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US general defends calls to China in final months of Trump term

Mark Milley said the calls, which have come under scrutiny, were ‘routine’ and meant to assure ‘strategic stability’.

Top United States General Mark Milley has defended calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final tumultuous months of Donald Trump’s presidency, saying they were “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job.

Milley’s comments on Friday came after a new book detailed two calls he made to General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army to assure him that the US was not going to suddenly go to war with or attack China.

The calls were reportedly motivated by concerns over Trump’s possible actions as the presidential election approached and later as he sought to overturn the victory of President Joe Biden.

Milley said the calls, which have sparked a firestorm that has included calls for him to be fired, were “routine” and done “to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability”.

Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave the brief defence of his actions to reporters while travelling in Europe.

He plans a deeper discussion about the matter for Congress when he testifies at a hearing later in September, he said.

“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,” Milley said. “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into in a couple of weeks.”

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, has said his calls to his Chinese counterpart in the final months of Trump Presidency were ‘routine’ [File: Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press]

Milley and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are scheduled to testify on September 28 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in what initially was going to be a hearing on the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others from that country.

Now Milley is expected to face tough questioning on the phone calls, made in October 2020 and January 2021 and reported in excerpts from the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

A special House committee that is investigating the January 6 riot at the Capitol has also asked for details about Milley’s calls, the second of which came after rioters stormed the seat of the US legislature.

‘It’s not going to be a surprise’

Biden and Austin have both said they continue to have full trust and confidence in Milley, who was appointed to his current role by Trump in 2019 and has remained in the Biden administration.

As chairman, Milley is the top military adviser to the president and to the defence secretary.

“I have great confidence in General Milley,” Biden told reporters after the reports emerged.

A spokeswoman for Milley, in a statement, had previously said the calls were intended to convey “reassurance” to the Chinese military and were in line with his responsibilities as Joint Chiefs chairman”.

He added the calls were “staffed, coordinated and communicated” with the Pentagon and other federal agencies.

Some US legislators, however, have said Milley overstepped his authority, with Republican Senator Marco Rubio accusing Milley of working to “actively undermine” Trump, who as president at the time was also the US commander in chief.

Trump, meanwhile, has blasted Milley as treasonous, calling him “a complete nutjob” and maintaining the general “never told me about calls being made to China”.

According to the book, which the AP obtained, Milley assured his Chinese counterpart in the first call that “the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay”. It said he told Li, “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,” Milley reportedly said.

The second call reportedly came as Milley made the rounds of world military leaders to assure them that the US government remained in control in the wake of the January 6 riot.




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