The U.S. is entering a "decisive decade" as it confronts both its competition with China and a Russia attempting to upend the international order, while facing challenges from climate change to energy to food security, international terrorism and disease, the White House said Wednesday.
The Biden administration released its national-security strategy, a document that attempts to outline the administration’s approach to problems around the world, identifying global competitors, particularly China, but also Russia.
"The world is at an inflection point, and the choices we make today will set the terms on how we are set up to deal with significant challenges and the significant opportunities we face in the years ahead," Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters.
The strategy was delayed for months, in part, Mr. Sullivan suggested, because the analysts needed to factor in lessons from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its eighth month. The strategy, which every administration is required to draft, informs a separate document that has yet to be released from the Pentagon, called the national defense strategy, which in turns informs budgeting and other plans for the U.S. military.
The strategy document singles out China as the most consequential challenge the U.S. faces in the global order. While Russia is diminishing in strength, the strategy describes Beijing as the only competitor with the intent to reshape the international order and the increasing economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might to do so.
The strategy largely codifies the approach toward Beijing that the Biden administration has pursued since coming into office: investing more at home to boost American economic and technological competitiveness and relying more on the U.S.’s wide network of alliances to constrain Beijing’s room to maneuver.
A third pillar of that approach says the U.S. will compete responsibly with China to defend American interests. In doing so, the document tries to put limits on that competition, bowing to the need to cooperate with China on climate change and to the unease many countries feel at being caught between the U.S. and China.
"We also want to avoid a world in which competition escalates into a world of rigid blocs," the strategy reads. "We do not seek conflict or a new Cold War. Rather, we are trying to support every country, regardless of size or strength, in exercising the freedom to make choices that serve their interests."
Mr. Biden in discussions with Chinese leader Xi Jinping has outlined the U.S. call for cooperation and the need to put limits on competition to prevent a new Cold War. Beijing and Mr. Xi have often responded coolly to these overtures, saying U.S. actions do not match Mr. Biden’s words.
Taiwan, the U.S. partner and democratically governed island that Beijing claims as its territory, has been a worsening source of friction. The Biden administration has followed a Trump administration effort to boost support for Taiwan, and Beijing has increased military and economic pressure on the island, including staging large-scale multiday exercises this summer.
The strategy offers reassurance and warnings to China, saying the U.S. opposes independence for Taiwan, a red line for Beijing, but will "maintain our capacity to resist any resort to force or coercion against Taiwan."
More concerning for Beijing is likely to be the document’s emphasis on U.S. alliances, especially on drawing allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific into "new and deeper means of cooperation." China’s Mr. Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have targeted that web of U.S. alliances as aimed at hemming their countries in and undermining their influence.
"The emphasis on allies and partners, it’s a competitive advantage for the U.S. and a centerpiece of the strategy," said Mike Mazarr, a defense and security specialist with the Rand Corporation. While that is likely to cause concern in Beijing, he said allies should also now expect the Biden administration to improve policies on military sales, technology transfers and other measures to better accommodate their interests.
In declaring the next decade decisive in the competition with China, Mr. Mazarr said, the Biden administration will have to urgently develop economic and investment policies to compete for influence in the developing world as well as bolstering defense capabilities.