China may remain the “primary threat” to the U.S. military for as long as a century after learning how to fight more effectively by watching American wars in the Middle East, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
“China went to school on us,” General Mark Milley said in response to lawmakers’ questions during his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They watched us very closely in the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War. They watched our capabilities and in many, many ways they have mimicked those, and they have adopted many of the doctrines and organizations.”
Evolving threats from China and Russia are cited as the primary challenges in the current U.S. defense strategy, supplanting the war on terrorism as the top priority. China, with the world’s second-largest economy, is making major investments in military capabilities to challenge America’s post-World War II dominance, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S. this month denounced Chinese anti-ship missile tests in the disputed South China Sea, underscoring the continued strategic tensions between the two Pacific powers even as they try to restart trade talks.
Read More: China Dismisses U.S. Criticism of South China Sea Missile Tests
Ties between the countries have been strained since May when Trump hiked tariffs after accusing Beijing of reneging on commitments in trade negotiations.
“China is improving their military very, very rapidly in space, air, cyber, maritime, land domains,” said Milley, who said the U.S. needs to make sure that “we do not lose our advantages that we have relative to other countries, specifically relative to China.”
But he added, “China is not an enemy. I want to make that clear. They are an adversary.”