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Biden announces Pentagon task force on China, warns Xi

A file photo of Joe Biden with Chinese President Xi Jinping (Image courtesy: White House)

US President Joe Biden has announced a Pentagon task force to chart Washington's Beijing strategy and followed it up with a stern dialogue with his Chinese counterpart XI Jinping about the Asian giant's "increasingly assertive actions" and served notice that he was committed to an open Indo-Pacific region, according to the White House.

During the phone call with Xi on Wednesday, Biden was also forthright on human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and on Beijing's trade practices, according to an account of their conversation from the White House.

In a sign of his recognition of the risks from Beijing's growing power and assertiveness, Biden, while on a visit to the Pentagon, called for a national and international effort to "meet the China challenge and ensure the American people win the competition of the future".

"We need to meet the growing challenges posed by China to keep the peace and defend our interests in the Indo-Pacific and globally," he said.

At the Pentagon, the President also announced the formation of the new task force that will work with a sense of urgency on strategy so that "we can chart a strong path forward on China-related matters".

In his speech at the Pentagon, Biden said that the task force on China will "look at our strategy and operational concepts, technology, and force posture, and so much more".

"The task force will work quickly, drawing on civilian and military experts across the (Defense) Department, to provide, within the next few months, recommendations to (Defense Secretary Lloyd) Austin on key priorities and decision points so that we can chart a strong path forward on China-related matters.

"It will require a whole-of-government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and strong alliances and partnerships," he added.

Laying out his overall defence position, Biden said that while force should be a tool of last resort, "I will never hesitate to use force to defend the vital interests of the American people and our allies around the world when necessary".

"The central, indispensable mission of the Department of Defense is to deter aggression from our enemies and, if required, to fight and win wars to keep America safe."

During his call with Xi, Biden "affirmed his priorities of protecting the American people's security, prosperity, health, and way of life, and preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific", the White House said in the statement issued after his Pentagon speech.

He "underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing's coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan", it added.

At the same time, Biden is "committed to pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements when it advances the interests of the American people and those of our allies", the White House said.

"The two leaders also exchanged views on countering the Covid-19 pandemic, and the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation."

Biden's call with Xi came after discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of key allies in the region — Japan, Australia and South Korea — during which they discussed Indo-Pacific issues.

On more immediate matters of concern, like the war in Afghanistan and the involvement in Iraq, from which former President Donald had tried to untangle the US, Biden said without naming the countries that "I will work with Secretary Austin and leaders around the world to bring a responsible end, a responsible end to wars that have dragged on for far too long, while continuing to ensure that terrorist threats cannot endanger the security of the American people".