WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump was set to label China a “strategic competitor” of the United States and pledge to advance his “America First” policy in a new national security strategy to be unveiled Monday, according to senior administration officials.
The strategy initiative, the first of its kind since Trump took office in January, says the U.S. has “the right to defend ourselves” from rising nuclear threats posed by North Korea, the officials told reporters Sunday.
Affirming that “America’s economic security is national security,” the strategy demands “fair and reciprocal” economic relations around the world, effectively urging China, Japan and other major trading partners to reduce their hefty goods trade surplus with the U.S.
Stressing that America First does not mean “America alone,” the strategy also calls for reform of the United Nations and NATO because the Trump administration believes in the importance of these institutions, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The strategy, to be released in a document following a speech by Trump, has four guiding principles — protecting the homeland, promoting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing American influence.
It will be the first time that a new U.S. administration has presented a national security strategy in its first year, and no president has rolled it out with a speech before, one of the officials noted.
The strategy identifies “revisionist powers” that seek to shape a world contrary to international values and norms, “rogue regimes” that threaten their neighbors with their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and transnational terrorist organizations as three problems for U.S. security.
“The strategy refers to China as a strategic competitor because China competes effectively across political, economic, military, information domains in ways probably not duplicated by our other competitors,” another official said.
While pointing to the need to address intellectual property violations by China and other outstanding issues between the world’s two biggest economies, the document spells out areas of mutual cooperation, for example, in their efforts to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons.
“So it’s not mutually exclusive,” the second official said. “We’re working with them to cooperate while acknowledging competition as well.”
The official identified Russia and China as revisionist powers forcing a shift in the regional status quo, citing Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and Beijing’s militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
China has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than one-third of global trade passes.
China’s attempts to force a shift in the status quo in the disputed waters have drawn international condemnation. Beijing has also refused to comply with last year’s international tribunal ruling that invalidated the country’s claims across almost the entire sea.
Referring to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, the official said the document makes clear that “we have the right to defend ourselves” but stops short of asserting Washington has the right to take pre-emptive military action against Pyongyang.
Tensions have been running high since North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September as part of an effort to develop a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of hitting the mainland U.S.
In November, North Korea test-launched a new type of ICBM it claims could carry a “heavy warhead” to anywhere in the U.S.
The Trump administration says it is keeping all options — including military action — on the table in dealing with the reclusive country.