- Former Obama official Rich Hass recounted early transition meetings with the Trump administration in 2016.
- A member of Trump’s circle told Hass the US was in “an existential struggle” with China, and it was imperative they won.
- When they did, the Trump official continued, there would be “statues erected in our honor.”
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A former Obama official said that the Trump administration believed they’d do so well negotiating with China that there would be statues erected in their honor one day.
Ryan Hass, who served as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia at the National Security Council under President Obama, recounted the anecdote during the launch of his new book, “Stronger: Adapting America’s China Strategy in an Age of Competitive Interdependence.”
Hass recalled heading to Trump Tower in the days following the 2016 election in order to brief the incoming administration on the US’ China policy.
“The Trump administration had just been elected and they were refusing to receive any briefings from the Obama administration. They said they got it, they know what they need to know, they had a plan,” he said.
However, he continued, “the president and [National Security Adviser] Susan Rice were pretty adamant that they receive a briefing on China. And the instructions that we had were to not to try to put a spin on the ball, not to try to persuade them of anything, just to give them the facts so they knew what they would be inheriting.”
Hass then recounted how a Trump administration official responded to their debriefing.
“We got about five minutes into explaining how we’d gotten to where we were when the person across the table just put his hand up and said, ‘We got it. We’ve heard enough. We know what we need to know. The problem with you Obama guys is you don’t understand the United States and China are locked in an existential struggle that if the United States doesn’t win there may not be a United States in 50 or a hundred years. And we have to do everything we can to prevail, and when we do there will be statues built in our honor.'”
Trump pushed a trade war with China in the early months and years of his presidency, levying high tariffs on Chinese goods and advancing a series of restrictions and sanctions on China through the State and Justice departments.
Beijing retaliated by imposing sanctions on more than two dozen Trump officials and allies, including Mike Pompeo, Steve Bannon, and John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Later, as the coronavirus pandemic spread in early 2020, the president attempted to blame the virus outbreak on China.
“While there are no statues to be found, the Trump administration did succeed in erecting barriers to an Asia-Pacific strategy that can best achieve the US’ strategic objectives of economic fairness and human rights, addressing transnational challenges such as climate change and pandemics while mitigating risks of conflict,” Steven Okun, a senior advisor at McLarty Associates, and the host of the book launch, told Insider.
Hass said he was shocked by the official’s claim that China would erect statues in honor of the Trump administration.
The comment, he said, “provided an early indication that there would be a change in the way the United States would approach China.”