“We need to meet the growing challenges posed by China to keep peace and defend our interests in the Indo-Pacific and globally,” Biden said in his first visit to the Pentagon since taking office.
The President continued: “Today I was briefed on a new DoD-wide China task force that Secretary Austin is standing up to look at our strategy and operational concepts, technology and force posture and so much more.”
Biden said the task force would draw on civilian and military experts across the Department of Defense and will provide recommendations to Austin “within the next few months” on “key priorities and decision points.”
“It will require a whole government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and strong alliances and partnerships. That’s how we’ll meet the China challenge and ensure the American people win the competition of the future,” Biden said.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Austin and other senior military and civilian leadership during the Wednesday visit prior to delivering remarks. Austin is the first Black secretary of defense, and Harris is the first Black vice president, as well as the first woman and first South Asian to hold the position.
Austin served with Biden’s late son, Beau Biden, in Iraq. Austin on Wednesday described the late Biden as an “absolutely outstanding officer” and a “good man.” He died in 2015 from brain cancer at the age of 46.
‘I will never, ever dishonor you.’
Biden thanked the Department of Defense personnel for their service and sacrifices to the nation.
“I will never, ever dishonor you. I will never disrespect you. I will never politicize the work you do,” Biden said.
The comment appeared to reference a report by The Atlantic that Trump had made disparaging remarks about those wounded and killed at war. When the report came out in September, Biden ripped into Trump in angry and personal terms, calling him “deplorable” and “damnable.”
In another departure from Trump’s approach, Biden touted the importance of alliances across the globe and argued the US was better able to project strength and power through alliances.
The President also asserted he would “never hesitate to use force to defend the vital interests of the American people and our allies around the world when necessary.”
Biden also made a point to honor the “long history of barrier-breaking service” by Black Americans, noting his visit to the Pengaton came during Black History Month.
“Before we leave today, Vice President Harris and I are going to visit the hall honoring the long history of Black Americans fighting for this country. Even when their contributions were not always recognized or honored appropriately,” Biden said.
He continued: “But those contributions have nevertheless helped push our country toward greater equality.”
The President gave a “personal commitment” that his administration would ensure that “every single person is treated with dignity and respect.” He said that sentiment was the impetus behind lifting the Trump-era ban on most transgender Americans joining the military and ordering a review of sexual assault in the military.
“Every single person, no matter their gender identity, sexual orientation race or religious background, deserves to feel safe in the ranks and to have their contributions valued,” Biden said.
Military grappling with racism and extremism
The President’s visit and remarks comes as the Pentagon is grappling with racism and extremism in the services, an issue Austin has made a priority.
He also has directed the Pentagon to tackle sexual assault and to review the department’s numerous advisory boards and committees.
Austin has described the coronavirus pandemic as the “greatest challenge to our country right now,” and he has a meeting on Covid every day, according to a senior defense official.
Earlier this week, the Senate confirmed Kathleen Hicks to be deputy secretary of defense. She is the first woman to serve in the role.
The trip to the Defense Department was Biden’s second Cabinet agency visit, following a trip to the State Department. Last week he met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and delivered his first major foreign policy and national security remarks as President.
That agreement, which was negotiated under the Trump administration and signed in February 2020, calls for the Taliban to reduce violence and cut ties with terrorist organizations, among other demands. If the conditions of the deal were met, US forces would leave Afghanistan by May 2021. The US force level in Afghanistan went down to 2,500 troops just days before Trump left office.
CNN’s Oren Liebermann, Jennifer Hansler and Michael Conte contributed to this report.
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