December 19, 2017 3:39 am JST  (Updated December 19, 2017 5:56 am JST)

Trump strategy brands China, Russia 'revisionist' powers

President names North Korea and Iran as rogue regimes

TSUYOSHI NAGASAWA, Nikkei staff writer

President Trump says "extraordinary strength" will lead to "long and extraordinary peace." © AP

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump promised Monday to protect American interests against foreign rivals that challenge them, including the "revisionist" powers of China and Russia seeking to change the global status quo.

"Our new strategy is based on a principle, realism, guided by our vital, national interests and rooted in our timeless values," Trump said in a speech laying out his first national security strategy.

The roughly 70-page document, released that day, is centered on four pillars: protecting the homeland, promoting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence. It reverses predecessor Barack Obama's focus on dialogue and diplomacy and promotes a world order backed by military power.

"Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in a new era of competition," Trump said.

"The American people rejected the failures of the past," he said. "You rediscovered your voice and reclaimed ownership of this nation and its destiny."

The document brings foreign policy back closer to the neoconservative vision advocated in the 2000s by then-President George W. Bush. Bush embraced such moves as pre-emptive strikes on terrorist groups, as well as unilateral military action.

The concept of peace through strength lies at the heart of Trump's approach. Cold War-era Republican President Ronald Reagan also sought to counter the Soviet Union and other threats to the U.S. by bolstering its military and ramping up pressure. The Trump administration plans to fatten the defense budget by more than 10% in fiscal 2018 to roughly $700 billion.

On the list of potential threats against U.S. interests are international terrorist organizations, "rogue" regimes like North Korea and Iran, and Russia and China, which are branded as "revisionist" powers that seek to alter the status quo. North Korea, for example, is working on an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach anywhere in the U.S. China is militarizing the South China Sea, while Russian involvement in Ukraine continues. Trump looks to curb such threats through military might and to boost the American presence in the Chinese and Russian spheres of influence.

On promoting prosperity, Trump promises to reduce the U.S. trade deficit through increased pressure on China and other trading partners. The document identifies "economic aggression," a likely reference to China, as a threat to the country and promises efforts toward fair and mutually beneficial trade relationships.

To advance American influence, the Trump administration is focusing on such principles as the rule of law and human rights. It sees the travel ban on certain Muslim-majority nations and a planned wall on the Mexican border as key aspects of protecting the homeland and will work to prevent terrorist attacks and improve public safety.

The new strategy also addresses the importance of cooperating with Washington's traditional allies, even while demanding that they shoulder a fair burden. Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, helped draft this section based on conversations with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who value pragmatic, global partnerships.

Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon said the administration believes it crucial to strengthen ties with allies in every region, according to Katsuyuki Kawai, an adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who met with Bannon on Monday in Tokyo. Japan is particularly eager to see greater American involvement in Asia, given the growing tensions in the region over North Korea's nuclear and missile development. Washington's seemingly waning economic and military influence there had been a concern for Japan.

Trump had initially said that America cannot be the world's policeman, refusing to intervene in international conflicts. His actions since say otherwise. The president's diplomatic and security positions often contradict each other, and the American media say other countries will judge U.S. foreign policy based on Trump's actions.

"A key aspect of U.S. foreign policy will be managing the challenges stemming from [the unpredictability of] Mr. Trump," said Akihiko Yasui of the Mizuho Research Institute.

"Past administrations had also aimed to increase American clout in regions where China and Russia wield significant influence, so the newest strategy does not represent a significant change," said Heigo Sato, vice president of the Institute of World Studies at Takushoku University.

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