Right after becoming acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan told the Pentagon on Wednesday that it needed to be aware of the threat China poses and make it their priority, according to a U.S. defense official.
“While we’re focused on ongoing operations acting Secretary Shanahan told the team to remember China, China China,” the official added, relaying comments from Shanahan made during a special meeting of all the military service secretaries and the undersecretaries of defense.
The new defense secretary made the remarks just hours before his meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House during which the President blasted former Defense Secretary James Mattis and the ongoing U.S. military missions in Syria and Afghanistan.
“What’s he done for me? How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. Not too good. I’m not happy with what he’s done in Afghanistan and I shouldn’t be happy,” the President said of Mattis, adding that he had “essentially” fired the retired general.
Mattis resigned recently as a result of President Trump’s move to withdraw all the troops from Syria, a decision made against the advice of his closest and most senior military advisers.
Focusing on the threat posed by China, rather than on Syria or Afghanistan, is a sign that Shanahan is seeking an issue where the President’s views are more aligned with those reflected in the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy.
The President’s administration has lately seen its relationship with China shatter and has made efforts to counter what it sees as Beijing’s attempts to militarize disputed areas in the South China Sea and conduct espionage.
Shanahan said in a message posted on Twitter that “in 2019, the National Defense Strategy remains our guide. America’s military strength remains our focus.”
During the cabinet meeting, the new defense secretary also noted that the Defense Department was helping secure the southern border and is working closely with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and her department.