US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley twice called his Chinese counterpart to assure him that the two nations would not suddenly go to war around the time the US presidency changed hands late last year and early this year — prompting accusations of treason — a senior US defense official said on Tuesday after the conversations were described in excerpts from a forthcoming book.
Milley told Chinese General Li Zuocheng (李作成) of the People’s Liberation Army that the US would not strike in calls on Oct. 30 last year, four days before the election that ousted then-US president Donald Trump, and on Jan. 8, two days after the riot at the US Capitol.
Trump said that Milley should be tried for treason if the report was true.
Milley promised Li that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a US attack, according to the book Peril, written by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him in the first call, according to the book. “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,” Milley reportedly said. “It’s not going to be a surprise.”
The defense official said that Milley’s message to Li on both occasions was one of reassurance.
The official questioned suggestions that Milley told Li he would call him first, and instead said the chairman made the point that the US was not going to suddenly attack China without any warning — whether it be through diplomatic, administrative or military channels.
Milley also spoke with other chiefs of defense around the world in the days after Jan. 6, including military leaders from the UK, Russia and Pakistan.
A readout of those calls in January referred to “several” other counterparts that he spoke to with similar messages of reassurance that the US government was strong and in control.
The second call was meant to placate Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6.
However, the book says that Li was not as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him: “We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine, but democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”
Trump on Tuesday dismissed Milley as a “dumbass,” and said he never considered attacking China.
Still, he said that if the report was true, “I assume he would be tried for treason, in that he would have been dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the president’s back and telling China that he would be giving them notification ‘of an attack.’ Can’t do that,” Trump said.
“Actions should be taken immediately against Milley,” he said.
Officials said that Milley and US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who shared a phone call on Jan. 8 — believed the president was in mental decline after the election.
Pelosi had previously said she spoke to Milley that day about “available precautions” to prevent Trump from initiating military action or ordering a nuclear launch, and she told colleagues she was given unspecified assurances that there were long-standing safeguards in place.
Milley called the admiral overseeing the US Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for the Asia-Pacific region, and recommended postponing upcoming military exercises, the book said.
He also asked senior officers to swear an “oath” that Milley had to be involved if Trump gave an order to launch nuclear weapons, it said.
Officials in January and on Tuesday confirmed that Milley spoke with Pelosi.
One official said that Milley’s intent in speaking with his staff and commanders about the process was not a move to subvert the president or his power, but to reaffirm the procedures and ensure they were understood by everyone.
The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
In response to the book, US Senator Marco Rubio sent US President Joe Biden a letter urging him to fire Milley, saying that the general worked to “actively undermine the sitting commander in chief.”
US Senator Ted Cruz called the report “deeply concerning,” telling reporters at the Capitol in Washington: “I think the first step is for General Milley to answer the question as to what exactly he said.”
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