WASHINGTON: Fact. China controls 90 percent of the world’s trade with North Korea. When President Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar a Lago club there was, “frank recognition that China does have a great deal of control — a great deal of control over that situation, mainly through the coercive power associated with their economic relationship.”
That’s what the president’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said today at the annual conference of the Center for a New American Security. H.R. seemed to be both signaling China that it should act and use those levers, and telling us that the Chinese president made pledges on which he hasn’t yet acted.
McMaster cast Xi’s meeting as a “shift in Chinese thinking.” But he also said, “this is something that is not going to be decided in the next couple of days or weeks.” So there may have been a shift but we don’t have anything concrete to show for it yet, seems to be the bottom line.
On the issue of Russia and its meddling in other countries’ elections, McMaster made the intriguing announcement that countering this “is a big part of the National Security Strategy we are developing for the president.” He didn’t really offer any details but said the new strategy would offer a “broad range of tools.” He did acknowledge that, “we need to become more effective at competing against adversaries and confronting them not just on physical battlegrounds, but on battlegrounds of perception and information in cyberspace…”
The most intriguing response we heard from H.R., for whom most national security types are rooting to both do his job with integrity and guide President Trump through the complex thickets of international security, came in response to a question by Michele Flournoy, head of CNAS.
“How do you ensure,” Flournoy asked, “that dissent gets heard?” Trump is, after all, famously uninterested in detail, asking for very short summaries of policy options and events. And he’s not exactly famous for encouraging his advisors to present him with views that do not match his own. “I think,” said Flournoy, who knows whereof she speaks, “that’s probably one of the greatest burdens on your shoulder, to make sure the president gets that diversity of advice.”
McMaster just said they’ve got a very good process in place (a process detailed at some length by NSC staffer Chris Ford yesterday) and noted that the members of Trump’s Cabinet are not “shrinking violets.” While we all understand his reluctance to delve too deeply into just how he advises the president, a lot of America’s friends have made clear they could use some reassurance that Trump doesn’t just have an opinion and then tweet his decision.