China's large-scale military buildup, regional coercion, and economic aggression are part of plan for global domination, experts told Congress on Thursday.
The nuclear and conventional weapons buildup, militarization of islets in the South China Sea and global infrastructure investments aimed at controlling nations are signs Beijing has emerged as America's most significant national security challenge, a panel of specialists told a hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"The Chinese Communist Party is engaged in a total, protracted struggle for regional and global supremacy," retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief told the committee.
"This supremacy is the heart of the ‘China Dream.' China’s arsenal in this campaign for supremacy includes economic, informational, political, and military warfare."
Rick Fisher, a China military expert, testified that China's military, economic, and political activities in Asia and globally pose "grave challenges" for American security. He warned that the United States has "about a decade" to take action to counter the threat.
"The battle to hold off China starts in the Taiwan Strait," Fisher said.
China plans to use the Pacific island of Taiwan, some 100 miles from the Chinese coast as a future base for nuclear missiles, aircraft, and naval forces that will be used to coerce regional democracies into bowing to Beijing's will and ending alliances with the United States.
Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calf.) said the hearing is part of a committee investigation into the security and economic threats posed by China and an examination of U.S. intelligence and policies. The probe will include both public and closed-door hearings.
Those threats range from advanced military capabilities such as missiles, space warfare, and cyber weapons, and predatory economic aggression, Nunes said.
Past U.S. efforts to assuage China through trade, military exchanges, and other conciliatory gestures were unsuccessful in altering China's threatening trajectory, Nunes said.
"These previous attempts to appease China failed to improve our bilateral relations," he said. "In fact, China has only become emboldened and may now be the preeminent threat to American security, our economy, and our values."
Fanell testified that U.S. intelligence agencies failed for many years to accurately assess the growing dangers from China.
Intelligence analysts suffered from "group think" that mistakenly viewed China as a benign rising power. Instead, China is now poised to expand its Marxist-Leninist system worldwide.
"There were signs the Chinese told us what they were going to do and we ignored them," Fanell said.
U.S. intelligence agencies have denied underestimating China's rise. But several classified studies on the intelligence failures related to China analysis remain secret from the public in an apparent bid to avoid embarrassing spy agencies.
U.S. policies toward China since economic engagement began in the 1980s were guided by early claims China posed no threat. Successive administrations advocated strengthening China through trade and investment in the hope the communist system would eventually reform.
President Trump, however, directed a major shift in U.S. policy toward China by recognizing Beijing as "revisionist" power that threatens U.S. security and economic interests.
Trump has pressured China on its trade and technology theft and recently announced plans to impose tariffs on Chinese goods.
Curbs on Chinese investment in national security-related purchases also are planned.
Dan Blumenthal, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute, testified that many China hands were wrong about China's rise in the past.
Blumenthal called for directly confronting the Chinese Communist Party and its weaknesses.
"They constantly come at us with political warfare, information campaigns, propaganda. We let them off the hook," he said, adding that the Chinese public should be given more robust information about what the ruling party is doing.
"We can make it very difficult for a continental empire with 14 land borders—14 land borders—to go to sea," Blumenthal said. "And that would mean bringing about the maritime encirclement in terms of building out the allies and partnerships around that first island chain—Japan, Philippines, Taiwan."
China's ruling party is not simply seeking to preserve its hold on power but is "a Leninist party overseeing a continental empire that's going to sea," Blumenthal said.
China is expanding into the Pacific and also advancing in and around the Indian Ocean, using its commercial Belt and Road investment program as a "cash-for-access deal" in many locations.
Fanell, the retired Navy intelligence expert, said China's naval buildup is the "point of the spear in [China's] quest for global hegemony."
China currently has 330 warships, 66 submarines, and is building more. "By 2030, it is estimated the PLA Navy will consist of some 550 ships: 450 surface ships, and 99 submarines," he said.
"From a technological standpoint, the PRC has quickly achieved parity with U.S. Navy standards and capacities for warship and submarine production," Fanell said.
Fanell warned the United States faces a vulnerable "decade of concern" regarding a conflict with China that will begin in 2020.
"If some currently unintended event does not provoke a military confrontation before then, we have until 2020—the deadline that [Chinese supreme leader] Xi Jinping has given the [People's Liberation Army] to be ready to invade Taiwan. From that point on, we can expect China to strike," he said.
China has begun tightening a noose around Taiwan, recently holding large-scale attack exercises in the Taiwan Strait and flying bombers and strike aircraft around the island.
Chinese air forces also currently are threatening Japan's Senkakus and are militarizing disputed islands in the South China Sea with missiles and aircraft.
Beijing also announced plans to develop new nuclear-capable long-range bombers—another indicator of global power projection plans.
In addition to its growing military power, China is using political warfare capabilities under a doctrine described as "uniting with friends and disintegrating enemies," Fanell said.
"In any conflict within the Indo-Pacific region or globally, the PRC’s fight for public opinion will be the PRC’s second battlefield, on which it will wage a wide range of political warfare operations," Fanell said.
The information warfare will employ strategic psychological operations to promote the narratives of events, actions, and policies with the goal of controlling the Chinese public and influencing policies of both friends and foes.
The operations may appear to be benign soft power activities but will include the use of coercive persuasion campaigns that manipulate global perceptions.
China's overseas expansion will grow from its lone military base in the East African nation of Djibouti through a network of bases and dual-use port facilities in places like Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Tanzania, Mauritius, Namibia, and Greece.
Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the Chinese military also is developing space warfare capabilities, including plans to use the moon as a base.
"China's space control ambitions extend to achieving eventual control of the earth-moon system," Fisher said. "This would be necessary for the PLA to be able to dominate warfare on earth."
Fisher also said China has undermined American security by exporting vehicles to North Korea that are used as long-range missile transporters.
"As recently as last year, China has supplied large 16- to 18-wheel trucks that carry North Korea's ICBMs," he said. "These ICBMs are not able to attack American cities until they are carried to their launch point by these Chinese trucks. Two administrations have failed to sanction the companies that are involved in this commerce."
On non-military power, China plans to use its financial power in a program called Belt and Road Initiative that Fish said will produce a "debt trap" for developing states that can be coerced into cooperating China's strategic aims.
Using $1 trillion to $3 trillion in spending, "it is becoming apparent that China has settled on a new strategy for gaining military access around the world: use a country’s indebtedness to China as leverage to gain ownership or access that could lead to military access," Fisher said.
The United States needs a comprehensive long-term strategy aimed at countering the Chinese threat. "Such a strategy must include a military, economic, and ally focus, and a diplomatic, political, and informational focus," Fisher said.
Fanell said the United States must make a fundamental shift in dealing with China and recognize Beijing as the main threat to U.S. security.
He urged vastly strengthening U.S. strategic communications to counter China's information warfare, and adopting closer ties to Taiwan.
More Asia-deployed military forces and stepped up intelligence against China also are needed, along with increased attack submarine operations to shadow Chinese nuclear missile submarines.
"Bottom line: America needs to get back to being a maritime power supported militarily by strong allies, something that has been sorely neglected since the fall of the USSR," Fanell said.
"We have already slipped. If we fall any further, we may not recover."