Taking the reins at the Pentagon, the new defense chief sets his sights on China

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china military flagChina's national flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium, August 8, 2008. The stadium is also known as the Bird's Nest.Jerry Lampe/Reuters

  • Starting a new year, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has reportedly set the Pentagon's strategic focus on China.
  • Shanahan, previously the deputy defense secretary, took over from former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who resigned over policy differences with the president.
  • The new Pentagon chief has made it clear that he intends to use the National Defense Strategy, which stresses the threat posed by "great power competition," as his guide in the year ahead.

On his first day as acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan is emphasizing that China should be the Pentagon's main focus.

Aides say Shanahan, who is now leading the Pentagon following the departure of former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, called attention to China at a meeting Wednesday with the department's top civilian leaders, including the heads of the military services.

One aide told to the Associated Press that Shanahan said he is focused on the strategy written and implemented under Mattis, the strategy focusing on Russia and China as "great power" competitors.

"Acting Secretary Shanahan told the team to focus on the national defense strategy and to keep this effort moving forward," a US defense official explained to Reuters, "While we're focused on ongoing operations, acting Secretary Shanahan told the team to remember China, China, China."

Shanahan has, according to other officials, been a driving force for the Department of Defense's tough approach to Beijing. In a New Year's message on Twitter, the acting secretary of defense stated, "In 2019, the National Defense Strategy remains our guide. America's military strength remains our focus."

The National Defense Strategy puts greater emphasis on the challenges of strategic competition between great powers than international terrorism and other threats. China, in particular, has repeatedly been labeled the greatest long-term security challenge facing the United States.

Shanahan spent more than 30 years at Boeing before he became the deputy defense secretary in July 2017. He took control of the Department of Defense earlier this week as Mattis resigned over policy differences with President Trump.

"As acting secretary of defense, I now look forward to working with President Trump to carry out his vision," Shanahan wrote in his first message to the Pentagon.

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