America’s most senior general has dismissed warnings of an imminent Chinese invasion of Taiwan, insisting that the People’s Liberation Army was not yet capable of annexing the island.

“I think China has a ways to go to develop the actual, no-kidding capability to conduct military operations to seize, through military means, the entire island of Taiwan, if they wanted to do that,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told a Senate appropriations committee hearing.

Milley added that he thought China had little intention to take Taiwan by force. “There’s no reason to do it militarily, and they know that. So, I think the probability is probably low, in the immediate, near-term future.”

His assessment contrasts with the warning issued in March by Admiral Philip Davidson, then commander of US forces in the Pacific, who told lawmakers during a hearing that China might attack Taiwan in the next six years. Admiral John Aquilino, Davidson’s successor, said a Chinese attack on Taiwan could be launched “much closer to us than most think”.

A senior US government official also told the Financial Times there was concern that President Xi Jinping viewed progress in unifying Taiwan with China as important to his quest for a third term in office.

Over the past year, the Chinese military has sharply raised the pressure on Taipei, such as flying aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.

Since Taiwan first announced the incursions in September last year, People’s Liberation Army Air Force aircraft have entered the buffer zone 20 days a month on average. The participation of fighters and bombers in these flights has steadily risen, peaking at 44 fighters in April.

After a lull at the start of the month, China flew 28 military aircraft towards Taiwan on Tuesday, the largest single-day incursion. The mission was seen as a reaction to G7 and Nato statements that chided China and the arrival of a US aircraft carrier that had sailed into the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Some experts believe that China’s rapid military modernisation has given the PLA the confidence that it could successfully stage an amphibious invasion of Taiwan.

“The Chinese military counterparts that I’ve been talking to tell me that they can do the landing, that they are confident,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, a China expert at Stanford University, said on a podcast this week.

But other analysts disagree. “The PLA currently lacks the required amphibious lift, logistics, and materiel for a robust cross-Strait invasion and shows no urgency to achieve it,” Andrew Erickson, a professor at the US Naval War College, wrote on Monday.