Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon delivered an unusually positive speech in China Tuesday.
“There isn’t a world leader [President Donald Trump] respects more than the President of China,” Bannon explained at an investment event in Hong Kong, according to Channel News Asia correspondent Wei Du.
Trump hammered China on the campaign trail, but he softened his tone after he entered the Oval Office. After Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in April, the president spoke very highly of his Chinese counterpart. “He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well,” Trump said later that month.
As the North Korea threat has grown more serious with the regime’s successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile and a staged thermonuclear device, Trump’s frustration with China has resurfaced. The Trump administration has increasingly targeted Chinese strategic interests, from the South China Sea to bilateral trade.
Trump, however, has continued to show his admiration for China’s president, stating in July that “he’s a very talented man. I think he’s a very good man. He loves China, I can tell you. He loves China. He wants to do what’s right for China.”
Bannon also spoke in positive terms about China during his speech, even going so far as to state that the Chinese “way of running their economic system is quite brilliant.”
The former White House official’s comments are surprising given the extremely hawkish rhetoric on China that he normally expresses.
“We’re at economic war with China,” he said in an August interview with The American Prospect. “One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years, and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path.”
“The economic war with China is everything,” Bannon said. “And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”
Bannon was expected to deliver a speech that was noticeably anti-China. In an interview on the themes of the speech, Bannon made some characteristically-shocking statements.
“A hundred years from now, this is what they’ll remember — what we did to confront China on its rise to world domination,” he said, according to the New York Times. “China right now is Germany in 1930. It’s on the cusp. It could go one way or the other. The younger generation is so patriotic, almost nationalistic.”
He also criticized China’s economic model, arguing that “it is not sustainable.”
As Bannon has been a staunch critic of China, calling for more aggressive tactics to counter China’s rise, observers suspect that he was just trying to be polite in his Hong Kong speech.
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