China's aggressive pursuit of territorial claims in the seas of East Asia is driven by a sense of historical destiny and is causing great concern among countries in the region, the chief of US intelligence says.
James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, said China had pursued a very impressive military modernisation that was designed to address what it saw as America's military strengths.
Clapper was responding to a question on China's recent actions in the East and South China Seas posed at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats.
Clapper said that China had been greatly concerned by the US "pivot to Asia"- the Obama administration's attempt to boost America's military, diplomatic and economic presence in the region - viewing it as an attempt at containment.
"They've been quite aggressive about asserting what they believe is their manifest destiny, if you will, in that part of the world," Clapper told lawmakers. He added that disputes over islands and energy resources, particularly in the South China Sea, created potential flash points for conflict.
Beijing denies any aggressive intent. It says its claims have a historical basis, including over most of the resource-rich South China Sea, where it has disputes with nations including Vietnam and the Philippines.
The top-ranking Democrat on the committee, C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, described China's November declaration of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea - over uninhabited islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China - as a "troubling power and land grab" and an affront to international law. Clapper said China's military modernisation effort extended to all of its armed forces, in space and in cyberspace and over time China would try to project its power globally.
Ruppersberger asked whether China could threaten US satellite systems, which have widespread military and civilian applications. Clapper responded that there were countries pursuing very aggressive and impressive "counter-space" capabilities, and the US was taking "appropriate actions".
- The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the nomination of Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, to be the next US ambassador to Beijing, clearing the way for a vote on his confirmation in the Senate, where approval is expected.