China-US relations

CIA accuses China of waging a ‘quiet kind of cold war’ against US

Intelligence chief tells security summit that Beijing is using all its resources to try to undermine America

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 2:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 10:04pm

China is waging a “quiet kind of cold war” against the United States, using all its resources to try to replace America as the leading power in the world, a top CIA expert on Asia said Friday.

Beijing doesn’t want to go to war, he said, but the current communist government, under President Xi Jinping, is subtly working on multiple fronts to undermine the US in ways that are different than the more well-publicised activities being employed by Russia.

“I would argue … that what they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war”, Michael Collins, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s East Asia mission centre, said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

He said it was not comparable to the decades-long stand-off between the US and Soviet Union, but it was “by definition” a cold war.

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There is concern over China’s pervasive efforts to steal business secrets and details of the hi-tech research being conducted in the US.

The Chinese military is expanding and being modernised and the US, as well as other nations, have complained about China’s construction of military outposts on islands in the disputed South China Sea.

“I would argue that it’s the Crimea of the East,” Collins said, referring to Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, which was condemned throughout the West.

Collins’ comments follow warnings about China’s rising influence 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 stand-off with North Korea.

On Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China represents the broadest and most significant threat America faces from a counter-intelligence perspective. He said the FBI had economic espionage investigations in all 50 US states that could be traced back to China.

“The volume of it. The pervasiveness of it. The significance of it is something that I think this country cannot underestimate,” Wray said.

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National Intelligence Director Dan Coats also warned of rising Chinese aggression. In particular, he said, the US must stand strong against China’s effort to steal business secrets and academic research.

Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said 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 with Russia,” Thornton said.

Marcel Lettre, former undersecretary of defence for intelligence, said China has the second-largest defence 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.

“All of this is in the process of being modernised 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.

Army Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, told a congressional committee earlier this year that China is developing long-range cruise missiles – some capable of reaching supersonic speeds.

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“The Pentagon has noted that the Chinese have already pursued a test programme that has had 20 times more tests than the US has,” Lettre said.

Franklin Miller, former senior director for defence policy and arms control at the National Security Council, said China’s weapons developments are emphasising 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.”