Although the 48-page National Security Strategy the Joe Biden administration unveiled on Wednesday pledges to avoid looking at the world solely through the prism of strategic competition with China, that competition suffuses every chapter.
As National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in remarks in a news briefing previewing the strategy, US strategists regard China as the United States' "most consequential geopolitical challenge".
Although it admits that a set of transnational challenges — from climate change to food insecurity, to communicable diseases, to terrorism, to energy transition, to inflation — are affecting people everywhere, including in the US, which Sullivan acknowledged are not marginal issues, the document makes no bones about its primary objective, which is to contain China's rise.
The premise of the strategy is that the US has entered a paradoxical decade in which cooperation is imperative to overcome these shared challenges, while at the same time the US needs to exert its power and influence to set the rules of the road for the 21st century "so that the international order continues to reflect US values and promote US interests".
In that process China is to be labeled public enemy No 1 as the US tries to rally countries to its cause and persuade them to follow US-made rules. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen once again called on US allies to work together to shore up their supply chains and guard against "geopolitical coercion" by China and others on Wednesday.
The document shows that after more than 21 months in office the Biden administration still holds on to the dangerous misjudgment on China it inherited from its predecessor. It is a pity that the worsening of the global geopolitical situation, in which the US plays an important role, and the sufferings of the world, that the US pointed to, have not yet awakened the sleepy administration to the disastrous future that it will probably lead the US and its allies to if it sticks to the path outlined in the strategy.
With the US recklessly playing with fire with regard to Taiwan, the Sino-US competition will in all likelihood veer into confrontation if the US continues to turn a deaf ear to the rational proposals China has made on different occasions with the aim of putting bilateral relations back on the right track.
Rather than competition and confrontation, the US should engage with China on the basis of mutual respect, focusing on the two countries' common interests and the shared challenges.
Sullivan said that the Biden administration "is not seeking to have competition tip over into confrontation or a new Cold War" and it is "not engaging each country as simply a proxy battleground".
Its actions so far have been to the contrary. It remains to be seen if it has the wisdom to concede that what is needed is an emphasis on cooperation not competition. The true threats to the US' national security come from the misjudgments of its administrations and its political system's institutional inertia that enables them.