- A former Obama official recounted early transition meetings with the Trump administration in 2016.
- He said a member of Trump’s circle told him the US was in “an existential struggle” with China.
- When the administration won, the Trump official said, there would be “statues built in our honor.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A former Obama official said Trump administration officials believed they would do so well negotiating with China that statues would be 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 Barack Obama, recently recounted the anecdote during a discussion 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 to brief the incoming administration on the US’s China policy.
“The Trump administration had just been elected, and they were refusing to receive any briefings from the Obama administration. They sort of said they got it, they know what they need to know, they have a plan,” he said.
“The president and Susan Rice were pretty adamant that they receive a briefing on China,” he said, referring to the national security advisor. “And the instructions that we had were not to put any spin on the ball, not to try to persuade them of anything, just to give them the facts so that they knew what they would be inheriting.”
Hass recounted how a Trump administration official responded to the briefing.
“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. And the problem with you guys, you Obama guys, is that you don’t understand that the United States and China are locked into an existential struggle, that if the United States doesn’t win there may not be any United States in 50 or 100 years, and so we have to do everything that we can to prevail, and when we do, there will be statues built in our honor.'”
President Donald Trump pushed a trade war with China early in his presidency, levying high tariffs on Chinese goods and advancing restrictions and sanctions on China through the State and Justice departments.
In January, Beijing imposed sanctions on more than two dozen Trump officials and allies, including Mike Pompeo, Steve Bannon, and John Bolton.
As the coronavirus 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’s 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 Trump official’s claim that China would erect statues in honor of the administration.
The comment, he said, “provided an early indication that there would be a change, a pretty sharp shift in the way the United States would approach China.”