China has denounced the United States government for its Cold War and zero-sum mentality as reflected in its new national defense strategy.
The 2018 US National Defense Strategy (NDS) unveiled on Friday named China and Russia as top threats to the US, just like the US National Security Strategy did last month.
“We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia are from each other. Nations that do seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday.
The unclassified version of the NDS released to the public singled out China and Russia multiple times.
“China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea,” the NDS said. “It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.”
The NDS claimed that China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage. “Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department,” the NDS said.
A spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Washington quoted a Chinese saying that one’s mentality will determine how they see the world. “If someone is always wearing dark glasses, they will never see a bright world,” the spokesman said in a statement to the press on Friday evening.
“Peace and development are the themes of this era, and are also the shared aspirations of mankind. However, if some people look at the world through a Cold War, zero-sum game mindset, then they are destined to see only conflict and confrontation,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said China and the US shoulder important responsibilities and have extensive common interests in upholding world peace and stability and promoting global development and prosperity.
“We hope that the US can align itself with the trend of the world and the will of the people, and put the world and China-US relations into the perspective of cooperation,” the spokesperson said.
“The NDS appears to be a pastiche of slogans masquerading as a strategy,” said Douglas Paal, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
He said many in the Washington establishment will welcome its endorsement of alliances, after Trump’s earlier criticisms. “Beyond that, however, what I see is a wish list for ways to regain global dominance without a roadmap to get there,” Paal said.
For years, the Pentagonhas used NDS to argue for a big defense budget from the US Congress. The US now spends more on its military than the spending of the next 10 countries combined.
Dov Zakheim, senior fellow at CNA Corporation and former undersecretary of defense from 2001 to 2004, said “if you don’t come up with a strategy, you are never going to justify getting the money”.
He noted that there is a nuanced difference between China and Russia when they are mentioned in the NDS.
“Russia is pretty much explicitly called an adversary. China, there is still a hedge to it. I think that there is a lot to do with the recognition that we are each other’s huge trading partners,” he said on Friday afternoon at a conference call organized by the Atlantic Council.
“We have a stake in each other’s economy. Therefore, if their economy goes down, that doesn’t help us. If our economy goes down, that doesn’t help them. So it’s a more nuanced relationship,” he said.
Zakheim said both China and the US are powerful countries and both want to avoid mistakes. “We need to be as modernized and as capable as possible, just like China feels it has to be,” he said.
He described the NDS language with Russia is tougher vis-à-vis China. “As long as China is willing to work with us, you are not going to see us being aggressive with China.”
Christine Wormuth, director of Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience at the Atlantic Council and former undersecretary of defense from 2014 to 2016, described the new strategy as largely a continuity of the various versions under the Obama administration, in particular its major focus on China and Russia as strategic competitors.
She noted that the unclassified version of the NDS emphasizes that the US continues to offer open opportunities for competitors and adversaries for cooperation but from a position of strength.
“I think this administration will seek to find opportunities to cooperate where it makes sense with China and even with Russia, but from a position of strength,” she told the conference call on Friday.