Updated at 1:32 p.m. ET
At a time when Asia threatens to present the Trump administration with its first real foreign-policy crisis, the White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has said he plans to marginalize the Asia-related bureaus at the U.S. State and Defense Departments, which he views as insufficiently committed to a hard line on China.
“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in,” Bannon told The American Prospect, a liberal magazine, in a candid interview. “I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”
At issue in the interview are Bannon’s views toward China—“We’re at economic war with China”—and what he sees as its inadequate help reining in North Korea. (“On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.” He also said he doesn’t believe there’s a military solution for North Korea.)
Although Bannon’s remarks about those U.S. officials are striking, the senior positions at both State and Defense are technically vacant. Their current occupants are Thornton, a career foreign-service officer who is the acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; and David Helvey, who is the acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. The two officials have been at the forefront of the U.S. response to North Korea’s missile tests last month and its threats to strike near Guam, the U.S. territory in the Pacific.