What to make of the US military’s movements in the Pacific and a general’s wild warning about war with China

What to make of the US military’s movements in the Pacific and a general’s wild warning about war with China

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Several developments over the past few weeks reinforce the US military’s new hyperfocus on China:

  • There is a new US-Japan agreement that will reassign US Marines stationed in Japan to launch anti-ship missiles.

These military moves give the impression of determination and focus that the US will help protect the democratic, self-governing island of Taiwan in the event of direct Chinese aggression.

China’s ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan part of its territory, though it has never controlled it, and has refused to rule out the use of military force to bring about what it calls “reunification.” The US is supplying Taiwan with defensive weapons but has deliberately remained ambiguous about whether it would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attack.

Senior US officials such as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley said US intelligence understands China’s goal is to bolster its military capabilities to levels needed to potentially attack and conquer Taiwan by 2027, something analysts believe may be the case at this time does not own.

If you look at a map, the Philippines, where the US has expanded its existing access to bases, is just south of Taiwan. To the north is the Japanese island of Okinawa, where marines are stationed.

The CNN team has written and reported on the Okinawa Marines The Pentagon certainly aspires to be prepared for any conflict with China – and points to “the Pentagon’s desire to shift from the wars of the past in the Middle East to the region of the future in the Indo-Pacific.” The change comes as simulated war games by a prominent Washington think tank found that Japan, and Okinawa in particular, would play a crucial role in a military conflict with China, giving the United States opportunities for forward and base deployments.”

The military refers to China as a “pacing threat,” meaning its military is making strategic moves against the US. In fact, China’s Navy has surpassed the US Navy in fleet size, and some experts have warned that an American technological lead may not be enough to maintain superiority, especially if the US ships much of its ammunition to Ukraine.

When American politicians like President Joe Biden speaks about this current time as an era in which democracies must assert themselves against autocracies, he speaks mainly about China and Russia.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken is traveling to China this weekend to discuss a range of issues with Chinese officials.

Biden has angered the Chinese government by repeatedly saying out loud what was the accepted part of US foreign policy – that the US would react if China took military action against Taiwan.

Warnings that China wants to replace the United States as the dominant world power are not new.

In March 2021, Navy Adm. Philip Davidson, who was in charge of US Indo-Pacific Command at the time, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that China could aim to overthrow the “rules-based international order” by 2050 or sooner and sooner could pose a direct threat to Taiwan, until 2027.

That’s all the geopolitical background with which to look at a memo from a top US Air Force commander, General Michael Minihan, warning subordinates his “gut feeling” tells him he’s ready for war with China — and not only theoretically, but in two years.

The memo is at odds with the rest of the US administration, fueling Republican criticism of Biden and giving China reason to claim the US is the aggressor in the region.

Is this general serious?

The memo, first reported by NBC News, was shocking because its inappropriate language and harsh deadline not only presuppose that a US-China war is inevitable — something both Washington and Beijing claim is inaccurate — but totally inconsistent with the many is more diplomatic, publicly available language that comes out of the White House, the State Department, and pretty much everywhere else with military or diplomatic authority.

“I hope I’m wrong. My gut tells me we’re going to fight in 2025,” writes Minihan, the four-star general who oversees the Air Mobility Command, which controls transportation and refueling.

Pentagon and White House officials have distanced themselves from the memo, making it clear that war with China is not predetermined or even likely.

“The President believes there should be no conflict,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday. “There is no reason for the bilateral relationship – the world’s most consequential bilateral relationship – to erupt into any conflict. We believe, and the President has made it clear, that we are in a competition with China, a competition that he believes the United States is well placed to win.”

Minihan asks his commanders to report on their plans for war with China by the end of February and encourages its staff to use target practice to prepare for the Unrepentant Lethality challenge. He says the upcoming presidential election 2024 Election in Taiwan could provoke China, and that upcoming presidential election US elections could distract Americans from the threat.

Minihan’s warning gets a lot of attention in conservative media, which are pushing for a significant increase in defense spending, particularly to build up the US Navy to counter China.

A Wall Street Journal editorial, for example, praised Minihan as a truth teller.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, told Fox News Sunday that he hopes Minihan is wrong: “I think unfortunately he’s right.”

McCaul also took a political swipe at Biden over his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

“We have to be prepared for that,” McCaul said. “I think it could happen as long as Biden is in office and projecting weakness.”

Republicans want to make China a focus after taking control of the US House of Representatives and have created a new congressional committee to focus on the threats China poses to the US. Following a report that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy plans to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Nancy Pelosi and visit Taiwan, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman urged US officials not to interact with Taiwan, according to The Hill.

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who worked for former President Donald Trump, said there’s an important line between preparing for the possibility of war and predicting it will definitely happen.

“On one hand, I think it’s very important to create a sense of urgency. I applaud him for that. He’s an aggressive commander,” Esper told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday, referencing Minihan’s memo. “On the other hand, I wouldn’t take it as inevitable that we will get into a war and I hope we will do everything we can to avoid a conflict.”

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