Milley: Despite Chinese Aggression, Rhetoric on Tensions Is ‘Overheated’
On Monday, reports surfaced that the Chinese spy balloon that encroached into U.S. airspace in February and was allowed to float over the country for days before being shot down did in fact collect sensitive military intelligence that was transmitted to China. Nevertheless, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said over the weekend that the “rhetoric” surrounding ongoing tensions with China “can overheat the environment.”
A source told CNN that the balloon was “able to transmit information back to Beijing in real time,” but government officials are uncertain about the extent of the information the balloon was able to transmit before being shot down.
Foreign policy experts like the Center for Security Policy’s Grant Newsham are pointing out that this revelation contradicts the messaging of the Biden administration.
“The spy balloon was really just one part of a much larger, broader Chinese espionage effort against the United States,” he told Tony Perkins on Monday’s edition of “Washington Watch.” “What did stand out … was the administration’s practically incoherent response to it. Their explanations for what was happening were contradictory. You’ll note that they said, ‘Well, the Chinese didn’t really get much from all of this that they wouldn’t get from satellites,’ and now today you see a report like this.”
Meanwhile, apprehensions of Chinese nationals at America’s southern border in 2023 have already more than doubled the total captured in 2022, according to data from Customs and Border Protection. While the surge is largely seen as a reflection of Chinese citizens increasingly attempting to escape the grasp of the deepening authoritarianism occurring in their country under President Xi Jinping, it is also causing U.S. national security concerns for some observers.
Gordon Chang, an author and expert on China, told Newsmax on Monday that reporters embedded in South America are observing an influx of Chinese males making their way up to the U.S. who are “of military age who are unaccompanied with families. That, to me, suggests either People’s Liberation Army or Ministry of State Security agents.”
Other aggressive actions being taken by China against American interests are also causing alarm. These include the acquisition of land near U.S. military bases and telecommunications infrastructure by Chinese companies, as well as the potential infiltration of private user data by Chinese-owned apps like TikTok. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that “state-sponsored hackers from China” have developed increasingly sophisticated techniques that have enabled them to “burrow into government and business networks and spy on victims for years without detection.”
China’s growing relationship with Russia is also raising alarm bells among foreign policy experts. On Monday, Bloomberg reported that the Chinese yuan replaced the dollar as the most traded currency in Russia, a sign that the financial sanctions that the U.S. put in place after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only caused Russia to deepen its financial ties to China. The news follows President Xi’s warmly received visit to Moscow two weeks ago, in which the Chinese authoritarian spoke of a joint “driving” of changes that the two countries are creating which have “not happened in 100 years.”
Still, in a recent interview with Defense One, General Mark Milley, the U.S.’s highest-ranking military officer, encouraged a lowering of the temperature on rhetoric surrounding the U.S.’s relationship with China.
“I think there’s a lot of rhetoric in China … [and] the United States, that could create the perception that war is right around the corner or we’re on the brink of war with China,” Milley said. “And that could happen. I mean, it is possible that you could have an incident or some other trigger event that could lead to uncontrolled escalation. … But I don’t think at this point I would put it in the likely category.”
But as foreign policy experts like Newsham emphasize, China has been waging different kinds of war against the U.S. for some time.
“There’s been a 30-year war going on against [the U.S.] being waged by the Chinese,” he said on “Washington Watch” Monday. “They call it that — we just choose not to. We pretend it isn’t a war, but to the Chinese it is. Psychological war, economic war, biological war, chemical war, drug war, cyber warfare. To the Chinese, this is part of a spectrum, and it’s all warfare intended to weaken us.”
In response to Xi’s stated goal of taking Taiwan by force, Milley encouraged deterrence through preparation. “[M]y guess is we’ve got three or four years to get Taiwan in a position where they will create the perception in the minds of the Chinese decision makers that the cost [of invading] exceeds [what they want].” He went on to note that, despite its need to strengthen their air defense, anti-ship cruise missiles, and anti-ship mines, Taiwan’s 170,000-person active-duty military and 1-2 million reserves, plus China’s invasion inexperience “favors the defense. It would be a very difficult island to capture.”
Milley argued that the U.S. must maintain an “incredibly powerful military that is capable,” and that China must be made to believe that it will be used if necessary. “I’d prefer to go back to what Teddy Roosevelt said, which is, you know, ‘speak softly, carry a big stick’ sort of thing,” he contended. “So: Have our military really, really strong [and] lower the rhetoric a little bit with the temperature.”
It remains to be seen whether Drag Queen Story Hours hosted on military bases and plunging military recruitment numbers under the Biden administration will contribute to an “incredibly powerful” military.
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.