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Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

  • In the interview, McChrystal said a nuclear-armed North Korea is still the most pressing national security threat — just as President Obama warned President-elect Trump in late 2016 — and "there's no negotiating them away" from being a nuclear power despite Trump's flashy efforts.

Asked whether it's too late for the U.S. to marshal Asian allies to deter China, McChrystal said, "I think that, if the ship hasn't sailed, it's certainly got up steam and thinking about sailing."

The big picture: McChrystal sounded the alarm about China's stealthy military buildup and signaled that the Biden administration cannot afford to be complacent about that dimension of the China threat.

  • "Their ability with rocketry and whatnot has essentially changed the dynamic," McChrystal said. China has touted hypersonic missiles that could sink a U.S. aircraft carrier.
  • He added that the U.S. must invest more in the capability of its forces and regional alliances, in part to forestall a move on Taiwan — a breakaway island that China claims.
  • "My concern would be, we wake up one morning and China has just done a fait accompli," he said. "They have just showered Taiwan with rockets."
  • The question then: "Are you really prepared to fight for Taiwan?"

Between the lines: Given his history, few might have expected McChrystal to endorse Biden, or become an informal adviser.

  • President Obama fired him in 2010 after a Rolling Stone reporter quoted McChrystal and his aides speaking disrespectfully about government officials, including then-Vice President Biden.
  • But as Rolling Stone now notes, Obama writes in his new memoir that he liked McChrystal and was conflicted about firing him.
  • Biden's team embraced McChrystal’s endorsement during the campaign.

What's next: The U.S. must invest in building a ring of Southeast Asian and other Asian allies, and it must think and act like an Asian power itself, McChrystal said.

  • When it comes to North Korea, he added: "The best you can do is a little bit like the Cold War, is, manage this thing."
  • Any war to stop them would be "very bloody," whether it had a nuclear component or not.

The bottom line: "I think there's enough of a possibility that over time, probably 20 years, you manage this thing a little bit like the fall of the Soviet Union," McChrystal said of North Korea.

Go deeper

China sanctions top Trump alumni one day after Uyghur genocide determination

Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

China's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday it would sanction 28 "anti-China" U.S. politicians, including a slew of top officials from the outgoing Trump administration such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Between the lines, via Axios China expert Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: Chinese government officials have traditionally decried the use of unilateral sanctions by Western countries, even though China regularly blocks foreign companies and individuals from its markets for perceived political slights.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

What Biden's top administration picks signal about his China strategy

Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Early indicators suggest the Biden administration may continue to pursue a robust China strategy that reaches across multiple government departments and agencies.

Why it matters: Though the Trump administration's approach to China was often controversial, there is broad bipartisan agreement that China poses a major challenge to U.S. interests and values.

Tech digs in for long domestic terror fight

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With domestic extremist networks scrambling to regroup online, experts fear the next attack could come from a radicalized individual — much harder than coordinated mass events for law enforcement and platforms to detect or deter.

The big picture: Companies like Facebook and Twitter stepped up enforcement and their conversations with law enforcement ahead of Inauguration Day. But they'll be tested as the threat rises that impatient lone-wolf attackers will lash out.