Why US Syrian Strike Signals Dramatic Shift in Trump’s Asia Pacific Strategy

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The US missile strike on the Syrian airfield sent a signal to Beijing that Washington has shifted its focus to the Middle Eastern theater from East Asia, South Korean experts told Sputnik, expressing confidence that the US won’t attack North Korea in the near future.

Helicopters fly from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a resupply mission with the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in this U.S. Navy handout picture taken in the Gulf of Oman April 13, 2015 and released April 20, 2015

The US missile attack on the Shayrat Air Base in Syria indicates that the Trump administration has shifted its focus from the Asia Pacific region to the Middle East, South Korean experts told Sputnik, adding that it is unlikely that Washington will strike on North Korea.Jeong Jaeheung, Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Security Strategy Studies, the Sejong Institute, drew historical parallels between US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy and the Bush administration’s pivot to the Middle East.

“The George W. Bush administration shifted its foreign policy focus to the Middle East after the September 11 attacks. It played directly into the hands of China,” Jeong told Sputnik Korea.

“After the US foreign policy vector was turned towards the Middle East, China was able to concentrate on its economy and to make good progress; on the other hand, American enterprises were able to gain ground in China’s market,” the academic elaborated.

He believes that Trump can deliver on its promise to improve welfare of ordinary Americans by developing close economic ties with China. Jeong called attention to the fact that the recent meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were hailed as a success by Chinese media.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump had their first meeting at the latter’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday and Friday. China’s Foreign Ministry describes it as a “deep-going, friendly, long-time” session, which is also deemed by both sides as positive and fruitful. To the rest of the world, it serves as a paragon,” Chinese media outlet Global Times reported on April 10.

Jeong noted that Trump was elected as a leader who pledged to solve the problem of jobs and trade deficit. While the US President vowed to achieve results within the first 100 days following his inauguration, he has yet to deliver on his promise, the Korean academic highlighted.For his part, Xi Jinping proposed a 100-day plan to Trump aimed at solving China’s surplus in trade through investing $1 trillion in US infrastructure and goods.

“As for other important issues — the South China Sea, North Korea and other issues of politics and security, the parties exchanged views and, without mutual clashes and claims, retained the existing strategic positions,” Jeong told Sputnik.

“The attack against Syria during the US-Chinese negotiations meant a shift from the problems of East Asia — a preemptive strike against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the South China Sea — to the Middle East,” he believes.

Lee Sanghyeon of the Sejong Institute echoes his counterpart.

Both academics expressed doubts that the US will conduct a missile strike against Pyongyang, responding to concerns over reports that the US aircraft carrier-led strike group is now heading toward the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrives for an annual joint military exercise called Foal Eagle between South Korea and U.S, at the port of Busan, South Korea, March 15, 2017.
U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrives for an annual joint military exercise called “Foal Eagle” between South Korea and U.S, at the port of Busan, South Korea, March 15, 2017.

“To carry out a preemptive strike against the DPRK, one needs a clear assessment of the nuclear potential of North Korea, which is not yet available,” Lee told Sputnik.

(File) Chinese chief nuclear envoy Wu Dawei (L) is greeted by South Korea's Foreign Minister Yoon Byung-se (R) during his visit to the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on February 29, 2016

“If one attacks North Korea, one will need to target nuclear facilities and missile bases in the first place, and it is very difficult, since some of them are placed underground, and some are mobile, which makes it hard to find them,” Lee noted.The question then arises how Beijing would react to the potential US strike against Pyongyang. According to Jeong, one can’t guarantee that China will stand up for North Korea like in the time of the Korean War (1950-1953).

“If the US launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, one shouldn’t expect that [Beijing] will provide their 100% support to the Koreans as in the time of the Korean war,” the academic believes.

“In the event of the collapse of the DPRK, China will intervene only after weighing its benefits and strategic interests,” he said.

However, Jeong remarked that if Washington attacks North Korea unexpectedly, without notifying Beijing of its plans, “China will give a strong response [to the US].”

via Sputnik News