Donald Trump claims he 'essentially fired' Jim Mattis

Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan arrives for his first day in his new job at the Pentagon

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recused himself from "participating in matters in which the Boeing Company is a party" as long as he remains in the Cabinet post, a spokesman told reporters Wednesday. The 2018 National Defense Strategy, which Shanahan helped develop, branded China as a strategic competitor.

On his first day as acting defense secretary, Pat Shanahan is emphasizing that China should be the Pentagon's main focus.

In his Cabinet meeting remarks with reporters present, Trump said he was in no rush to get USA troops out of Syria but did not clarify a timetable.

The US accuses Beijing of an ongoing pattern of military and economic espionage, and has criticized China's ambitious "Belt and Road" trade and infrastructure initiative as being a form of economic coercion.

Last month, Trump declared victory over the Islamic State group in Syria and claimed the jihadists had been beaten "badly", even though they still number in the thousands. Although Trump has declared victory there, critics warn Islamic State still has a toehold in Syria and could stage a comeback if U.S. forces depart.

Appearing at Mr. Trump's side during Wednesday's Cabinet meeting at the White House on Wednesday, Mr. Shanahan said the Army Corps of Engineers was "dialed in" to help construct additional parts of Mr. Trump's Mexico border wall and that the Pentagon was exploring how to strengthen its support of the Department of Homeland Security's drive to curb illegal immigration.

He has since backpedaled and suggested more of a phased timeline for the withdrawal.

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A defense official who attended the meeting said Shanahan had told colleagues a major concern would be China.

Trump told Shanahan he was "such a pleasure" to work with and that he had "done a really fantastic job" with regard to the border.

Little known outside business and Washington circles, Shanahan takes the world stage at a time of tumultuous changes and unpredictable foreign policy moves under Trump. Shanahan had worked for Boeing for 31 years, including in positions overseeing big defense programs.

Mattis his resignation days after Trump said he was planning to pull USA troops completely out of war-torn Syria, at first declaring Islamic State had been defeated and then asserting that the militant group should be handled by other countries in the region.

But some critics have questioned whether a man with deep industry ties should be running the Pentagon.

As acting secretary, Shanahan, 56, has all the authority of a permanent secretary.

David Norquist, the Pentagon's comptroller, will perform the duties of the deputy as well as retain his current title.

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