Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates says U.S. doesn't "have a strategy" on China

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates thinks that the Chinese have an advantage in the ongoing trade stalemate between the U.S. and China, because "we really don't have a strategy" for how to deal with China in the long term.

"They have set goals. They have a strategy for achieving those goals," Gates told Margaret Brennan, host of "Face the Nation," in an interview Friday, referring to Chinese initiatives on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. The Chinese government has been pursuing an aggressive initiative, Made in China 2025, to provide subsidies to Chinese companies to gain dominance in ten high-tech fields, including robotics and AI. 

 As for the U.S., "We really don't have a strategy," Gates said. "We haven't had a strategy in quite awhile."

Gates said that this is not just a problem for the Trump administration, which slapped additional tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports on Friday. He suggested that several recent presidents have struggled to counter China's rise on the global stage.

"I don't think, basically, that the recent U.S. administrations have had a strategy for how to deal with China long-term," Gates said. He blamed the frenetic pace of events in Washington, where "long-term planning is a week from Thursday."

"Washington is so consumed all the time by the issue of the moment that it's very difficult to have -- to get senior people to set aside the time to think about, 'Where do we want to be in five years with this country or that country or in terms of some of our own objectives,'" Gates said. He added that the National Security Council is supposed to plan for long-term scenarios, but recent councils have not done so, in his opinion.

President Trump said Friday that the "process is in place" to levy an expanded round of tariffs on most Chinese imports, totaling $325 billion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met briefly with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Friday morning, but those meetings, while characterized by Mnuchin as "constructive," did not result in the announcement of a trade deal. The treasury secretary also said that "as of now," another meeting has not yet been planned.

  • grace-headshot.jpg
    Grace Segers

    Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.