China has denounced the United States government for what it calls its Cold War and zero-sum mentality in its latest national defence strategy, which named China and Russia as "revisionist powers" that "seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models".
In presenting the new strategy, Defence Secretary James Mattis said: "We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security."
The 2018 US National Defence Strategy (NDS) released on Friday said China and Russia sought to shape the world in their authoritarian image and erode American influence, language similar to the US National Security Strategy put out last month.
China is also referred to as "a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbours while militarising features in the South China Sea", a characterisation that drew a backlash from Chinese officials.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington told Xinhua news agency that China seeks global partnerships rather than global hegemony, and used a Chinese phrase that meant one's mentality determines how one sees the world.
"Peace and development are the themes of this era, and are also the shared aspirations of mankind," the spokesman told reporters on Friday evening. "However, if some people look at the world through a Cold War, zero-sum game mindset, then they are destined to see only conflict and confrontation."
Mr Mattis said the US is simply recognising reality, and that "this is not a strategy of confrontation, but it is strategy that recognises the reality of competition".
The unclassified version of the NDS said long-term, strategic competition with China and Russia "are the principal priorities for the Department (of Defence), and require both increased and sustained investment, because of the magnitude of the threats they pose to US security and prosperity today, and the potential for those threats to increase in the future".
Chinese nationalistic tabloid Global Times slammed the NDS in an opinion piece, and said US unease stems from it no longer being able to pressure China on its core interests in the Western Pacific, "the way it can scare smaller countries".
"Once it departs from cooperation with China, the US will find that the costs of maintaining its global interests will get higher and higher," it said.
While the NDS serves as a guidepost for US military development in coming years, the Pentagon has used past versions to secure bigger defence budgets from Congress, experts told China Daily yesterday.
Mr Dov Zakheim, senior fellow at CNA Corporation and former US under-secretary of defence from 2001 to 2004, said: "If you don't come up with a strategy, you are never going to justify getting the money."
He noted that there is a nuanced difference in how China and Russia were referred to in the NDS: China was not explicitly called an adversary, likely because of the significant trade relationship.
"We have a stake in each other's economy. Therefore, if their economy goes down, that doesn't help us. If our economy goes down, that doesn't help them. So it's a more nuanced relationship," he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking through an interpreter at a news conference in the United Nations, said the US was using a confrontational approach.
"It is regrettable that instead of having a normal dialogue, instead of using the basis of international law, the US is striving to prove their leadership through such confrontational strategies and concepts," he said. "We're open for dialogue, we're prepared to discuss military doctrines."
Associate Professor Li Mingjiang from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told The Sunday Times that the latest NDS shows the US has adopted a new posture towards China that might result in tougher policies in areas where the two sides disagree.
China yesterday accused the US of violating its sovereignty when a US warship came within 12 nautical miles of Huangyan Island, or Scarborough Shoal, in the South China Sea last week. The US has criticised China for building military installations in the disputed waters, and occasionally conducts what it calls freedom of navigation patrols in the region.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China "firmly opposes" efforts to use freedom of navigation as an excuse to hurt its sovereignty and urges the US to "correct its mistakes".
Prof Li said America's new posture partially reflects its shift in priorities, as the threat of global terrorism has lessened with a dismantled Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS), while the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan has remained stable.
But he added that it is unclear whether the tougher posture will translate into action on the ground, such as greater US military presence in the Asia-Pacific, as resources remain an issue.
President Donald Trump "is more interested in domestic affairs and less keen to expand US international influence", he said. "I don't yet see a strong desire on the part of Trump to enhance American predominance in the Asia-Pacific."