Fears That Trump Might Launch a Strike Prompted General to Reassure China, Book Says
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff twice called his Chinese counterpart in the final months of the Trump administration to reassure him that Donald J. Trump had no plans to attack China in an effort to remain in power and that the United States was not collapsing, according to “Peril,” a new book by the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
In the days leading up to the 2020 election, the book reveals, American intelligence showed that the Chinese believed that Mr. Trump planned to launch a military strike to create an international crisis that he could claim to solve as a last-ditch effort to beat Joseph R. Biden Jr.
General Milley, who had become increasingly concerned about China’s growing military power and the potential for one misread move to set off combat between the world superpowers, first called General Li around that time on a secret backchannel. He wanted to assure General Li and President Xi Jinping that the United States was not planning to attack China.
On the Jan. 8 call, General Li suggested that Chinese leaders feared that the United States government was unstable. He pressed General Milley over the course of an hour and a half about whether the military was going to take action.
Despite General Milley’s reassurances, he feared that Mr. Trump might be trying to find a moment that he could seize on to remain in power, similar to Hitler’s exploitation in 1933 of an arson fire at the German Reichstag to help institute emergency powers, the book said.
But even after the call, General Milley concluded that the situation was “grave” and General Li “remained unusually rattled,” the book reports.
Mr. Trump, General Milley had concluded, did not want a war but might order the launch of some sort of military strike that would set off a chain reaction and lead to war.
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