After 18 months of treating North Korea as the top national security threat, President Trump has increasingly turned his attention to China, taking a more confrontational approach that experts said shows a risky shift in U.S. policy.
Last week, Trump cited the Chinese military as the rationale for creating a new “Space Force” at the Pentagon, and injected China into the specter of foreign influence of U.S. elections. “All of the fools that are so focused on looking only at Russia should start also looking in another direction, China,” the president wrote, without offering evidence of any Chinese conspiracy.
Analysts said the rise in hostility suggests that Trump and his advisers have come to view the communist nation as a malign power and direct competitor and adversary whose expanding influence must be blunted through more extreme countermeasures.
Trump had talked tough on China throughout his campaign, but he pulled back after taking office and inviting Xi to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in the spring of 2017. But the president has soured on Beijing as his bid to force Pyongyang to live up to commitments made with leader Kim Jong Un in a nuclear summit in Singapore has faltered. As Trump’s relationship with Kim has appeared to enter an uneasy detente, analysts suggested the president sees China as a convenient political foil to juice his domestic political base.
“The Trump administration is trying surgery with a chain saw in making threats and demanding unconditional surrender,” said Daniel Russel, an analyst at the Asia Society who served as a top Asia policy official in the Obama administration.