The Chinese general whom Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mark Milley reportedly promised to warn about U.S. military action is among the regime's biggest warmongers.
Li Zuocheng, a People’s Liberation Army chief and one of President Xi Jinping’s highest-ranking military officers, reportedly took several phone calls from Milley in the closing days of the Trump administration. America's top military commander cited his five-year relationship with Li as reason to warn him of an American attack, according to journalist Bob Woodward. The Chinese general has a history of making public calls for military aggression, threatening to "resolutely smash" Taiwanese forces or any other country that challenges the CCP's regional control.
"If the possibility for peaceful reunification is lost, the people’s armed forces will, with the whole nation, including the people of Taiwan, take all necessary steps to resolutely smash any separatist plots or actions," Li said in a 2020 speech at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. "We do not promise to abandon the use of force and reserve the option to take all necessary measures to stabilize and control the situation in the Taiwan Strait."
Woodward reported Milley placed the calls to Li outside of the chain of command, failing to notify other senior officials—or the president—of his actions. The top general also summoned officers to review practices for using nuclear weapons, saying he must be involved in any such decision.
Li’s comments were amplified on Chinese social media, fomenting anti-American sentiment. One post on Baijiahao, a website for writing and commentary sponsored by Chinese media giant Baidu, framed Li’s warnings as a threat to an "arrogant" United States in "cahoots" with Taiwan.
"The United States is in cahoots and arrogant, but General Li Zuocheng has also drawn a red line for the Taiwan Province authorities," a translation of the post reads. "General Li Zuocheng's warning is not a cliché. He is a fighting hero who … represents the attitude of every bloody Chinese son and daughter. The Taiwan Province authorities should not underestimate the determination of the mainland."
The Chinese general has met with military brass from other adversaries of the United States. Li led a Chinese delegation in a meeting with Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu in May 2018 to discuss "strengthening strategic coordination" between the two countries. Experts told the Washington Free Beacon in August that growing ties between the Russian and Chinese militaries pose a vital threat to American national security. Shoigu led operations supporting the Assad regime in Syria, as well as against Ukraine.
Li also rubbed elbows with Pakistani military leaders. Li met in 2017 with top Pakistani general Bilal Akbar to forge closer military cooperation. In the aftermath of the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban has signaled interest in joining Pakistani and Chinese trade agreements.
Revelations about Li's past may intensify mounting calls from Republicans for Milley’s resignation. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) demanded President Joe Biden immediately fire Milley for his "reckless behavior."
"These actions by General Milley demonstrate a clear lack of sound judgment, and I urge you to dismiss him immediately," Rubio said. "General Milley has attempted to rationalize his reckless behavior by arguing that what he perceived as the military’s judgment as [sic] more stable than its civilian commander. It is a dangerous precedent that could be asserted at any point in the future by General Milley or others. It threatens to tear apart our nation’s longstanding principle of civilian control of the military."
Joint Chiefs spokesman Col. Dave Butler told the Washington Free Beacon that Milley "regularly communicates" with leaders worldwide to avoid "unintended consequences" and provide "clarity."
"His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability," Butler said. "All calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency. … General Milley continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution."