Beijing Sees Way Back for U.S.-China Ties Under Biden's Defense Secretary

Lloyd Austin, secretary-designate for the Department of Defense, may not have an easy path into President-elect Joe Biden's cabinet, but China has already reacted positively to the nomination of the "rational" retired general.

In an article published Wednesday, China's hawkish state-run tabloid Global Times expressed clear approval of Austin, who retired a four-star Army general in 2016.

Beijing sees a way back to stability for U.S.-China relations, which have been heavily strained under President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is passionately opposed to the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese leadership is banking on Austin to "ease tension with China" while also increasing U.S. influence in the Middle East, the newspaper suggested. His appointment would also signal a return to "normal" of military and government exchanges between the two superpowers.

China's tightly controlled state media had expressed similar sentiments about Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken, who, along with national security advisor nominee Jake Sullivan, were dubbed "old faces."

Austin, whose last post in the military was as head of U.S. Central Command from 2013, was described as "pragmatic" and "rational" by the state-owned publication, which also warned that "provoking China will only bring the U.S. more troubles."

Global Times singled out Michèle Flournoy for criticism in the article. The Obama-era defense policy advisor was a "radical" with "extreme military policies," the paper wrote in reference to a Foreign Affairs essay in which she floated the idea of the U.S. military sinking the entire Chinese Navy in the South China Sea in 72 hours.

On Tuesday, Biden called Austin a "true and tested soldier and leader" as well as "the definition of a patriot."

Writing in The Atlantic, the president-elect lauded his Pentagon chief nominee for his role in the Iraq drawdown as well as the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As the first-ever African American secretary of defense, Austin would also ensure the U.S. Armed Forces remained inclusive to all, he wrote.

Besides facing possible opposition to his suitability, Austin will also need a congressional waiver in order to serve as defense secretary, a civilian position which requires a candidate to have spent at least seven years out of the military.

Congress granted such a waiver in 2017 when it confirmed President Trump's nomination of James Mattis to the same position.

Lloyd Austin Speaks At Senate Committee Hearing
File photo: Army General Lloyd Austin III. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images