White House press secretary Jen Psaki oddly said the Biden administration "welcomes stiff competition" when asked Monday about China testing hypersonic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
What is the background?
The Financial Times reported Saturday that U.S. intelligence officials were completely in the dark on the test, which took place in August.
China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise. Five people familiar with the test said the Chinese military launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle which flew through low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target.
The missile missed its target by about two-dozen miles, according to three people briefed on the intelligence. But two said the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realised.
"We have no idea how they did this," one official told Financial Times.
What did Psaki say?
When Psaki was asked about China's hypersonic missiles, she revealed the position of the Biden administration is: "We welcome stiff competition."
"We've made clear our concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue," Psaki explained. "And we have been consistent in our approach with China: We welcome stiff competition, but we do not want that competition to veer into conflict."
"And that is certainly what we convey privately as well," she added.
Republican lawmakers were quick to rebuke Psaki's remark.
"You welcome the competition? You don't say that. You tell China, 'Stand down or you will regret this,'" Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reacted on Fox News.
"And did [Biden] say 'Stand down'? No. He says, 'We welcome competition.' No, we do not welcome the Chinese Communist Party with a hypersonic missile that can hit the American homeland and neutralize all of our defenses," Graham added. "I don't welcome that."
Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) reacted to Psaki's remarks by saying, "Let me be clear: testing weapons such as these is a direct threat to us and our allies."
Psaki's perplexing comment underscores what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a "60 Minutes" interview that aired over the weekend.
Gates explained that former President Donald Trump correctly assessed the threat China poses to America, saying Trump "basically awakened Americans."
"I think this is a place where President Trump got it right. He basically awakened Americans — and I would say especially the business community — to a China that the assumptions about which we had gotten wrong," Gates admitted.
"The assumption for 40 years was that a richer China would be a freer China — and that's clearly not going to happen," Gates explained.
On the other hand, Gates reaffirmed a comment he made about President Joe Biden in 2014 in which he said Biden has been "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."