BEIJING – With President Xi Jinping safely out of the United States and no longer President Donald Trump's guest, China's state-run media on Saturday denounced the missile strike on Syria, which the U.S. president told Xi about during dinner.
Xinhua, the state news agency, called the strike the act of a weakened politician who needed to flex his muscles. Xinhua also said that Trump had ordered the strike to distance himself from Syria's backers in Moscow, to overcome accusations that he was "pro-Russia."
That unflattering assessment reflected China's official opposition to military interventions in the affairs of other countries. But it was also a criticism of Trump himself, whom Xi had hoped was a man China could deal with.
Chinese officials had feared that the two leaders' 24-hour encounter at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida might be marred by a campaign-style anti-China outburst from Trump. Instead, it was interrupted by the unexpected missile attack.
Some Chinese analysts viewed the strike's timing as no coincidence. Trump wants China to do more to deter the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea, its ally, and these analysts viewed the Syria attack as a reminder to Xi that the United States could also attack the North, if necessary.
The issue overshadowed meetings that U.S. and Chinese officials described as big-picture conversations on trade as well as North Korea. Both sides agreed that the North Korean threat had reached a "very serious" stage, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. He said the U.S. was prepared to take its "own course" if China did not do more to rein in the North.
But the official Chinese account of the talks in Xinhua did not mention North Korea — a burning issue for Trump, but less so for Xi. Analysts said the omission was probably intentional, a response to the attack on Syria.
The Chinese president rarely talks to the Chinese or foreign news media, making it almost impossible to determine his opinion. But Chinese analysts were scornful of the strike, which they viewed as a powerful country attacking a nation unable to fight back. And they rejected what they viewed as an unspoken American message equating Syria, which has no nuclear arsenal, with North Korea, which hopes to build one.
New York Times