- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2023

The four-star Air Force general who predicted a likely war with China within two years also revealed in his memo that Chinese President Xi Jinping has convened a “war council” of senior military leaders on Taiwan.

Gen. Michael Minihan, commander of the Air Force Air Mobility Command, said in the Wednesday memorandum leaked last week to wing commanders that Mr. Xi had secured his position as supreme leader and “set his war council in October 2022.” The outspoken general disclosed the meeting while offering his perspective on a military clash with China over Taiwan.

The general said he hopes he is wrong, but “my gut tells me we will fight in 2025.”

Air Mobility Command and Pentagon representatives declined to comment on the details of the memo.

The 2025 war prediction has generated headlines, but the revelation of the Chinese war council in October may matter more. U.S. officials said the gathering included top members of the Central Military Commission, the Chinese Communist Party’s most powerful institution, which is also headed by Mr. Xi and two People’s Liberation Army generals.

Gen. Minihan said his memo is the first of eight monthly directives aimed at increasing readiness, integration and agility for the military to “deter, and if required, defeat China.” U.S. forces must be prepared to fight “inside the first island chain” — the string of islands stretching from Japan to the Philippines that China regards as its primary line of defense on its Pacific coastline, he said.

It’s not the first time the general has sounded the alarm. During an industry aerospace conference in Washington this fall, Gen. Minihan, who spent 10 years at the Indo-Pacific Command, warned about the threat posed by China in stark language and said the military is not ready for a conflict inside the first island chain.

“Lethality matters most,” said Gen. Minihan, a former C-17 transport pilot now in charge of moving military goods in C-17s, C-5s, C-130s and refueling tankers. “When you can kill your enemy, every part of your life is better. Your food tastes better. Your marriage is stronger.”

The Chinese war council that the general mentioned in the latest memo was the basis for a string of warnings from senior U.S. officials that month about China’s timetable for possible military action against Taiwan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Oct. 17 that China is accelerating plans to take over Taiwan.

“There has been a change in the approach from Beijing toward Taiwan in recent years,” Mr. Blinken said at Stanford University. “And instead of sticking with the status quo that was established in a positive way, [there was] a fundamental decision that the status quo was no longer acceptable and that Beijing was determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline.”

Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, added to the concerns a day later.

Asked about a Chinese timeline for gaining control over the democratic-ruled island and whether it would take place around 2027, Adm. Gilday said the Chinese have delivered on every promise sooner than expected.

“When we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind, that has to be a 2022 window or potentially a 2023 window. I can’t rule it out,” he said. “I don’t mean at all to be alarmist by saying that. It’s just that we can’t wish that away.”

Adm. Sam Paparo, commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, which would be in charge of responding to a conflict with China over Taiwan, made clear that the danger of a Chinese attack is real.

“This is a decade of concern,” Adm. Paparo told The Washington Times on Oct. 18. “So I absolutely see the logic in the secretary’s discussion.”

Adm. Paparo said Beijing’s war preparations are evidence of PLA “rehearsals” for military action.

The largest such rehearsal took place in August, in the wake of the visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that infuriated Chinese leaders. Days after the visit, the PLA launched large-scale aerial and naval exercises, including missile firings that bracketed the island.

Retired Navy Capt. Carl O. Schuster, a former intelligence officer, analyzed the Chinese war games and noted that the drills were conducted at six locations around Taiwan for several days. Despite their timing around the Pelosi visit, the war games were large and complex and showed months of planning.

Military analysts said the war games were intended to show off Chinese military power to intimidate Taiwan and warn the United States and Japan not to intervene in any Chinese operation against the island.

The exercises “marked the largest PLA air-missile-maritime exercise ever conducted,” said Capt. Schuster, who at one time was director of operations at the military’s Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii.

In addition to missile firings, Chinese forces practiced a naval blockade of Taiwan through test firings of land-attack and anti-ship missiles. The PLA used battalion-sized amphibious operations along the coast opposite Taiwan, and military drones penetrated the airspace over offshore Taiwanese islands and the northwest and southwest corners of Taiwan’s air defense zone.

The Biden administration has stepped up diplomatic engagement with China in an effort to step back from growing military talk and tensions on both sides. President Biden met in November with Mr. Xi at a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, and Mr. Blinken is scheduled to visit China on Saturday and Sunday.

Divided opinion

Beijing condemned Gen. Minihan’s remarks, and the Pentagon sought to play down the prediction of war by 2025. “These comments are not representative of the department’s view on China,” said a Defense Department spokesman.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, asked in Tokyo on Jan. 11 about Chinese plans for a Taiwan invasion, replied, “I won’t second-guess Mr. Xi, but what I will tell you what we’re seeing recently is some very provocative behavior on the part of China’s forces and their attempt to reestablish a new normal.”

Increased warplane and warship activity in the Taiwan Strait are provocative and intended to create a “new normal,” Mr. Austin said. “But whether or not that means that an invasion is imminent, I seriously doubt that.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, said he agreed with Gen. Minihan’s assessment.

“I hope [Gen. Minihan] is wrong. I think he is right, though,” Mr. McCaul said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former intelligence director for the Pacific Fleet, said Gen. Minihan’s assessment was prudent and rational.

“Regarding Gen. Minihan’s comments about Xi and his ‘war council’ being likely to conduct an invasion by 2025 is not warmongering, but aligns with similar predictions of a PRC invasion that have been made by several senior U.S. military officers,” Capt. Fanell said.

Two Indo-Pacific Command commanders, the commander of Strategic Command, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and other senior officers have made similar warnings about a coming conflict with China, he said.

Taiwanese and Japanese officials also have voiced warnings about potential Chinese aggression across the Taiwan Strait.

“All these voices of warning have one thing in common: an increasingly aggressive and expansive PLA whose actions are the kinds of indications and warning military commanders throughout history have seen before conflict begins,” Capt. Fanell said.

Capt. Fanell said the most compelling evidence involved the PLA’s August exercises around Taiwan. Since that event, the PLA has dramatically increased its operations around Taiwan and across the Taiwan Strait, he said.

Capt. Fanell said the Pentagon’s apparent downplaying of Gen. Minihan’s warning suggests that civilian defense leaders “are more concerned about upsetting Xi and the Central Military Commission than in exposing the PRC’s threatening behavior.”

“Instead of vilifying the general, this administration and Congress should take his words to heart and turn them into action that can deter and, in worse case, defeat an invading PLA force,” Capt. Fanell said.

A U.S. official involved in China affairs offered yet another take on the memo, saying Gen. Minihan’s comments appear linked to interservice rivalry over U.S. military preparations for war with China. The Army and Air Force are said to be trying to outflank the Navy in any new command structure.

China also is expected to recalculate plans for military action against Taiwan after Russia’s military slog in Ukraine.

U.S. efforts to build up alliances in Asia are part of an effort to deter China from taking military action.

Japan and Australia have signaled that they would join a U.S. military defense of Taiwan, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday on a visit to Tokyo that the alliance is working closely with partners in the region and is concerned about threats from China.

“Working with partners around the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific, is part of the answer to a more dangerous and unpredictable world,” Mr. Stoltenberg said in remarks at a university.

“The war in Ukraine demonstrates how security is interconnected. It demonstrates that what happens in Europe has a consequence for East Asia, and what happens in East Asia matters to Europe,” he said, and “the idea China doesn’t matter for NATO doesn’t work.”

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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