The top US general met his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Hawaii Thursday, emphasizing America’s commitment to “long-term peace and stability in the region” and underscoring a broader US shift from the Middle East to China.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley reaffirmed the US commitment to two of its closest allies in Asia, including its preparedness to provide deterrence backed by the “full spectrum” of America’s military capabilities.
Though a readout of the trilateral meeting makes no explicit mention of China, the reference to the importance of a “rules-based international order” and America’s preparedness to provide “extended deterrence” backed by a “full spectrum” of military capabilities is clearly directed at what the Pentagon has called the country’s “pacing challenge” and “near-peer competitor.”
During their first in-person meeting since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Milley and other top military officials in the region also shared their concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The meeting between military leaders underscores the Biden administration’s shift away from the wars of the last 20 years to the competition of the future. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s first international trip in mid-March was to meet with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited the White House two weeks ago, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to visit next month.
President Joe Biden, in his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday evening, made confronting China and what he dubbed its “unfair trade practices” a top priority. In conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden said he would protect American interests and vowed to keep a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific region “not to start conflict, but to prevent conflict.”
The meeting comes as the White House officially acknowledged the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. At this point, fewer than 100 of the 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan have left the country, but the departing military equipment and service members signals the Biden administration’s resolve to leave the country by September 11.
“After 20 years of American valor and sacrifice, it’s time to bring our troops home,” Biden said Wednesday.
At the beginning of March, the Pentagon stood up a China Task Force to better understand how to address the challenge the world’s most populous country poses to the US military. The task force, part of the Pentagon’s Global Posture Review, is being led by Ely Ratner, Biden’s pick to lead the Pentagon’s Asia office.