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America’s Top General Mark Milley Reportedly Made Secret Contact With the Chinese Military

Leo Timm
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: September 16, 2021
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Li Zuocheng (L) and U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley (C) review an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing on August 16, 2016.
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Li Zuocheng (L) and U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley (C) review an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing on August 16, 2016. (Image: MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff allegedly broke Trump’s chain of command twice to assure Beijing that the U.S. was not planning an attack

The highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military, Mark A. Milley, made two secret phone calls to Chinese counterpart Gen. Li Zuocheng in the final months of the Trump administration, anonymous reports say. 

Milley feared that the rhetoric and actions of then-President Donald Trump would spark a war with China, so he placed the calls to Li reassuring him that the situation in Washington weas “stable” and that the U.S. had no plans for attack, according to a number of anonymous sources. 

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley allegedly told the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

The revelations are included in an upcoming book, titled Peril, by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and journalist Robert Costa. 

Drawing on several anonymous sources, Woodward and Costa said that the first call, made on Oct. 30 of last year — just four days before the Nov. 3 presidential election — “was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack,” as reported by Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post. 

‘It’s not going to be a surprise” 

According to the accounts, Milley, who was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Trump in 2018, even told Li that he would give him forewarning in the event the U.S. ordered an attack on the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

“General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise,” he allegedly said. 

The second call took place on Jan. 8 this year, after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. that was sparked by protests against the results of the election that saw Joe Biden become president. 

In order “to address Chinese fears about the events,” as Stanely-Becker put it, Milley promised a suspicious Li that “Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.” 

Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Army Sgt. Major Daniel Dailey speak during the Association of U.S. Army Annual Meeting on October 5, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Image: Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Milley did not inform the White House of either call. And while the news has sparked controversy, the Biden administration backed the 62-year-old officer in statements made Sept. 15. 

“I have great confidence in General Milley,” Biden told reporters in Washington, D.C. His statement came after remarks made by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who did not affirm or deny the veracity of the revelations, but said that the president was standing by Milley. 

The same day, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said that if the information was true, it amounted to “ignoring the Constitution, deciding he’s going to call a potential adversary and an enemy of the United States, and collude with them and tell them that ‘if I’m ever ordered to do something, I’m going to tell you about it first.’”

‘Constitutional order’

Psaki and other Biden officials have claimed that Milley’s calls were not amiss, pointing to the chaos of the Jan. 6 riots as important context. Psaki said that Trump’s “fomenting an insurrection” that day led to “broad concern about many members of his national security team,” and that she believed Milley was a “patriot” acting in line with his constitutional duty. 

“It’s the obligation of every chairman of the joint chiefs to follow constitutional order to prevent unlawful military action,” she said.

John Kirby, Department of Defense spokesman, confirmed the Pentagon’s support for Milley, saying that “his calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities … in order to maintain strategic stability.” 

He noted that Milley regularly speaks with counterparts around the world, including military officers in Russia and China. 

According to the authors of Peril, the PLA’s Li Zuocheng felt confident in Milley’s guarantees. Milley, for his part, said that his fears were based on the Trump administration’s stern attitude towards Beijing over Chinese military activity in the South China Sea, a key shipping lane that the communist regime claims as its own. 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that Milley’s calls amounted to undermining the proper chain of command. 

“I don’t care what you think of President Trump, the Chairman of the JCOS working to subvert the military chain of command and collude with China is exactly what we do not accept from military leaders in our country. He should be court-martialed if true,” Rand said.