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Russia and China object to new ‘America First’ security doctrine

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Chinese and Russian officials on Tuesday pushed back against President Trump’s characterization of their countries as threats to the United States in his national security address in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

By Andrew E. Kramer New York Times 

MOSCOW — Officials in Russia and China pushed back on Tuesday against the characterization of their countries as threats to the United States in a new national security doctrine published by the White House a day earlier.

A spokesman for the Kremlin criticized President Trump’s foreign policy strategy as having an “imperialist character” while the Chinese Embassy in Washington suggested that the document’s theme of “America First” reflected “outdated, zero-sum thinking.”

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Every US administration is obliged to publish its national security strategy, providing Congress with a blueprint for its intended policies around the world. The 68-page doctrine the White House released Monday described Russia and China as “revisionist” powers for seeking a change in the US-led world order.

“After being dismissed as a phenomenon of an earlier century, great power competition returned,” the document says. Russia and China, it says, “are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.”

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, responded with the long-practiced Kremlin argument that the world would be a safer place if there were several powerful countries that could keep one another in check.

The doctrine, he said, showed America’s continuing “aversion to the multipolar world.”

But Peskov also noted some recent instances of security cooperation, as did Trump in a speech about the new doctrine that took a softer line on Russia than the document did.

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In that speech Monday, Trump made no mention of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which US intelligence agencies concluded was intended to help him win. He focused instead on a phone call on Sunday from Putin, who thanked him for information the CIA had provided to the Russian security services that helped them foil a terrorist plot in St. Petersburg.

Peskov also praised that tip as an “ideal example” of security cooperation.

And given the toxic view of Russia in Washington these days, several Russian foreign policy experts breathed a sigh of relief at the mere “revisionist” label.

It could have been worse, Yuri Rogulyov, director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Foundation for the Study of the United States, at Moscow State University, told the Business FM radio station.

“The very idea of a ‘revisionist power’ is a departure from the position of Congress, which included Russia in the same lineup with Iran and North Korea — that is, among the rogue nations,” Rogulyov said.

The new doctrine’s recognition of Russia as a rising power is an improvement over the views of previous administrations, Sergei Karaganov, a periodic Kremlin adviser on foreign policy, said in an interview. “Obviously, the new order is emerging,” he said.

The Chinese response to Trump’s speech accused the United States of succumbing to “outdated zero-sum thinking.”

“On the one hand, the US government claims that it is attempting to build a great partnership with China,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington said in a statement. “On the other hand, it labels China as a rival.”

“We call on the United States to abandon its outdated zero-sum thinking, and work together with China to seek common ground and engage in win-win cooperation,” the embassy said in its statement. “Therefore we can jointly build a global community with a shared future for mankind, featuring common prosperity and development.”

Those criticisms were echoed by Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Beijing. She said at a regular briefing Tuesday that the two nations had common goals, and that they needed to be respectful of each others’ interests.

“It is futile for any country to distort the facts or to smear China,” Hua said. “We urge the US side to stop distorting China’s strategic intentions and to abandon Cold War thinking and a zero-sum mind-set, otherwise it would only harm both sides.”

Trump has cultivated a warm relationship with China’s president, Xi Jinping, as he tries to enlist Beijing’s help to confront the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, China’s longtime ally.

But that relationship has been tested by Trump’s efforts to reduce the trade imbalance with China, with the United States expected to impose tariffs on products like Chinese solar panels in the coming months.

The United States and China share one of the world’s biggest trading relationships and cooperate in areas from clean energy to public health. But Beijing sees Washington as an obstacle to its ambitions to be East Asia’s dominant power, and strains over Taiwan, trade, technology policy, and the South China Sea are growing.

US officials are uneasy about Beijing’s rising military spending, already the second-highest behind Washington.

They see Xi’s ‘‘Belt and Road Initiative,’’ a project to build railways and other infrastructure across countries from Asia to Europe and Africa, as part of efforts to erode American influence and nurture a China-centered political structure.