Top U.S. military official: China is our number one geostrategic security challenge

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley participated in a hearing on the fiscal year 2022 Defense Department budget request before the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 17. Milley said China is the top geostrategic security challenge for the United States, but war with China is not inevitable. On the Taiwan Strait, he noted at the hearing that China is unlikely to use military means to seize Taiwan in the near future because it still needs to further develop the capabilities it needs.

In his remarks, Milley pointed out to senators that “the current strategic landscape is changing rapidly and threats to peace and stability in the regions and the world are likely to increase,” he said, adding that “China is our number one geostrategic security challenge. History is not based on determinism, and war with China is not inevitable. China is clearly an increasingly capable strategic competitor, and we need to keep our relationship in a state of competition rather than conflict. This is best accomplished through integrated deterrence, where the United States remains militarily strong relative to China and we maintain military superiority in all the different areas of warfare,” Milley said. If we maintain military superiority over our adversaries, then conflict is less likely to occur.”

Milley said, “China is challenging the status quo of peace in the Pacific and is interested in modifying the global international order by mid-century. China is conducting large-scale exercises in the region, focusing on amphibious landings, joint firing and maritime strike scenarios.” These actions threaten the autonomy of our allies and partners, jeopardize freedom of navigation, overflight and other legitimate uses of the sea, and undermine regional peace and stability,” he said. In short, China has developed and continues to develop significant nuclear, space, cyber, land, air and maritime military capabilities.”

Turning to the situation in the Taiwan Strait, Milley said that while Taiwan remains a core national interest of China, “there is not much intent or incentive to pursue military means at this time.” He explained that “there’s no reason for military action and they know it. So I think the likelihood of that is probably very low in the medium and short term future.” Milley said, “My judgment on capabilities is that I think China also needs to continue to develop the capability to actually not joke around to take military action to seize the entire island of Taiwan by military means, if that’s what they want to do.”

In addition, Austin, who testified along with him, said, “We must maintain and improve that advantage on land, at sea, in the air, and in emerging areas, including space and cyberspace.” “I believe the president’s budget request helps us do that,” he said. On the FY 2022 defense budget request, Austin said, “This request is being made because we recognize that our competitors: China in particular, continue to improve their capabilities. We must move beyond these advances to maintain a credible deterrent to conflicts around the world.”

When it comes to regional challenges, Austin said, “In the Indo-Pacific region, we are facing an increasingly assertive People’s Republic of China. Beijing’s regional ambitions are growing, and its footprint extends around the world, using its enormous economic clout to encourage and in some cases coerce countries to deepen their relationships with China.” But China’s ambition is not just economic,” he said. It seeks to use its influence to change the rules and norms of the region, erode democratic values and human rights, and challenge a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The President’s Interim National Security Strategy Guide argues that China is the only global competitor capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to the international order.”

Austin said, “As the Department of Defense, our responsibility is to protect and defend our interests in the Indo-Pacific region and reassure our allies and partners of our commitment to common goals. This requires keeping pace with the rapid military modernization of the People’s Liberation Army and maintaining a focus on the PLA’s progress in the South and East China Seas, the second island chain and elsewhere.”

Austin said, “That’s why I established the China Task Force early in my tenure. The task force’s mission is to conduct a baseline assessment of DoD policies, programs and procedures on China affairs so that we can better address the challenges posed by China. The task force has now completed its work. Based on its recommendations, yesterday I issued internal guidance to initiate major department-wide efforts to address China, the number one step-up challenge to the United States.”