China poses the single biggest geopolitical test for the US in the 21st century, CIA Director William Burns has said, stressing that this threat is more serious than those from Russia during the Cold War.
Burns made the remarks to members of the House Select Committee on Intelligence during a Congressional hearing on worldwide threats on Thursday.
"I think China poses the single biggest geopolitical test for the United States as far out into the 21st century as I can see," Burns said.
"What distinguishes that challenge from an increasingly adversarial Chinese Communist Party from, for example, the challenge we faced with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is that this challenge unfolds across a whole range of areas from military to ideological in terms of our values, economic and especially at its core competition and technology as well," Burns said.
The US and China are at odds over a range of issues from trade to human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and China's western Xinjiang region, as well as over Taiwan, Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea and the coronavirus pandemic.
Responding to a question from Senator Peter Welch, Burns said that certainly, there are going to be some areas where it's in their mutual self-interest to work together. Climate change and nuclear nonproliferation are a few of those areas.
But there are an increasing and growing number of areas in which China poses a real challenge, he said.
During the hearing Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, the only Indian-American in the House Intelligence Committee, said China possesses substantial cyber-attack capabilities that have been identified with localised infrastructure disruptions in different countries, for instance, following the clashes between China and India on the Line of Actual Control.
"Recently, in the fall, there was a temporary blackout in Mumbai that folks may have associated with Chinese-based entities. Can you guarantee to us that the Chinese government cannot do to any city here what they may have done in other places on the earth?" he asked.
Congressman Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that China and Russia have different capabilities and intentions, but both seek to challenge and disrupt and supplant the liberal democratic order built by the United States.
"We face challenges from these two nations across all domains, some of them very immediate, with Russia mobilising its forces along the border with Ukraine and China taking aggressive actions towards Taiwan. And we must confront persistent threats from nations like North Korea and Iran," he said.
An executive order issued by President Joe Biden this morning makes clear that the United States will no longer sit on its hands in the face of Russian aggression, Schiff said.
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