The analysis of the U.S. National Security Strategy report is unambiguous: Russia and China are rivals of the United States. However, President Trump’s actions are not entirely consistent with this assessment.
The tone toward China and Russia is clear and harsh. In the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy, both countries are categorized as “revisionist powers” that want to “challenge American power, influence, and interests” and attempt “to erode American security and prosperity.” These are harsh words to which Beijing and Moscow have reacted in kind.
Russia in particular gets its comeuppance, as it “aims to weaken U.S. influence in the world and divide us from our allies and partners.” Moreover, Russian nuclear weapons are “the most significant existential threat to the United States.”
In the 68-page document, China is accused of having “expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others,” as well as of data theft, trade deficits and “features of its authoritarian system.” But there is more: The report mentions both countries in the same breath as North Korea and Iran.
This Is about China’s Communist Party and Putin
Harsh words, fully accurate in the context of strategic analysis, with the necessary distinctions. Russia basically stands for Putin, an autocrat who cultivates a network of dependencies. He is propped up by the secret services, by oligarchs and by the military. The China that is criticized in the security report stands for the Communist Party, a strict Leninist organization that controls China’s society and economy and is currently led by Xi Jinping.
The authors of the report, who work in the United States National Security Council under H.R. McMaster, tried to blend Trump’s “America First” rhetoric with this realpolitik. However, that also led to some confusion. The report states that China is attempting to push America out of the Indo-Pacific region, to further expand its economic model and rearrange the area according to its ideas.
That is contradicted by the fact that last year in January, President Trump had already rescinded U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade zone agreement, which would have been exactly the kind of instrument that could have restrained China. However, Trump strictly rejects multilateral trade agreements; they go against his idea of creating jobs at home – “America First.”
Realpolitik and Trump’s Interpretation of Politics
According to the NSS report, Russia wants to restore its superpower status and is trying to destabilize democratic states through information technology. Nevertheless, Trump denies that such interference took place in his very own country during the U.S. presidential election in 2016, despite his intelligence agencies telling a completely different story.
It is evident that this is where realpolitik and Trump’s own interpretation of politics diverge. Thus far, his attitude toward China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping has been almost admiring. Trump emphasizes the “great chemistry” between Xi and him. The media were already calling it a “bromance” after the first meeting. With Putin, he acts chummy. He has recently thanked him for honoring America’s strong economic development in his yearly press conference. In return, Putin thanked Trump for the CIA’s help in preventing terrorism. Moreover, during the unveiling of the National Security Strategy, the U.S. president stated that he wants to “build a great partnership” with Russia as well as with China.
On the other hand, China and Russia, being “revisionist powers,” are now officially America’s rivals. There is, therefore, a great discrepancy between the language employed in the report and Trump’s words to Xi and Putin. It could have something to do with the fact that Trump is hoping for help from Moscow and Beijing in solving the North Korea problem. However, alternating bromance and harsh criticism is not necessarily going to make the U.S. president credible in the eyes of China and Russia.