Meeting defense team, Biden says U.S. seeks competition, not conflict, with China

Meeting defense team, Biden says U.S. seeks competition, not conflict, with China

President Biden said on Wednesday that heightened tensions between the U.S. and China do not have to lead to conflict.

Speaking with senior defense and national security officials at the White House, Mr. Biden said the U.S. has “a responsibility to manage increasingly intense competition with China” as tensions between the two countries have surged in recent months over issues such as Taiwan, trade and human rights.

“We are looking for stiff competition — doesn’t have to be conflict,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting, which brought together top Pentagon brass, the 11 combatant commanders civilian and military leaders from the country’s six military branches, follows the recent release of Mr. Biden’s formal National Security Strategy, which identifies China as “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge.”

“Beijing has ambitions to create an enhanced sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and to become the world’s leading power,” the strategy blueprint reads in part. “It is using its technological capacity and increasing influence over international institutions to create more permissive conditions for its own authoritarian model, and to mold global technology use and norms to privilege its interests and values. Beijing frequently uses its economic power to coerce countries.”

The U.S.-China ties have become increasingly strained after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei in August. The California Democrat became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in decades, sparking a series of retaliatory Chinese military exercises surrounding the island that is 100 miles off of the mainland. China also called off planned bilateral exchanges with the U.S., including planned meetings on climate policy.

The White House has warned that China’s reaction to the high-profile stopover could cast a far-reaching shadow over U.S.-Chinese relations for the foreseeable future. But Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has rapidly consolidated power in Beijing, told a major Communist Party congress last week he is determined one day to “reclaim” Taiwan as a part of China, by force if necessary.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden reiterated the mantra laid out in the strategy that the U.S. is in the midst of a “decisive decade” as he met with officials.

“The world is changing,” he said, adding that the U.S. would “continue to lead” on the world stage with diplomacy “backed by the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters as the meeting continued behind closed doors that the leaders were expected to discuss a wide range of topics beyond China.

“I suspect, you’ll see that they’ll discuss a wide range of issues regarding our national security all the way from managing the strategic competition with China to the acute threat that Russia is clearly posing on the European continent,” he said.

The meeting at the White House comes amid growing fears that the war in Ukraine is on the cusp of a dramatic spiral as Russian officials issue unsubstantiated claims that Ukraine is preparing to employ a “dirty bomb,” the term for a device that uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive material.

Those warnings have sparked concern that Russia itself may be considering using a “false-flag” attack as a pretext for its own escalation against Ukraine.

“It is a common Russian play for them to blame others for what they are doing themselves or about to do themselves,” Mr. Kirby told reporters.

He said that while the U.S. takes Russia’s threats seriously, officials have seen no indications that the Kremlin is preparing to use a dirty bomb themselves or detonate a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

“We’re monitoring as best we can and we’re going to make sure that we continue to do what we have to do to help Ukraine defend itself,” Mr. Kirby said.

By coincidence, both NATO and Russia went ahead Wednesday with planned annual nuclear maneuvers testing the readiness of their respective forces.

The Associated Press reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin virtually monitored the drills of his strategic nuclear forces, which involved multiple practice launches of ballistic and cruise missiles. NATO carried out its own long-planned annual nuclear exercises in northwestern Europe.