Reading the news about the recent US-China summit one thing strikes an eye. President Trump personally told President Xi Jinping about the airstrikes against Syria. He didn't hesitate to do it in the middle of the summit obviously sending a certain kind of message to the Chinese counterpart. According to Press-Secretary Sean Spicer, «The President informed President Xi that strikes were occurring as their dinner concluded». Donald Trump said the visit was a success and «progress» was made. He told reporters that his relationship with the Chinese president was «outstanding». Definitely, the timing for the air strikes was deliberately chosen. Was it an attempt to show who calls the shots in the contemporary world or did the US president demonstrate special respect?
In late March, Donald Trump said he expected the meeting to be to be «very difficult». It was not trade disputes only, the situation in the South China Sea and the problem of North Korea were expected to be hard problems to tackle, especially the US plans to deploy THAAD air defense systems in South Korea. North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea one day before Trump's summit meeting with China's President Xi Jinping.
The air strikes against a Syrian airfield were definitely a message regarding not the Middle East only but rather the US policy on the entire Asia. «China will either decide to help us with North Korea or they won't», Trump said in an interview published on April 2 in the Financial Times. «If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don't, it won't be good for anyone».
The US can use force in East Asia, too, and President Xi was the first world leader to be told about it. Thousands of US and South Korea troops are currently engaged in the Foal Eagle joint annual drills that finish on April 30.
Looking attentively at the statements and deeds of the US president, it becomes obvious that his policy on China has gone through changes since January-February, 2017. It’s no longer China wonks but Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, who defines it. Kushner organized the meeting with the Chinese leader in Florida's oceanfront Mar-a-Lago resort. He is seen by Chinese leaders as a person able to make sound judgments and having the president’s ear.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Kushner first made his influence felt in early February when he and Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, orchestrated a fence-mending phone call between President Trump and President Xi. During that exchange, Donald Trump pledged to abide by the four-decade-old «One China» policy on Taiwan, despite his earlier suggestion that it was up for negotiation.
In December, President Trump took a congratulatory call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen after his election victory. Now, the «One China» principle was confirmed during the summit. In return, the US president wants China to pressure North Korea into shutting down its nuclear and missile programs.
Despite the fact that North Korea was the front-and-center security issue on the table, no new «package arrangement» was announced at the end of President Xi’s visit. With all attention riveted on the airstrikes in Syria, the talks on North Korea policy ended with no significant breakthroughs. But the message was sent. True, attacking North Korea is dangerous because of its nuclear arsenal and the capability to strike Japan and South Korea, making the US involved in combat actions to defend the allies.
President Trump’s quick decision to strike Syria is to show that he is a person who can take a risk. He may also pin his hopes on China toughening its stance on North Korea because Beijing will not be happy with the US military presence in North Korea which shares a border with China.
Ahead of a meeting between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane, the president’s first choice for Secretary of Defense, told Fox News that the US is right to consider first-strike military action against Pyongyang. «We’re rapidly and dangerously heading towards the reality that the military option is the only one left when it comes to getting North Korea to denuclearize and not weaponized intercontinental ballistic missiles», the general explained. «But the Trump administration cannot accept a nuclear launch», he said. «We cannot rely on our missile-defense system to defeat it and expose the American people to a nuclear attack. Therefore if an ICBM attack was imminent the president would have to conduct a preemptive strike». Jack Keane also mentioned cutting off the supply of food and fuel to North Korea as possible measures to achieve the goal of regime change.
Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, warned that the United States «is prepared to do more» in response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons.
As Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president of the United States put it, «As we're sending a very clear message, and I think the message has been understood in Damascus, in Moscow, in North Korea, in Iran as well».
Forget about international law. The use of force is to become a norm. The message is clear: North Korea is next. Looks like the world is in for a big war.