President Trump's unexpected decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield early Friday is a clear message to North Korea that the White House is willing to act militarily when its security is compromised, experts say.
Trump's actions on Syria could signal to Pyongyang that the new president isn't afraid of unilateral military steps, even if key nations like China are standing in the way.
Trump made it a point to address the media about the Syria strike at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida just moments after dining with his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping.
“This is Trump saying, ‘No, I am a man of my words,’” Reva Goujon, the vice president of Stratfor, told CNBC. “’When I make a threat, I will follow through.’ That’s certainly something the Chinese and North Koreans will be thinking about.”
Gordon Chang, Daily Beast columnist and author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On The World, said in an emailed statement to Fox News that the U.S. strike on the Syrian airfield “tells North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he must now heed American military power, something that he probably dismissed before.”
“Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, disappeared from public view for about six weeks in 2003 at the time of the Iraq war. Kim Jong Un loves the public spotlight, and it will be telling if he similarly goes into hiding,” the author said.
North Korea has been testing Trump’s resolve with multiple missile tests from Pyongyang. A senior U.S. official told reporters on Tuesday that the “clock has run out” on Pyongyang. Less than 24 hours later, North Korea fired a missile into the Sea of Japan, South Korea’s military said.
The crisis in North Korea was a top priority for Trump in the meetings with Xi. Trump told reporters that he thinks China will "want to be stepping up" in trying to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
The airstrikes are “a warning to China’s People’s Liberation Army, which had grown dismissive of the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader visiting Mar-a-Lago, almost certainly interpreted the strike as a sign of disrespect to him,” Chang said in the statement to Fox News.
Retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane told Fox News on Wednesday that the U.S. is "rapidly and dangerously heading towards the reality that the military option is the only one left when it comes to getting North Korea to denuclearize and not weaponized [intercontinental ballistic missiles]."
Trump has said that if China doesn't exert more pressure on North Korea, the U.S. will act alone. The missile strikes on Syria bring more weight to that statement.
"It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," Trump said in a statement on following the airstrikes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.