, calling it “the only competitor with both the intent and, increasingly, the capability to reshape the international order”.

“Beijing has ambitions to create an enhanced sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and to become the world’s leading power,” it said, adding that Beijing was also trying to shape technology norms and erode US alliances around the world.

But the document left the door open to cooperating with China, calling it central to the global economy and having a significant impact on shared challenges, particularly climate change and global public health.

“It is possible for the United States and the PRC to coexist peacefully, and share in and contribute to human progress together,” it said.

Investing in US power and deepening its alliances in Europe and the Indo-Pacific would be the core of national security strategy, the document said. 

However, Mr Sullivan added: “We are not seeking to have competition tip over into confrontation or a new Cold War, and we are not engaging each country as simply a proxy battleground.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said on Thursday that “overplaying geopolitical conflicts and great power competition is unwelcome and not constructive”.

As the largest developing and developed nations, China and the US were responsible for maintaining world peace and promoting economic prosperity, she added.

“The cooperation between China and the United States will bring benefits to both and conflict will lead to losses on both sides. The US should uphold the principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation,” Ms Mao said. 

In the document's introduction, President Biden said while competing with China, the US must at the same time also constrain Russia, whose "brutal and unprovoked war on Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and impacted stability everywhere",

While Russia poses an immediate threat to the free and open international system, the strategy viewed China as having a more long-term intent and power to reshape that system.

"In their own ways, they now seek to remake the international order to create a world conducive to their highly personalised and repressive type of autocracy," it said.

American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Zack Cooper told The Straits Times: "The Biden team is right that Russia is an acute threat in the short term but that China presents the more serious challenge in the long term."

However, he said this would present a challenge of prioritisation.

"US leaders need to respond to Russia today while also preparing now for what the strategy calls the 'decisive decade' ahead with China.

"I think those assessments are correct, but the question will be whether the United States is able to implement this strategy given domestic divisions and resource constraints," Dr Cooper added.

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