The administration of President Joe Biden said Wednesday that dealing with China will be "the biggest geopolitical test" of this century, singling out the rising Asian nation as having the power to pose serious challenges to the open international system the United States is defending.
"China, in particular, has rapidly become more assertive. It is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system," Biden said in interim guidance on his national security policies released the same day.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who made his first major foreign policy speech since becoming Washington's top diplomat, described the challenges posed by China as "different" from those presented by countries such as Russia, Iran and North Korea.
"We will manage the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century: our relationship with China," he said.
The guidance and Blinken's speech also underscored the new administration's emphasis on alliances and multilateralism as well as democratic values, in a shift from the previous administration under Donald Trump, who pursued a unilateralist "America First" policy and was often criticized for showing fondness for authoritarian leaders.
The 24-page guidance is intended to give initial direction to government agencies while the over one-month-old administration keeps "developing a more in-depth national security strategy over the next several months," Blinken said.
The document said the United States will "reaffirm, invest in, and modernize" its alliances with Australia, Japan and South Korea as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, calling them part of "America's greatest strategic asset."
"Our democratic alliances enable us to present a common front, produce a unified vision, and pool our strength to promote high standards, establish effective international rules, and hold countries like China to account," it said.
The Biden administration will also seek to build partnerships beyond its core alliances, citing countries such as India, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.
On its military posture, the guidance said the U.S. presence will be "most robust" in the Indo-Pacific and Europe as the country seeks to deter its adversaries and defend its interests.
With regard to North Korea, the Biden administration said it will "empower" diplomats to work to reduce the threat posed by the country's growing nuclear and missile programs, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Japan and South Korea.
As the administration also seeks to restore the U.S. position as a defender of democracy, Blinken said in his speech that Washington has no intention of engaging in costly military interventions or attempts to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force toward that end.
"We have tried these tactics in the past. However well-intentioned, they haven't worked," he said. "They've given 'democracy promotion' a bad name, and they've lost the confidence of the American people. We will do things differently."
Echoing the Biden administration's pursuit of "a foreign policy for the middle class," Blinken said trade policies need to take into consideration how they will benefit the American middle class and create new and better jobs.
The Democratic administration will build on "hard lessons" learned from the past regarding free trade deals, in which the government did not do enough to enforce agreements or to ease trade-related pain for workers, he said.
Republican Trump was a vocal critic of past free trade agreements, which he viewed as job-killers. He pulled the United States out of a vast Pacific free trade deal and revamped the North American free trade agreement, often blamed for job losses as companies relocated their plants to Mexico for cheap labor.
The interim guidance reaffirmed the Biden administration's position that it will only pursue new trade deals after making investments in American workers and communities.