Top US general defends calls to China over Trump nuclear fears

Top US general defends calls to China over Trump nuclear fears
General Mark Milley says ‘routine’ calls were ‘perfectly within the duties and responsibilities’ of his job

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, has said that the calls he made to his counterpart in China during the last months of the Trump presidency were “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job.

Gen Milley made his first public comments about the calls on Friday. In October and January, Gen Milley spoke to the head of the Chinese army to reassure him that the US was not about to attack China, and said he would give the general a warning if any military action was about to be taken.

Gen Milley said calls like those he made to General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army are “routine” and were intended “to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability,” he told The Associated Press.

The calls were first reported in Peril, an upcoming book by Watergate journalist Bob Woodward and his Washington Post colleague Robert Costa, and have prompted harsh criticism from some who believe Gen Milley overstepped his authority.

The top US military leader said he would expand his comments on the call during a congressional hearing later this month.

“I think it’s best that I reserve my comments on the record until I do that in front of the lawmakers who have the lawful responsibility to oversee the US military,” he told the AP. “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into in a couple of weeks.”

Gen Milley is set to testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on 28 September. The hearing was supposed to be about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, but Gen Milley is now set to face questions about the calls he made to Gen Li Zuocheng.

The calls were made in the final months of the Trump administration as former President Donald Trump was spreading the baseless conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was rigged. The second call was made on 8 January, just two days after the Capitol riot when a pro-Trump mob laid siege to the US Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.

The House committee investigating the insurrection on 6 January has requested details about Gen Milley’s calls. Committee leaders Bennie Thompson, a MississippiDemocrat, and Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, have also requested information about the 2020 election, the transition between the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as the Capitol riot.

Gen Milley previously headed the US Army and was appointed by Mr Trump as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2019.

Both Mr Biden and Mr Austin have expressed support for Gen Milley following the report on the calls.

Woodward and Costa write in Peril that the calls occurred on 30 October 2020, four days before the election, and on 8 January 2021, two days after the insurrection and less than two weeks before Mr Biden ascended to the presidency.

Some lawmakers have called for Mr Biden to fire Gen Milley, arguing that he crossed a line. Mr Trump called Gen Milley “a complete nutjob” and said that he “never told me about calls being made to China”.

“I have great confidence in Gen Milley,” Mr Biden told reporters after the calls were revealed. Gen Milley’s office said in a statement this week that the purpose of the calls was to relay “reassurance” to the Chinese military and were part of Gen Milley’s job responsibilities.

Col Dave Butler, a spokesman for Gen Milley, said the calls were “staffed, coordinated and communicated” within the Pentagon and with other federal agencies.

“The American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Gen Milley told Gen Li, according to Peril. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

“If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” Gen Milley reportedly said, emphasising his years-long relationship with Gen Li.

Following the riot on 6 January, Gen Milley spoke to a number of military leaders around the world, such as top brass from the United Kingdom, Russia, and Pakistan.

A description of the January calls said Gen Milley spoke to “several” other counterparts, expressing reassurance after the riot and that the US government was in control.

The call to Gen Li on 8 January was meant to calm Chinese worries about the events of 6 January, but the Chinese military leader was reportedly not easily convinced, even after Gen Milley told him: “We are 100 per cent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”

Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio has told Mr Biden to fire Gen Milley because he worked to “actively undermine” Mr Trump, the commander in chief at the time.