WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A top Republican in the U.S. Congress said on Sunday the odds of conflict with China over Taiwan “are very high” after a U.S. general caused consternation with a memo that warned that the United States would fight China in the next two years.
In a memo dated Feb. 1 but released on Friday, General Mike Minihan, who heads the Air Mobility Command, wrote to the leadership of its roughly 110,000 members, saying, “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025.”
“I hope he is wrong… I think he is right, though,” Mike McCaul, the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, told Fox News Sunday.
The general’s views do not represent the Pentagon but show concern at the highest levels of the U.S. military over a possible attempt by China to exert control over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a wayward province.
Both the United States and Taiwan will hold presidential elections in 2024, potentially creating an opportunity for China to take military action, Minihan wrote.
McCaul said that if China failed to take control of Taiwan bloodlessly then “they are going to look at a military invasion in my judgment. We have to be prepared for this”.
He accused the Democratic administration of President Joe Biden of projecting weakness after the bungled pullout from Afghanistan that could make war with China more likely.
“The odds are very high that we could see a conflict with China and Taiwan and the Indo Pacific,” McCaul said.
The White House declined to comment on McCaul’s remarks.
A Pentagon official said on Saturday the general’s comments were “not representative of the department’s view on China.”
When asked about Minihan’s assessment, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Monday that China was “willing to, with the utmost sincerity and greatest effort, pursue peaceful reunification (with Taiwan), but we will not promise to abandon the use of force. (We) need to reserve the option of taking all necessary measures”.
Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he disagreed with Minihan’s assessment on China.
Smith told Fox News Sunday that war with China is “not only not inevitable, it is highly unlikely. We have a very dangerous situation in China. But I think generals need to be very cautious about saying we’re going to war, it’s inevitable.”
Smith said the United States needs to be in a position to deter China from military action against Taiwan, but added: “I’m fully confident we can avoid that conflict if we take the right approach.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this month said he seriously doubted that ramped-up Chinese military activities near the Taiwan Strait were a sign of an imminent invasion of the island by Beijing.
(Reporting By Ross Colvin; Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Mark Porter and Gareth Jones)