Trump’s pick for defense secretary called worrisome
US president-elect Donald Trump’s choice of James Mattis, a retired general with a reputation as a hard-liner, as secretary of defense might lead to more uncertainty and confrontation in China-US military ties, Chinese experts said.
Trump has officially nominated the former four-star Marine Corps general as head of the Pentagon, making him the first general to run the Pentagon since George Marshall in 1950.
Mattis adds another staunch conservative to Trump’s list of Cabinet nominees and highlevel advisers, including Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Mike Pompeo as CIA director.
Mattis has been critical of the Obama administration’s security policies toward China, according to his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015.
“While our efforts in the Pacific to keep positive relations with China are well and good, these efforts must be paralleled by a policy to build the counterbalance if China continues to expand its bullying role in the South China Sea and elsewhere,” Mattis said, adding that the US should buildmorenaval power and warships.
By law, however, the Pentagon chief needs to be retired from active service for at least seven years, a measure meant to ensure civilian control of the military. Mattis retired in 2013, so he would need a special wavier from Congress, which is likely to be granted with Republicans controlling the Congress and Marshall setting a precedent.
Trump is “running the United States like a company”, building a Cabinet full of loyal conservatives “capable of pushing a US-centered agenda against the interests of other nations,” said Teng Jianqun, the director of US studies at the China Institute of International Studies.
Since Trump has not been inaugurated yet, he might take advantage of this “safe period” to keep pushing China and breaking traditions without a major political backlash, Teng said. China must take Trump’s incoming administration more seriously and be prepared for anything, Teng added.
Ma Gang, a professor from the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, called Mattis a man with brawn and brain, but who also is famous for holding decadelong grudges against Iran and other US adversaries. His appointment as the US military’s second in command may lead to more friction with China, Ma said.