Source: Global Times Published: 2019-6-19
Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe (right) shakes hands with Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan during a meeting on the sidelines of the 18th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, in Singapore on May 31. Photo: Courtesy of China's Ministry of National Defense
The new acting US Defense Secretary will continue to carry out the country's hard-line stance on China, Chinese observers said, noting that China is not afraid of any US provocation.
US President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that Mark Esper, his current Army secretary, would lead the Defense Department on an acting basis.
Trump on Tuesday withdrew the nomination of Patrick M. Shanahan to be the permanent defense secretary.
The announcement also comes at a time when the US is clamping down on China in many aspects, which means the US won't readily alter its tough stance on defense and will continue to implement its Indo-Pacific strategy, said Peng Guangqian, a strategic studies expert at the Academy of Military Sciences.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Esper says he has been focused on Beijing's growing military might long before the Pentagon rolled out a National Defense Strategy in 2018 that prioritized competition with China and Russia on counter-insurgency in places like Afghanistan.
Esper was a Raytheon executive before being appointed the 23rd Secretary of the US Army in 2017. He is a graduate of the US Military Academy and served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, CNBC reported.
In the past years, the biggest military confrontation was between the naval and air forces of the US and China, other than ground forces, whose interaction is relatively stable.
Esper's acknowledgement on China is based on his background as a ground force leader, which means his stance might be tough but not necessarily extreme. It's not a big deal to hear some hard-line remarks from the mouth of a US politician, observers said.
Since Trump assumed office, he has frequently changed his defense head, from Mattis to Shanahan, and now Esper. Given his personal background and previous comments on China, Esper would be trickier to deal with than Mattis, and China shall closely watch his actions, said Diao Daming, an assistant professor at Renmin University of China.
The Trump administration has chosen someone to fulfill its vision, which is to remain in a hegemonic position and to consider China a threat, and Esper is that person, according to Peng.
Esper is considered trickier than Jim Mattis on China-US relations and defense, Chinese analysts said. They do not expect Esper to bring fundamental changes to US policy toward China, but whether Esper would be as extreme as Pompeo remains to be seen.
The US should be rational about China's rising military strength. China won't start a military confrontation, but it is also not afraid of provocations, they said.
Diao Daming is a research fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.