Just after President Donald Trump had dinner with Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, the American leader gave a televised address on why he ordered a targeted military strike on a Syrian Air Force base.
In his April 6 speech, Trump claimed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack that killed at least 70 innocent civilians on a rebel-held town three days prior.
The American president told Xi of the attack toward the end of the dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, say news reports.
According to Reuters, the decision was made in the afternoon after Trump held a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
President Xi and his entourage flew back to Beijing the next day having concluded the 2-day Mar-a-Lago summit that predominantly focused on trade issues, but included discussions on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Watch President Trump announce the military strike below in this video from The White House:
While Trump’s order to hit Assad’s air base have puzzled many because it contradicts many of his past statements about the conflict in Syria, numerous commentators agree the action sends a strong message to the Chinese leadership, especially to issues pertaining to nuclear-armed North Korea and Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea.
“Xi can’t fail to be impressed by Trump’s resolve,” Alan Dupont, an Australian military analyst, told The New York Times. “Xi will have to reassess what the Trump presidency means for Chinese interests in East Asia, particularly North Korea and the South China Sea.”
South China Sea and North Korea
Tensions between the two nations have been simmering over Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea.
Over the past several years, the Chinese have has been busy turning atolls and rocky outcrops into maritime outposts, some of which have been militarized. Around 3,000 acres of new territory have been built on seven reefs in the vast expanse of international water that Beijing claims as its own.
In December last year, the Chinese Navy stole an American submarine drone out of the water some 50 miles west off the Philippines.
More of a immediate concern, tensions on the Korean peninsula have ramped up in recent months with provocative ballistic missile tests by China’s allies in Pyongyang, resulting in Seoul’s deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
Beijing views the U.S. anti-missile system on South Korean soil as “undermining China’s strategic security.”
— Political Cartoons (@PolToons) April 7, 2017
Retired General Jack Keane told Fox News that President Trump is sending a message to the Chinese through the missile strike in Syria.
“He’s telling the Chinese that, listen, the North Koreans are trying to weaponize intercontinental ballistic missiles and the rhetoric is they will use them against my country and my people,” Keane said
“Don’t push me into a corner where I have to use a military option to deal with them. That would be horrific,” he said.
That would mean war on the Korean Peninsula.
“I think he’ll get the Chinese attention for sure, as a result of that. It’s not rhetoric. We’ve had rhetoric for eight years, with passivity, and no action,” he said referring to the former Obama administration.
China expert and author Gordon Chang told Fox that what is significant about the U.S. missile attack is that Syria is a good friend of Beijing.
“So basically, Donald Trump cut Xi Jinping down to size because Xi Jinping wanted to look strong and wanted to stand next to Donald Trump on the world stage,” said Chang. “This is important because Xi has the Communist Party 19th Congress coming up in a few months, and that is going to crucial for him to consolidate his political support. Trump just wrecked that for him,” he said.
Air strikes? What air strikes? A tiny, tiny news-in-brief about Trump's dinner-time Syria attack on page 11 of China's People's Daily today pic.twitter.com/la9MhLBMqW
— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) April 8, 2017
Chang believes that China will have to now reconsider how they are to deal with the United States going forward.
“They sort of felt that the United States was in terminal decline, have been pretty dismissive of the U.S. especially the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” said Chang.
“They have been giving the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force a really difficult time in China’s peripheral waters,” he said. “There have been dangerous intercepts, they have been telling us to leave. All of this has played out in the narrative that the U.S. is on the way out of Asia,” he added.
“That changed at 8:45 [p.m.] last night with that act of political will.”