WASHINGTON — China’s government is increasingly convinced it can only make itself the pre-eminent power in Asia, and a major power globally, by diminishing American influence, the top U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.
The goal of weakening U.S. power and influence is one reason China has continued to pursue a deepening partnership with Russia, according to an annual intelligence threat assessment that was also released Wednesday.
Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence who appeared before a Senate committee to present the threat assessment, said China believes it can achieve its goals of dominating its region and expanding its global reach “only at the expense of U.S. power and influence.”
“The People’s Republic of China, which is increasingly challenging the United States economically, technologically, politically and militarily around the world, remains our unparalleled priority,” Ms. Haines said.
The threat report is a major yearly public release of the intelligence agencies’ assessment of a variety of national security challenges. While some aspects of the report barely change year to year, the section on China expanded significantly, reflecting the intelligence agencies’ greater focus on the nation during the Biden administration.
Prodded by both parties in Congress, the intelligence agencies have invested more resources on China, created a new C.I.A. mission center focused on Beijing and taken other measures aimed at improving intelligence collection and analysis.
The annual assessment said that despite the international condemnation of Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, China will maintain its cooperation with Russia to try to challenge the United States.
U.S. officials have warned that China is considering providing lethal aid, such as ammunition, to Russia for the war in Ukraine. U.S. officials have determined that China had aimed to provide artillery shells to Russia but hoped to do so without being detected, so Beijing could credibly maintain a public position of criticizing the United States for providing arms to Ukraine.
Officials in the Biden administration made public intelligence that China was considering a secret provision of lethal aid along with both public and private messages to Beijing that such support would cross a line. Officials have warned that Washington would impose economic sanctions on Beijing if that support were to go ahead.
Better Understand the Relations Between China and the U.S.
The two nations are jockeying for influence on the global stage, maneuvering for advantages on land, in the economy and in cyberspace.
At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, Senator Angus King, independent of Maine, asked Ms. Haines if the relationship between China and Russia was a temporary marriage of convenience or a long-term love affair.
Ms. Haines said it was not simply a temporary partnership but added that it had “some limitations.”
“We don’t see them becoming allies, the way we are with allies in NATO,” Ms. Haines said.
China will continue to treat Russia as an important strategic power, despite the criticism that the United States and others have leveled at Beijing for maintaining that relationship, the report said.
In her testimony on Wednesday, Ms. Haines reinforced the message that President Biden and his top foreign policy aides have been sending on China. Since his election campaign in 2020, Mr. Biden has said that while Russia is a medium-term challenge, China is the greatest long-term rival of the United States and is the only nation with the power and resources to reshape the American-led international order.
Ms. Haines also underscored the espionage challenge posed by China, saying its ambitions and abilities make it “our most serious and consequential intelligence rival.”
The threat report also reiterates a list of the Biden administration’s views on the strategic challenges posed by China, many of which build on analyses made during the Trump administration.
The report said that as China’s leader, Xi Jinping, begins his third term, the Chinese Communist Party will work “to press Taiwan on unification, undercut U.S. influence, drive wedges between Washington and its partners and foster some norms that favor its authoritarian system.”
At the same time, it said, Chinese leaders “probably will seek opportunities to reduce tensions with Washington when they believe it suits their interests.”
The strengthening of China’s military and its expanded operations, especially across the Asia-Pacific region, are a focal point of the report.
“Beijing is increasingly combining growing military power with its economic, technological, and diplomatic influence,” the report said, to reinforce party rule, secure territory and “pursue global influence.”
The report also outlined how Chinese leaders will likely be constrained in some policies and actions because of internal factors — including an aging population and economic issues.
The report’s authors say the Chinese military is trying to meet a goal of Mr. Xi’s — to be powerful enough by 2027 to stave off any U.S.-led intervention in an armed conflict over Taiwan.
Mr. Xi has used that language to spur modernization of the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese military. But he and other Chinese officials have not said they will invade Taiwan anytime soon, and in fact, there is vigorous debate within U.S. agencies over Beijing’s exact intentions on Taiwan. Some U.S. military officials have spoken of Beijing likely acting in the next few years to force Taiwan to come under Communist Party rule, but those are individual views within the U.S. government.
The report also offers new insights on Beijing’s assessment of nuclear threats and the prospect of a nuclear conflict.
Beijing has determined that rising tensions and growing U.S. nuclear capabilities “have increased the likelihood of a U.S. first strike,” the report said.
Beijing has concluded its nuclear capabilities are insufficient, aims to expand its nuclear arsenal and is building hundreds of new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles, the report said. Growing confidence in its arsenal over time, according to the report, will “bolster its resolve and intensify conventional conflicts.”
The report also warns that China will avoid signing nuclear arms agreements with the United States or Russia, at least until it modernizes and builds its arsenal.
“Beijing is not interested in agreements that restrict its plans and will not agree to negotiations that lock in U.S. or Russian advantages,” the report said.