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Is the US Gearing Up for a War With Pandemic-weakened China?

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: January 30, 2023
A US Air Force General told subordinate commanders to get their life in order and prepare for a 2025 conflict with China, severely weakened by the sheer scale of COVID-19 deaths.
Former President Obama with at-the-time Colonel Mike Minihan in May of 2012 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Minihan, now a four star General and head of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, told subordinate commanders to get their house in order in preparation of a 2025 conflict with China as the Wuhan Pneumonia pandemic has weakened Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party. (Image: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)


The prospects of an armed clash between the United States together with its allies and China made the next step toward becoming reality after a memorandum penned by a four-star general of the U.S. Air Force was leaked to the media.

Head of the Air Mobility Command (AMC) Gen. Mike Minihan ordered his subordinates to not only prepare for a conflict with China as early as 2025, but “to report all major efforts to prepare for the China fight…by Feb. 28.” NBC News stated.

The Memorandum, which NBC says was issued Jan. 27 and leaked to it the same day, was described as “addressed to all air wing commanders in Air Mobility Command and other Air Force operational commanders.”


The AMC has almost 50,000 personnel and controls nearly 500 planes, mostly for logistics in the transport and refueling areas.

A full text of the Memorandum was released on Jan. 30 by Air & Space Forces Magazine, which showed what Minihan’s 2025 timeline calculation was based on.

“Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America,” he stated.

The general added, “Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.”

Pandemic weakness

An acceleration of the timeline for a potential conflict between the world’s two most powerful countries comes as pandemic infections and deaths were spiral out of control in China.

Yet, even in light of recent developments, the Chinese Communist Party’s official statistics are unrealistically low. The Party claims that its country of 1.4 billion people and the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has only suffered 84,190 COVID deaths since the pandemic began.

The figure amounts to a population-adjusted 50.94 deaths per 1 million people.

By comparison, the United States and its 332 million people have reported 1.11 million COVID deaths, or a population-adjusted 3,274 deaths per 1 million people, a difference of a factor of more than 60.

It stands to reason that General Minihan would certainly be privy to high levels of U.S. Intelligence Community and military intelligence reports that capture a more realistic picture of the pandemic situation in China and how its destabilizing effect on the CCP are much more dire than the general public is allowed to know.

And perhaps this knowledge is reflected in the general’s hawkish messaging.

NBC reported the memo contained bravado-laden verbiage, such as telling AMC personnel to “fire a clip into a 7-meter target with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most.” 

“Aim for the head,” he added.

Soldiers and commanders were also told to, “Run deliberately, not recklessly,” and advised, “If you are comfortable in your approach to training, then you are not taking enough risk.” 

Minihan also told his soldiers that he expects by March they will “consider their personal affairs and whether a visit should be scheduled with their servicing base legal office to ensure they are legally ready and prepared” for the realities of a battlefield.

One concrete battle plan included in the general’s instruction was a direction for the KC-135 cargo plane unit to prepare a method for “delivering 100 off-the-shelf size and type UAVs [combat drones] from a single aircraft.”

Gearing up for conflict

Although a spokesperson for the Pentagon told NBC that “These comments are not representative of the department’s view on China,” a representative of the AMC confirmed the memorandum was authentic.

“This is an authentic internal memo from General Minihan addressed to his subordinate command teams. His order builds on last year’s foundational efforts by Air Mobility Command to ready the Mobility Air Forces for future conflict, should deterrence fail,” they told NBC.

The general also told his command that the message would be “the first of 8 monthly directives from me.”

“You need to know I alone own the pen on these orders. My expectations are high, and these orders are not up for negotiation,” he added.

While the Pentagon has distanced itself from Gen. Minihan’s memo, the U.S. has adopted an increasingly hawkish foreign policy posture in recent years with regard to Communist China, focusing on the Xi Jinping leadership.

According to Jan. 29 reporting by Air & Space Forces Magazine, Air Force Press Secretary Brigadier General Patrick S. Ryder stated in response to questions on the Memo’s 2025 edict, “The National Defense Strategy makes clear that China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense and our focus remains on working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The wording is particularly apt in light of a Dec. 5, 2022 report by the Atlantic Council think tank titled Taiwan: The Key to Containing China In the Indo-Pacific, whose introductory paragraph stated, “China is the pacing challenge for the United States, posing the most consequential global threat to US and allied security.” 

Removing a threat to Washington?

The paper continued, “As China flexes its military and economic muscles, Beijing’s increasingly coercive behavior tests the defense of its neighbors—and none more so than Taiwan. Much of the United States’ ability to prevent Chinese power projection in the Indo-Pacific hinges upon its relationship with Taiwan.”

In a subsection titled “China as the Pacing Threat,” author John Barranco lamented, “However, the China challenge is not just military or economic in nature—it is also ideological, posing a serious threat to the US-led rules-based global order.”

Barranco added that, “China seeks to overthrow the traditional balance of power, supplanting the United States as the world’s preeminent power, and ensure regime stability through both domestic policy successes and establishing regional hegemony in the Indo-Pacific.”

“China sees Taiwan as central to achieving all its interests. Therefore, the United States ought to consider this lens when crafting strategies to deter China and understand how the defense of Taiwan fits into its own plans,” he continued.

In January 2021, shortly after Joe Biden took office as U.S. president, the Atlantic Council notably published the Longer Telegram, a report advocating that Washington and its allies aim to change the leadership of the CCP, rather than attempt to bring down the Party itself.

Observers have identified the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China as being a matter of particular internal importance for Xi, given that his 10 years as CCP general secretary have seen few positive results for the regime.

Messaging put out by the Biden administration generally defines the U.S.-China relationship as “competition” between democracy and authoritarianism — a shift in tone from that of the Trump-era State Department, which specifically targeted the Party’s communist ideology and drew a clear line between the regime and the Chinese people.