China is developing an array of advanced, high technology weapons designed to defeat the United States in a future conflict, according to a congressional commission report.
"China is pursuing a range of advanced weapons with disruptive military potential," says the annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
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The report outlines six types of advanced arms programs that Beijing has made a priority development in seeking "dominance" in the high-tech weapons area. They include maneuverable missile warheads, hypersonic weapons, laser and beam weapons, electromagnetic railguns, counterspace weapons, and artificial intelligence-directed robots.
China revealed two anti-ship ballistic missiles with maneuverable reentry vehicles in 2010 and 2015 and also has set up the sensors and satellites needed for striking moving targets at sea—weapons designed for use against U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships.
Beijing's hypersonic missiles are in the developmental stage but are "progressing rapidly," with seven hypersonic glide vehicle tests since 2014 and one reported scramjet engine flight test in 2015.
Directed energy weapons include work on a high-power microwave anti-missile systems this year and high-energy chemical lasers that can blind or damage satellites.
China also is developing electromagnetic rail guns capable of firing projectiles that use kinetic instead of explosive means to destroy targets.
China's space weapons include direct-ascent antisatellite missiles, ground-based directed energy weapons, and rendezvous and proximity operations for destroying or grabbing satellites.
Artificial-intelligence weapons include robotic, self-thinking cruise missiles, autonomous vehicles, and swarms of drones.
Technology advances supporting the weapons include semiconductors, supercomputing, industrial robotics, and quantum information science.
The threats to the United States from the arms include potential attacks against ships at sea, hypersonic missiles to penetrate missile defenses, targeting U.S. forces with railguns, and space arms that could block U.S. military operations in a future conflict.
China also could use unmanned artificial intelligence weapons in large numbers to saturate U.S. air defenses using swarm technologies.
"Given Beijing’s commitment to its current trajectory, and the lack of fundamental barriers to advanced weapons development beyond time and funding, the United States cannot assume it will have an enduring advantage in developing next frontier military technology," the report concluded. "In addition, current technological trends render the preservation of any advantage even more difficult."
Once characterized by decades-long development, China is moving rapidly in the area of specialized weapons in ways designed not for military parity with the United States but military supremacy.
Advanced weapons work today appears aimed at "moving from a phase of ‘catching-up' to pursuing ‘leap-ahead' technologies," the report said.
The advanced arms could produce potential intelligence surprises that pose a threat to the United States and its forward-deployed forces and regional allies.
"China's achievement of a surprise breakthrough in one of these technologies is possible, due to the secrecy surrounding these programs and the uncertain nature of advanced weapons development in general," the report said, noting, "such a breakthrough could have significant strategic implications for the United States, particularly in its potential to further existing access challenges and hold forward deployed U.S. forces at risk."
Three commissioners, in an "additional views" note in the report, warned China's advanced weapons pose a threat to the Asia Pacific region.
"There are a number of areas where the PLA could make breakthroughs that would be decisive in a conflict with the United States and its regional allies," said James M. Talent, Michael R. Wessel, and Katherine C. Tobin.
"In short, China is not just an asymmetric threat to the United States, or even a near-peer competitor. It has become, in its region, the dominant military power. That fact, more than any other, explains why China’s aggressions over the last five years have been successful."
The successes include encroachment in the South China Sea, imposition of an air defense zone in the East China Sea, aggression against Philippines, coercion of Vietnam, increasing pressure on Taiwan, harassment of Japan and other provocations, they stated.
Rick Fisher, a China military expert, said the commission should be commended for examining China's large investment in advanced military technologies.
"As in most areas of military capability, the United States is in a race with China to develop the technologies and systems that will dominate the future global military balance," he said.
Overall, the report paints a dire picture of Chinese security and economic developments that portend difficult ties with the United States in the coming years.
For example, the commission faulted "Beijing’s discriminatory treatment of U.S. companies and ongoing failure to uphold its World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations" as damaging U.S.-China relations.
The current U.S. trade deficit with China was $347 billion in 2016 and $238 billion in the first eight months of 2017.
"U.S. companies are feeling increasingly pressured by Chinese policies that demand technology transfers as a price of admission and favor domestic competitors," the report said.
Internally, high and rising debt levels pose an increasing threat to China's financial stability. Beijing's current total debt reached $27.5 trillion by the end of 2016.
China also has sharply increased investment in the United States in a bid to obtain new technologies, including information and communications technology, agriculture, and biotechnology.
The technology transfers pose risks to U.S. economic and national security interests.
On the South China Sea, the report said China has tightened its effective control of the strategic waterway by militarizing artificial islands, and pressuring states in the region to accept its illegal sovereignty claims.
China's military buildup also is continuing, with new and advanced arms and capabilities, including warships, aircraft and cyber and space weapons.
"The PLA Rocket Force continues to improve both its conventional and nuclear forces to enhance long-range strike and deterrence capabilities and is modernizing its forces to increase the reliability and effectiveness of both conventional and nuclear missile system," the report said.
The missile modernization is "eroding the United States’ ability to operate freely in the Western Pacific."
China also is rapidly expanding its state-controlled media influence operations overseas that involves pressuring foreign publications.
For example, China’s influence over Hollywood and the U.S. entertainment industry has increased and Chinese authorities pressured Cambridge University Press into censoring several academic publications.
"The investment activities of large, Chinese Communist Party-linked corporations in the U.S. media industry risk undermining the independence of film studios by forcing them to consider self-censorship in order to gain access to the Chinese market," the report said.
The report noted that in April, the Chinese government also launched a major international media campaign to discredit a Chinese whistleblower living in the United States.
Among the commissions recommendations are new laws updating the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to deal with potentially threatening Chinese investment.
For example, the commission recommended blocking Chinese-state owned or state-controlled companies to buy U.S. companies.
To counter Chinese influence operations, the panel recommended requiring Chinese state-run media outlets and entities to register as foreign agents "given that Chinese intelligence gathering and information warfare efforts are known to involve staff of Chinese state-run media organizations," the report said.
More U.S. military spending is needed to counter the Chinese buildup of weapons, both traditional and advanced.
"As China expands its role on the world stage, it seeks to diminish the role and influence of the United States in Asia and beyond," the report says. "It is incumbent on U.S. policymakers to advance a coordinated and comprehensive economic, geostrategic, and military strategy that ensures these goals and ambitions do not disrupt U.S. interests at home or abroad."
Reaction from China was swift. The annual commission report was denounced by Chinese state media on Thursday as "another anti-China report."
"From China's perspective, the commission is one of the most hostile U.S. organizations," the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times states.