Remember China, China, China: acting United States defence chief Shanahan

In 2019 Trump will face greater pressure from the investigation by Robert Mueller

Chinese officials respond to a shift in policy direction at the Defense Department, under Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Mattis resigned after Trump's surprise decisions to withdraw all USA troops from Syria and half of the 14,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan.

Trump then asked rhetorically "What's he done for me?"

At a White House cabinet meeting Wednesday, Trump criticized Mattis' handling of the Afghanistan war, which he said was "not too good" despite additional funding and manpower commitments.

While White House officials have denied reports that Trump also has ordered half of the 14,000 USA troops in Afghanistan to come home, Trump made it clear he has run out of patience for what's become the longest United States war.

Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan took part in the Cabinet meeting. "We're not talking about vast wealth", Trump said. Trump says the USA should let the Taliban and Islamic State militants fight each other there.

Although on Dec 20, Trump released a glowing tweet announcing that Mattis was retiring "with distinction" at the end of February, he later changed his mind. Mattis said he would stay until the end of February, but on December 23 Trump announced that Shanahan would take over January 1, speeding up Mattis' departure.

David Norquist, the Pentagon's comptroller, will perform the duties of the deputy as well as retain his current title.

Shanahan told key Defense Department staff to focus on the National Defense Strategy, a broad review that highlights a new era of "Great Power competition" with Russian Federation and China.

But defense officials say he will represent some continuity from Mattis, since he helped craft the department's National Defense Strategy - which shifts the Pentagon's focus from counter-terrorism to great power competition with China and Russian Federation.

In that context, Shanahan said the Pentagon leaders should remember, "China, China, China", according to one official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss internal defense meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang tried to smooth over relations at a press conference Thursday, in response to Shanahan reportedly making efforts to counter Beijing as his top priority.

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