China State Media Decries Pentagon's 'Nitpicking' Task Force

Senior Chinese analysts appearing on the country's prime-time military commentary program have decried President Joe Biden's China Task Force and likened the Pentagon's intense scrutiny to a fault-finding mission.

The 20-member Department of Defense task force—comprising military and intelligence officials as well as civilian leaders—was announced by the president last month and held its first meeting on March 1.

The group, led by veteran Asia expert Ely Ratner, is looking at the Pentagon's interaction with China and focuses on "countering Chinese efforts," the department said in a statement last month. The task force aims to provide findings including actionable recommendations to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and deputy Kathleen Hicks by the middle of June.

Hicks said the task force experts were in a "deliberate sprint" to produce the report, which is expected to be mostly classified. "We're focused on priority issues such as force posture, technology, intelligence and partnerships," she tweeted on Friday.

Great meeting with @DeptofDefense‘s China Task Force today. They’re conducting a deliberate sprint to provide recommendations on the China challenge by mid-June. We’re focused on priority issues such as force posture, technology, intelligence and partnerships.

— Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks (@DepSecDef) March 5, 2021

Describing the move as Washington's way of curbing China's development, a Beijing defense specialist told Chinese state media that President Biden's Pentagon team amounted to a "nitpicking task force."

Appearing on CCTV's prime-time commentary show Defense Review, Du Wenlong said the goal of the DOD group was to "find excuses, set plans and promote actions."

Du is a director at the Chinese Military Culture Society, an organization under the Chinese Communist Party's Central Military Commission chaired by Xi Jinping. In January, he became chief military adviser for the country's state-run press agency Xinhua.

"The task force will find threats in China's army, navy, air force, equipment and development," Du said on the program, aired Friday night. "The problem with this task force is it's looking at China through a magnifying glass, finding areas in which China is posing a so-called threat to the United States."

He added: "If it actually finds areas where China poses a real threat to America, a number of measures to contain China will appear: uniting allies, developing high-end weapons and equipment and constructing more military bases around China."

Du predicted the forming of new partnerships between the U.S. and other nations in the region, as well as the emergence of more military flashpoints. The core objective of the task force, he said, was to create great-power competition with China, with "Biden characteristics."

Du's co-panelist Wang Xiaopeng, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the China Task Force was formed against a backdrop of extensive policy reviews by the Biden administration.

Describing former President Donald Trump's foreign policy strategies as "floundering," Wang said Biden's White House was now readjusting the country's global, Indo-Pacific and China policies.

The Pentagon's China Task Force will spearhead U.S. responses to key aspects of extreme competition with China and focus more of America's global policy on the Indo-Pacific region, he said in his analysis on CCTV.

"Biden is incorporating some of the previous administration's policies—a selective reorganization—but he has inherited the Indo-Pacific strategy in full," said Wang, who studies China's coastal territories.

Wang notes that Biden's appointment of Ratner, a national security adviser who has worked under him in the past, shows his focus on U.S.-China military interaction.

A DOD spokesperson referred Newsweek to a Pentagon press briefing involving Ratner in February.

The goal of the task force "is not to boil the ocean," said Ratner in his capacity as special assistant to the secretary of defense.

"What we're going to do here is try to identify the most important challenges and opportunities for the secretary, try to identify what should serve as his and his team's top priorities on China, whether those be issues that need secretary-level decisions or guidance, issues that need greater prioritization, attention, and resources, or issues that need either strength and/or new processes to move them forward to address them," he added.

Ratner said the task force would be "building on existing efforts"—including from the Obama and Trump administrations—in order to ensure the DOD was synchronized in the "whole-of-government strategy" on China.

This article has been updated with a response from the Department of Defense.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Addresses Press
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a visit by President Joe Biden to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, February 10, 2021. President Biden announced the formation of the Pentagon's China Task Force during the visit. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images