While Washington is locked in tough trade talks with Beijing, China is also on the mind of the acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan who reportedly told civilian leaders at the Pentagon to focus on the country .
Less than two days on the job, Shanahan – previously deputy defense secretary to James Mattis, who departed on Monday – told the leaders to remain “focused on ongoing operations” but “remember ‘China, China, China,’” an anonymous official told Reuters.
The official did not elaborate on Shanahan’s views on China, but said the acting SecDef told the leaders to follow the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy guidance when it comes to Beijing.
The strategy, written by Mattis, described China as “predatory” and a “strategic competitor” that, along with Russia, wants to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model.”
“Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department, and require both increased and sustained investment,” the strategy continued.
Shanahan’s reminder is not a radical shift in priority for the Pentagon. Tension between Washington and Beijing has been steadily ratcheting up in recent years, marked by naval confrontations in the South China Sea and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from US officials.
Both Trump and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have accused China of attempting to meddle with American elections, while then-CIA director Mike Pompeo said in July 2017 that Beijing poses the largest threat to US power, noting that the Chinese see “themselves as a rival superpower” and are on a mission to “reduce the relative power of the United States vis-à-vis their own country.”
On the Chinese side, the country’s government rubbished claims of election interference last year, but did little to downplay its military ambitions in its immediate region. President Xi Jinping demanded the US Navy cease “provocative actions” in the South China Sea late last year, and told the country’s military to get “prepared for war,” without elaborating further.
President Xi also said on Wednesday that Taiwan – currently an autonomous state – “must and will be” reunited with China, and that his government will take “all necessary measures” to make this happen.
With military threats bandied about, things are not looking much better on the economic front, with China and the US spending much of 2018 locked into a trade war. Trump, however, remains upbeat about resolving the trade dispute.
The president told reporters on Wednesday that negotiations with China are coming along “very well.” Both countries agreed at last month’s G20 summit to refrain from rolling out new tariffs for 90 days as delegates scramble to reach a deal and end the trade war.
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