US unlikely to soften stance on China even with more moderate Robert O’Brien as national security adviser, analysts say


·         Robert O’Brien is less experienced that his predecessor so Donald Trump is expected to continue to drive foreign policy

·         But the new appointment has in the past warned against Beijing’s rapid rise and spoken in favour of Taiwan’s democracy


Laura Zhou, South China Morning Post (China) 

20 Sep, 2019


Washington’s tough policy stance on Beijing is unlikely to change following US President Donald Trump

’s naming of Robert O’Brien as his new national security adviser, observers say.


While the US State Department’s top hostage negotiator is a China hawk, O’Brien is considered less confrontational than his predecessor, John Bolton, who is widely reported to have disagreed with Trump on a range of policies, including Iran and North Korea.


Diplomatic observers in China said O’Brien’s selection suggested that Trump would remain the core decision-maker within his administration.


“O’Brien is much less experienced on foreign policy and national security compared with his predecessors like HR McMaster and Bolton, and much more low profile,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the Centre on American Studies at Renmin University of China.


“So he could take care of specific issues, but it would be hard for him to offer advice on issues related to national security and diplomatic strategies. But perhaps that what Trump needs.”


Trump was full of confidence in his selection when he announced the appointment.


“I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!” the president posted on Twitter, soon after publishing a tweet saying the US would “substantially” increase sanctions on Iran in response to an attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. Iran denies involvement in the attack.


Speaking from the tarmac of an airport in Los Angeles, Trump said he had been impressed with O’Brien’s work in securing the release of American citizens detained and imprisoned overseas.


Standing beside the president, O’Brien said: “We’ve got a number of challenges but there’s a great team in place.


“I look forward to working with them and the president to keep America safe and continue to rebuild our military, and really get us back to a peace-through-strength posture that will keep the American people safe from the many challenges around the world today.”


Shi said that as the new national security adviser – Trump’s fourth in less than three years — O’Brien would be unlikely to make any major changes to the relationship between China and the US, which has slumped to its lowest point in decades because of the trade war and the two nations’ growing rivalry on geopolitical and ideological fronts.


“Traditionally, it is the president, vice-president or the defence secretary who is in charge of formulating US security policy regarding China,” he said.


Working as a lawyer in Los Angeles, O’Brien has played only a low-key role within Washington’s policymaking circles. In 2005, under President George W. Bush, he was US representative to the United Nations General Assembly, and from 2007 to 2012 under President Barack Obama was involved in judicial reform in Afghanistan.


He is believed to support a conservative foreign policy and favours a tough stance on China, Russia and Iran. He was critical of Obama’s foreign policies, which he said were too weak.


In his 2016 book, While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis, he warned against China’s “rapid and impressive effort to establish itself as the supreme maritime power in the eastern Pacific and Indian Oceans”.


Despite those claims, Lu Xiang, an expert on US affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing was keen not to make its already tense relationship with the US any worse.


“So far the focus of Sino-US relations has been trade,” he said...