Politico reported on Tuesday that Joe Biden selected China hawk Ely Ratner to advise the incoming administration’s Pentagon chief on matters related to Beijing.
From his post at CNAS, Ratner led a congressionally mandated study on US policy in the Indo-Pacific titled “Rising to the China Challenge,” which was released in January 2020. The report outlined various ways the US could compete with China in the region, including military deterrence or a “combat-credible posture in the Indo-Pacific,” as the study put it.
The study calls for the US to help its allies in the region to build up their militaries to counter Beijing, with a focus on India. “The United States should pay particular attention to supporting India’s efforts to pose military dilemmas for China,” the report reads.
Since a border stand-off between India and China in the Himalayas led to a deadly skirmish, the US has stepped up military cooperation with New Delhi and is now helping India keep an eye on Chinese troops near the disputed border. Increased military support for India was also prioritized in a China strategy that was signed off by President Trump in 2018 and recently declassified by his administration.
Despite President Trump’s hardline policies towards Beijing, Ratner thinks Trump was too soft on China. In September 2020 Ratner co-authored an op-ed titled “Trump Has Been Weak on China, and Americans Have Paid the Price.”
Ratner’s appointment is likely an effort to please China hawks in Congress who are not happy with Retired Gen. Army Lloyd Austin, Biden’s pick for secretary of defense. China hawks have said Austin does not have enough experience when it comes to Beijing, although he promised to keep a “laser-like focus” on China during confirmation hearings on Tuesday.
Sources told Politico that Ratner will initially serve as a special advisor to the secretary of defense on China matters. The position could eventually lead to him being nominated to head Indo-Pacific affairs in the Pentagon.
From 2011 to 2012, Ratner worked at the State Department in the office of Chinese and Mongolian affairs. From 2015 to 2017, he served as then-Vice President Joe Biden’s deputy national security advisor.