Moscow can't systemically challenge Washington over the long term, but Beijing "is the only competitor" with both intent and power to do so, says US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Russia's attack on Ukraine highlights the "acute threat" posed by Moscow, but China is the most consequential challenge for the United States, the Pentagon has said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin highlighted the different challenges posed by China and Russia as he unveiled the unclassified versions of several military strategy documents on Thursday.
The dangers are both conventional — Moscow's aggression toward its neighbours and Beijing's efforts to gain control of Taiwan — and nuclear, with Russia possessing an extensive arsenal and China's stocks of atomic weapons growing fast.
China "is the only competitor out there with both the intent to reshape the international order and power to do so," Austin said.
"Unlike China, Russia can't systemically challenge the United States over the long term. But Russian aggression does pose an immediate and sharp threat."
The National Defense Strategy likewise places the primary emphasis on China.
Beijing is seeking to "refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to suit its interests and authoritarian preferences," it says, describing this dynamic as "the most comprehensive and serious challenge to US national security."
The strategy says Chinese rhetoric about and "coercive activity" toward Taiwan — which Beijing has vowed to take control of, by force if necessary — is a destabilising factor that risks miscalculation and threatens peace in the area.
As for Russia, it says the "acute threat" posed by Moscow has been most recently demonstrated by Moscow's February attacks on Ukraine.
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Warning to North Korea
"By the 2030s the United States will, for the first time in its history, face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors and potential adversaries," the document says.
It emphasises the importance of modernising US strategic assets while scrapping a submarine-launched nuclear cruise missile programme and saying a type of obsolete nuclear bomb will be retired.
The document also contains a stark warning for Kim Jong-un against employing North Korea's growing nuclear arsenal.
"Any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of that regime.
There is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive," it says.
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