While Chinese leader Xi Jinping's visit to U.S. President Donald Trump's extravagant Mar-a-Lago club may have seemed like all smiles, handshakes and diplomacy — or, according to Trump's post-summit tweets, “goodwill and friendship” — it wasn't long after President Xi arrived back in China that Beijing began to vent its fury against the U.S.' disregard for international law represented by last week's missile attack on Syria.
“China has always called against using military force in international relations and for preserving territorial sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement Monday quoted by Russian news agency TASS. "It is up to the Syrian people to decide on Syria’s future.”
Over the weekend, state news agency Xinhua called the strikes the act of a weakened politician who needed to flex his muscles and “overcome accusations that he was 'pro-Russia,'” according to The New York Times.
State-owned newspaper Global Times struck a similar note — albeit in a more caustic tone — casting the attacks as a display meant to show the world the U.S. “will always strive to maintain its hegemony.”
“The attack on Syria demonstrates that the Trump administration won't deviate from the traditional U.S. foreign strategy and that it intends to use the Syrian issue to consolidate its ruling position,” Li Yonghui, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in an opinion piece published Monday by the daily, noting how the missile strikes are “an embodiment of the U.S. supremacy ... The old rules of international law are no longer followed.”
The attack's timing — coinciding with the summit between Xi and Trump — seemed intended to signal Washington's willingness to use force to resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking to CNBC, risk analyst Dane Chamorro said that the Syria attacks should be seen as a warning to Beijing from Trump that "there's a new sheriff in town, I'm a little unpredictable and bad things will happen, things that you don't like unless you get Kim 3.0 under control."
The message may be lost on a China that increasingly sees the U.S. as a waning power unable to retain its previously unchallenged global sway.
“If the United States gets trapped in Syria, how can Trump make America great again? As a result, China will be able to achieve its peaceful rise,” Shen Dingli, an international relations professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, told The New York Times.
“Even though we say we oppose the bombing, deep in our hearts we are happy.”