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China on ‘disturbing’ path to eclipse US military by mid-century, Milley warns

China is on a “disturbing” path to become militarily “superior” to the United States by mid-century, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley testified Wednesday, while warning that the United States probably would not be able to “stop, slow down, disrupt, interdict or destroy” China’s nuclear development program.

Milley testified Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a hearing dedicated to the fiscal year 2024 budget request for the Department of Defense.

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During the hearing, Milley stressed that the United States needs to “outpace” China’s development, specifically their military might.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley speaks with reporters after a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the Pentagon, Monday, May 23, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley speaks with reporters after a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the Pentagon, Monday, May 23, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“They have a national goal to be a global — to be the global — coequal with the United States and superior militarily by mid-century,” Milley said. “They’re on that path to do that and that’s really disturbing. That’s really bothersome.”

Milley added, “We’re going to have to not only keep pace, but we have to outpace that, and that will assure the peace.”

The U.S. intelligence community assessed this month that Beijing is “accelerating” the development of key capabilities that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) needs to “confront the United States in a large-scale, sustained conflict.” The PLA’s efforts are designed to “deter U.S. intervention in a future cross-Strait crisis,” officials said.

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On Wednesday, Milley also warned of China’s nuclear development program, which the intelligence community highlighted in its annual threat assessment earlier this month.

“We are probably not going to be able to do anything to stop slow down, disrupt, interdict or destroy the Chinese nuclear development program that they have projected out over the next 10 to 20 years,” Milley explained. “They’re going to do that in accordance with their own plan.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Moscow on Tuesday, March 21. The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the West's reaction to Xi's visit has been "hostile."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Moscow on Tuesday, March 21. The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the West’s reaction to Xi’s visit has been “hostile.” (Mikhail Tereshchenko/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo)

He added, “And there’s very little leverage, I think, that we could do externally to prevent that from happening.”

The intelligence community warned that Beijing is bolstering its domestic defense production capabilities for weapons of mass destruction and advanced conventional weapons. The intelligence community also warned that China is building hundreds of new ICBM silos.

Milley said that even today, China has a “significant” nuclear capability.

“They have intercontinental ballistic missiles that can range the United States,” Milley said. “That is obviously bothersome.”

Milley warned of the growing alliance between China and Russia, and told lawmakers on Wednesday that the two countries are “getting closer together,” especially with regard to nuclear capabilities.

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“That’s troublesome,” Milley said. “And then, if you add in Iran as the third — those three countries together are going to be problematic for many years to come.”

As for China and Russia, Milley warned that the United States is currently facing “two nuclear-armed great powers.”

The intelligence community said this month that Russia maintains the “largest and most capable nuclear weapons stockpile, and it continues to expand and modernize its nuclear weapons capabilities.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping poses for a group photo with deputies from the delegation of the People's Liberation Army PLA and the People's Armed Police Force in March.

Chinese President Xi Jinping poses for a group photo with deputies from the delegation of the People’s Liberation Army PLA and the People’s Armed Police Force in March. (Photo by Li Gang/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Russian nuclear material security also remains a concern to the United States, despite improvements to material protection, control, and accounting at Russia’s nuclear sites since the 1990s.

As for Iran, Milley said Tehran is “taking actions to improve its capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon.”

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“From the time of an Iranian decision, Iran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks, and it would only take several more months to produce an actual nuclear weapon,” Milley warned.

China has been sending satellites into space which pose a change to security in space. A rocket carrying a satellite launches into space in the Sichuan Province of China.

China has been sending satellites into space which pose a change to security in space. A rocket carrying a satellite launches into space in the Sichuan Province of China. (Li Jieyi/VCG via Getty Images)

“The United States remains committed as a matter of policy that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” he continued, adding that the United States military has “developed multiple options for our national leadership to consider, if or when Iran decides to develop a nuclear weapon.”

Milley’s testimony comes after the Pentagon made its largest-ever budget request for fiscal 2024 of $842 billion, a 3.2% increase from fiscal 2023.

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The Pentagon cited the “seriousness” of the threats posed by Russia and China in its request and urged Congress to take action to approve the budget immediately, stating that delays pose a serious threat when facing an adversary like China.

The U.S. announcement comes just weeks after China announced its own military budget of $230 billion, up 7.6% from last year.

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