Top US general Mark Milley speaks with Chinese counterpart

Amid Washington-Beijing tensions, military leaders discussed need to ‘responsibly manage competition’, Pentagon says.

Top US General Mark Milley has held a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Li Zuocheng, emphasising the need to “responsibly manage competition” between Washington and Beijing, the Pentagon said.

The call on Thursday comes amid growing tensions between the United States and China over regional and global issues, including posture on Taiwan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Gen. Milley discussed the need to responsibly manage competition and maintain open lines of communication,” a spokesman for Milley said in a statement.

“Gen. Milley underscored the importance of the People’s Liberation Army engaging in substantive dialogue on improving crisis communications and reducing strategic risk. The call also included a productive discussion of a number of regional and global security issues.”

The statement added that Milley, who serves as the chair of the joint chiefs of staff, “regularly communicates” with chiefs of defence across the world, including with China.

Late in May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken proclaimed that China poses the “most serious long-term challenge to the international order”.

Days earlier, President Joe Biden had drawn China’s ire when he said the US would come to Taiwan’s aid militarily if the self-governed island is attacked by Beijing. At that time, China warned that the US is “using the ‘Taiwan card’ to contain China, and will itself get burned”.

Beijing claims Taiwan, whose formal name is the Republic of China, as a province and has not ruled out unifying the two sides by force.

Washington has warm ties with Taiwan, but it officially pursues a “One China” policy, which states there is a single China but does not define it.

In response to Biden’s comments on Taiwan earlier this year, Pentagon officials, including Milley, stressed that the US policy on the issue has not changed.

Last week, Milley told the BBC that a Chinese attack on Taiwan was not imminent.

“Whether they would or not, it’s a political choice, it’s a policy choice, that will be based off of how the Chinese view the cost risk-benefit at the time,” the US general was quoted as saying.

“There’s no indications or warnings of anything imminent at this time. But again, we watch it very, very closely.”

Last year, a book by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa claimed that Milley – thinking that then-President Donald Trump was suffering a mental decline – called his Chinese counterpart late in 2020 and early in 2021 to avert possible military conflict with China.

Despite a firestorm of Republican criticism accusing Milley of violating the elected civilian leadership’s command over the military, Biden stood by the top US general at the time.

The Biden administration has largely pushed on with Trump’s approach of prioritising the rivalry with China in US foreign policy.

Washington has also been deepening its alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. The Biden administration irked China last year when it secured a deal with the United Kingdom to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

Earlier this week, the US military also sent F-35 advanced fighter jets to South Korea to participate in joint military exercises in a display of force aimed at North Korea.

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