China is waging a “quiet kind of cold war” against the US, using all its resources to try to replace it as the leading power in the world, a top CIA expert on Asia said on Friday.
Beijing does not want to go to war, he said, but the communist government, under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), is subtly working on multiple fronts to undermine the US in ways that are different than the more well-publicized activities being employed by Russia.
“I would argue ... that what they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war — a cold war not like we saw during THE Cold War [between the US and the Soviet Union], but a cold war by definition,” CIA East Asia Mission Center Deputy Assistant Director Michael Collins said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
Rising US-China tension goes beyond the trade dispute playing out in a tariff tit-for-tat between the two nations.
There is concern over China’s pervasive efforts to steal business secrets and details about high-tech research being conducted in the US. The Chinese military is expanding and being modernized, and the US, as well as other nations, have complained about China’s construction of military outposts on islands in the South China Sea.
“I would argue that it’s the Crimea of the East,” Collins said, referring to Russia’s brash annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which was condemned throughout the West.
Collins’ comments track warnings about China’s rising influence that were issued by others who spoke earlier this week at the security conference.
The alarm bells come at a time when Washington needs China’s help in ending its nuclear standoff with North Korea.
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday said China, from a counterintelligence perspective, represents the broadest and most significant threat the US faces.
The FBI has economic espionage investigations in all 50 states that can be traced back to China, he said.
“The volume of it, the pervasiveness of it, the significance of it is something that I think this country cannot underestimate,” Wray said.
US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also warned of rising Chinese aggression.
In particular, the US must stand strong against China’s effort to steal business secrets and academic research, he said.
Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton said that increasing the public’s awareness about the activities of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students or groups at US universities could be one way to help mitigate potential damage.
“China is not just a footnote to what we’re dealing with Russia,” Thornton said.
China has the second-largest defense budget in the world, the largest standing army of ground forces, the third-largest air force and a navy of 300 ships and more than 60 submarines, former US under secretary of defense for intelligence Marcel Lettre said.
“All of this is in the process of being modernized and upgraded,” said Lettre, who sat on a panel with Collins and Thornton.
He said China is also pursuing advances in cyber, artificial intelligence, engineering and technology, counter-space, anti-satellite capabilities and hypersonic glide weapons.
US Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley, told a congressional committee earlier this year that China is developing long-range cruise missiles — some capable of reaching supersonic speeds.
“The Pentagon has noted that the Chinese have already pursued a test program that has had 20 times more tests than the US has,” Lettre said.
Franklin Miller, former senior director for defense policy and arms control at the US National Security Council, said China’s weapons developments are emphasizing the need to have a dialogue with Beijing.
“We need to try to engage,” Miller said. “My expectations for successful engagement are medium-low, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”
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