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Biden views China as a bigger challenge than Russia

The administration’s assessment of the threats posed by Beijing and Moscow are detailed in a new national security strategy document

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a summit in Uzbekistan in September. (Sergei Bobylev/Pool/Sputnik/Kremlin/AP)

President Biden still views China as the most consequential geopolitical challenge to the United States despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and his threats to use nuclear weapons, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday.

Nonetheless, constraining a “profoundly dangerous Russia” remains a key goal of the United States, Sullivan said.

The twin threats of Russia and China are laid out in the Biden administration’s long-awaited national security strategy, a document required by Congress that was delayed until Wednesday after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

“The [People’s Republic of China] and Russia are increasingly aligned with each other but the challenges they pose are, in important ways, distinct,” the document says. “We will prioritize maintaining an enduring competitive edge over the PRC while constraining a still profoundly dangerous Russia.”

Sullivan said the Ukraine war did not fundamentally change how Biden views the world, but the national security adviser underscored that the document’s release was delayed because officials believed it would be “imprudent” to publish it when it was “really unclear exactly what direction that war would take.”

Throughout the document, the Russia-Ukraine conflict makes appearances in references to issues related to energy, food security and military readiness.

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The document makes clear that China is the only power with the capability to alter the world order and asserts that the Ukraine conflict “has profoundly diminished Russia’s status vis-a-vis China and other Asian powers such as India and Japan.”

“Moscow’s soft power and diplomatic influence have waned,” it says, “while its efforts to weaponize energy have backfired. The historic global response to Russia’s war against Ukraine sends a resounding message that countries cannot enjoy the benefits of global integration while trampling on the core tenets of the UN Charter.”

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Although the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act mandated that every administration produce an annual security strategy document, few administrations have done so. President Barack Obama published one in each of his two terms, and President Donald Trump issued a single version, in 2017.

Biden’s strategy repeats much of the worldview he set out during his campaign and in an “Interim National Security Strategy Guidance” document early last year. Those efforts, and the new publication, posited that domestic and foreign policy are closely intertwined — that American strength at home is the source of its strength abroad.

In a speech on the new document Wednesday at Georgetown University, Sullivan said that “our world is at an inflection point, in the early years” of a “decisive decade.” The two main strategic challenges the United States faces, he said, were “geopolitical competition” with China in a post-Cold War world and “the sheer scale and speed of transnational challenges that do not respect borders or adhere to international rules,” including climate, food and energy insecurity, and disease, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our strategy proceeds from the premise that the two strategic challenges are intertwined,” he said, adding that the United States “cannot compete if it sidelines issues that most directly affect the lives of people.”

The three main elements of the strategy, Sullivan said, are “targeted investments” in elements of national power such as technology and energy, modernizing the military, and diplomatic and other investments in cooperation and forming coalitions with countries that share a belief in the rule of international law.

The war in Ukraine, Sullivan said, “has loomed large in the formulation of this strategy. … But we do not believe it has blotted out the sun, because of all the other strategies that need to be included.”

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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