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Yasushi Tomiyama

【#495】No Long-term China Strategy Found in Trump’s Address

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2018.02.07 (Wed)

February 5, 2018

     In his State of the Union address on January 30, U.S. President Donald Trump cited “rogue regimes” of North Korea and Iran, “terrorist groups” such as the Islamic State and “rivals” like China and Russia as those that challenge the United States. However, he failed to specifically criticize China’s hegemonic behaviors. In this sense, the address was disappointing.

U.S. naming “rivals”
     In the National Security Strategy released by the White House last December and the National Defense Strategy released by the Defense Department earlier in January, the Trump administration positioned China and Russia as “revisionist powers” attempting to reshape world order and declared that the United States’ primary concern now is not terrorism but strategic competition with China and Russia. To what extent does President Trump himself share this recognition of the longer-term threat?
     Trump commendably named China and Russia as rivals. However, he immediately turned to defense spending increase and nuclear arsenal modernization without mentioning China further. In contrast, Trump tried to emphasize the depraved character of North Korea representing a rogue regime by inviting the parents of a young American who died soon after being released in a coma from a North Korean prison and a North Korean defector holding crutches to the gallery of the House Chamber where the president delivered the address.
     North Korea on the brink of completing nuclear missiles capable of reaching the continental U.S. is undoubtedly an imminent threat to the United States. Another urgent challenge for the United States may be to prevent Islamic State terrorists from spreading throughout the world after being almost expelled from strongholds in Syria and Iraq. As a U.S. ally facing China’s threat, however, Japan should be concerned that the U.S. president focused on imminent threats but not talked about a national strategy with an eye on the United States’ global rivalry with China.

Looking ahead three decades
     At the Chinese Communist Party’s Congress last October where President Xi Jinping entered his second term as general secretary, the rival of President Trump unveiled China’s national strategy looking ahead two to three decades, declaring that China would almost complete the modernization of military forces by 2035 and establish a world-class military and a modernized strong socialist nation with the world’s top overall national strength and international influence by the middle of this century.
     In response, the Pentagon in its National Defense Strategy warned that China “seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.” Such a sense of crisis was not found in Trump’s State of the Union address that was filled with self-congratulation of his first-year achievements as president.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.