He told the group of CEOs that President Xi Jinping said in a speech that he wanted China to achieve parity with the United States regionally by 2027 and to reach parity or superiority with the U.S. military by 2040.
"That's an aspiration," Milley said to Gerald Seib, the Journal's executive Washington editor. "We're not going to stay still."
China has grown its economy incredibly since 1979. The PLA has been a beneficiary of that growth. China has gone from a peasant-based, infantry army in 1979, "and they've developed a joint force in all of the domains in space and cyber in the traditional domains of land, sea and air," Milley said. "And they've modernized it. So they now have a very, very good capability. They have good capacity."
The Chinese are developing a blue-water Navy, they are building fifth generation aircraft, they are developing submarine forces and they have built aircraft carriers. "They're moving and they're developing their capabilities," he said.
Milley said an academic term for China would be "a rising revisionist power." China wants to revise the international rules-based order
— primarily engineered by the United States and other Western powers in 1944-45.
"China doesn't necessarily like all those rules, they don't want to blow them up, so they're not revolutionary," the chairman said. "They don't want to overturn them. But they do want to revise them to their own economic and political and diplomatic advantage. That presents a problem in geopolitics
, it's a big problem with a rising power, and a status quo power like the United States."
All this is complicated by the changes going on in the world. The Cold War was a bipolar world. Today, the world is at least "tripolar" or maybe more, the general said. "We're going into a world that is more complex, strategically, with a lot more variables," he said. "And we're entering into a world in which technology is advancing at a rate and a speed that has never been seen before in human history. So it's much more complex, [and] potentially more unstable. And it's going to take a significant amount of very, very competent, mature leadership to navigate our way through.