House to Probe China Threat

Hearings to focus on military buildup, U.S. intelligence gaps

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping / Getty Images
May 16, 2018

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will begin a major inquiry into the threat from China this week in a shift from its past attention on Russian subversion.

The committee will hold a series of hearings, both open and in secret, examining threats posed by China in the military sphere, economic and industrial realm, technology arena, and Beijing's significant influence operations against the United States, said committee aides.

The new inquiry is being directed by Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) and is supported by Republicans and Democrats.

"These hearings are meant to highlight the many challenges China poses to our national security through its aggressive territorial claims, unfair trade policies, espionage and cyber-attacks, and through other means," Nunes told the Washington Free Beacon.

"Our focus in the first hearing is to look at the military advances, quantitative and qualitative, and how it connects to China's broader strategy for force projection and influence," said one committee aide.

China is seeking to dominate the international order through a combination of infrastructure investment in the developing world and a network of overseas port facilities and military bases.

The inquiry will examine China's future plans and intentions and help educate both government and the private sector to the dangers.

"The concern is not the snapshot of where the Chinese are today, but where they're headed," the aide said. "It takes a long time for us to shift and realize that we have a real threat."

China unexpectedly succeeded in gaining strategic advantages over the United States due in large measure to a U.S. intelligence community that failed to properly assess Chinese goals and strategy.

Intelligence agencies for a long time "had blinders on" and misjudged Chinese activities, the aide said.

The failures included faulty intelligence estimates that China planned to limit its naval forces to regional conflicts. Instead, Beijing is rapidly building global naval warfare capabilities.

Another shortcoming involved intelligence analysis indicating Chinese island-building in the South China Sea would not be used by Beijing to bully Southeast Asian states.

Today, China has begun militarizing some 3,200 acres of reclaimed South China Sea islands with missiles and fighter jets—despite a promise by Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping that China would not use the islands for military purposes.

"Now we've got three small Pearl Harbor-like bases there with anti-ship missiles and an air defense umbrella," the aide said.

Additionally, China is using its growing military power to increase coercive pressure on Taiwan, a democratic island state Beijing claims is part of China.

China also is using its growing power against Japan in a dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that Beijing claims are Chinese territory.

India, too, is also being pressed by Chinese territorial claims in two border regions.

The first hearing is set for Thursday on Chinese worldwide military expansion and will focus on how the Chinese are using naval and air power and developing a global basing structure for power projection.

Among those slated to testify are retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, the former intelligence director for the Pacific Fleet, and Rick Fisher, a China military expert at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. American Enterprise Institute China hand Dan Blumenthal also will testify, along with Patricia Kim, a Council on Foreign Relations expert.

The Chinese goal is to challenge the United States and coerce regional states into adopting China's vision for a new global order under an authoritarian, anti-democratic power.

The China probe will mark a shift for the oversight panel from its contentious investigation of Russian election meddling and influence operations that divided the traditionally bipartisan panel.

The Russia probe pitted committee Republicans skeptical of alleged collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia to win the 2016 election, and Democrats opposed to the panel's efforts to investigate Obama administration politicization and mishandling of intelligence.

The new inquiry could help bring the two sides together as there is a growing consensus China is emerging as a greater national security challenge than other threats such as Russia, North Korea, Iran, and terrorism.

Other inquiry topics in the coming weeks are expected to include testimony and hearings on China's aggressive industrial policies and predatory economics.

China has announced plans to dominate key high-technology fields within seven years and has engaged in a series of acquisitions of U.S. and foreign companies to further that goal.

The panel also may review China's role in financial markets.

China's intellectual property theft and acquisition of advanced technologies is another potential area of inquiry along with congressional efforts to bolster the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States that has checked some Chinese purchases of American firms.

One of the committee's more significant investigations is expected to examine China's use of influence operations in the United States.

The inquiry on influence operations could go beyond China's use of cultural language centers on American universities called Confucius Institutes and Chinese student associations.

"Why is it acceptable for China to dominate and coerce Hollywood and publishing houses through these so-called, façade private companies that are basically controlled by the Communist Party?" the aide asked, noting two major think tanks in Washington are "beholden" to Chinese interests.

In 2012, under pressure from the Chinese government, the Hollywood studio MGM altered its remake of the film "Red Dawn" in late stages of production to change invading Chinese troops to North Koreans.

The inquiry will seek to deepen both public and government knowledge on the issues.

"Strategic failure comes from not recognizing and understanding the nature and scope of the threat and the environment that is being contested," the aide said.

In a related development, Bill Evanina, a senior DNI counterintelligence official, said China's efforts to undermine U.S. economic security have not been properly recognized.

"Until fairly recently, the efforts by China to use its intelligence services to advance its national development by undermining the economic security of the U.S. did not receive adequate attention," Evanina told the Senate Intelligence Committee in written answers to questions.

"The U.S. has been slow in responding, in particular, to China's systematic theft of U.S. technology across broad swaths of the U.S. economy, which represents a critical national security threat," he added.

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) testified at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the National Intelligence Council warned about Chinese subversion.

"China's government-run talent recruitment program facilitates the legal and the illicit transfer of U.S. technology, intellectual property and know-how to further China's science and technology development, military modernization, and goal of becoming a science and technology superpower by 2049," the document states.

"It's overseen by Communist Party's Central Committee, and it recruits scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and managers of all nationalities working or educated in the United States to commercialize and weaponize technologies."

Rubio said China is "basically conducting an all-out assault to steal what we've already developed and use it as the baseline for their development, so they can supplant us as the leader in the most important technologies of the 21st century."

On Chinese influence operations, Rubio said China recently threatened United and American Airlines with reduced flight routes and fines unless they conformed to Chinese descriptions of Taiwan.

The Marriott hotel chain recently fired an employee in the United States for upsetting China with a tweet about Tibet, and retail chain The Gap was forced to apologize after leaving out Taiwan on a map of China printed on a T-shirt.

"American companies are being bullied to the point where an American was fired in the United States because he liked a tweet," Rubio said.

Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary of state, told Rubio in response: "The State Department believes these actions are outrageous and disturbing. I think we're all familiar with the sharp power that Beijing wields its market access as a cudgel to reach certain economic concessions from private sector entities, like intellectual property transfer or certain joint ventures with the Chinese companies."

"China is very much well aware that it's wading to treacherous waters here," Wong said. "And they understand that if they continue along this path, continue to employ these tactics, that will negatively affect the U.S.-China relationship and that there will be consequences."

Published under: China