Don’t shy away from standing up to China, US envoy urges

Donald Trump’s new national security strategy aims to give Australia and other allies in Asia greater self-confidence in standing up to China by vowing the United States is “not going anywhere”, his acting ambassador says.

The strategy, which President Trump released on Monday night Australian time, paints a stark picture of China as a strategic competitor to the US. Beijing and Moscow, it states, “challenge American power, influence and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity”.

James Carouso, the US charge d’affaires in Canberra, acknowledged the strategy was a “document of hyperrealism” that accepted the world was a very competitive place.

But he also stressed that it expressed a firm commitment to US alliances and to a continued US presence in Asia – a pledge that will be well-received in Canberra – despite some commentators’ assessments that the US will pull back from the region.

“It’s a full-throated endorsement of the idea that any comment about us pulling back from the region is not only exaggerated, it’s just wrong,” he said.

He said the US was seeking a co-operative relationship with China.

“But we believe neither ourselves nor our allies should shy away from speaking clearly and forthrightly about policies which we’re concerned about, including increased tension in the region,” he said.

The message to countries in the Indo-Pacific region included an “assurance that we are not going anywhere so perhaps they will feel a little bit more self-confident when they want to disagree with China on something”.

The release of the strategy comes a week after the Turnbull government unveiled its new laws to curb foreign interference, notably by China. Mr Carouso declined to comment on how these laws fit with the US strategy towards China. The US strategy raises the issue of Chinese theft of American intellectual property through universities – an issue that is also causing concern in Australia.

The 55-page document is the latest in the five-yearly national security strategies that the US Congress mandates each administration must release. It draws heavily on Mr Trump’s “America first” approach to foreign policy, though while it states allies should do more to help, it also emphasises the value of alliances to the US.

Mr Trump’s rhetoric, which has in the past castigated close allies for not doing enough, has caused nervousness in some Western capitals. Along with China, the strategy singles out Russia as a strategic headache, diverging noticeably from Mr Trump’s frequent reluctance to criticise the regime of Vladimir Putin.

Mr Carouso said neither Russia nor China had the strategic alliances that the US enjoyed, which gave it a huge advantage in magnifying its power in the world.

“This a document of hyperrealism. We can be co-operative, but the world is a very, very competitive place. This paper lays out clearly that the goal is to ensure that the global power tilts in favour of the US and its allies,” he said.

This would involve military and economic influence, “recognising that our competitors are trying to do the same thing”.

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