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CvT: US Intel Community on the Threat Posed by China

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China’s resurgence, driven by a national strategy of rejuvenation, has seen rapid military modernization and strikingly, digital authoritarianism. The first sentence of the report reads, “For the first time in three decades the United States is confronted by the rise of a global competitor,” while conclusions drawn from the 37-page, partially redacted report, detail that, without significant realignment of resources and organization, the US IC will not be properly equipped to handle China’s resurgence to the global leaderboard.

Military modernization

The complete restructuring of the People’s Liberation Army has included adaptations in order to better suit it for joint operations, combat readiness, and regional expansion. These evolving capabilities imply China’s intent to strengthen its power projection in the Indo-Pacific region. Advances include quantitative increases in bomber aircraft, land based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and hypersonic cruise missiles. In addition, advances in military technology have altered notions of key battlegrounds as new domains of warfare, including space and the cybersphere, were also cited in the report. Mention of the possibility of an extended frontier of warfare that includes cyberspace reflects China’s potential to translate its strong influence in technology via centrally-backed strategic innovation into gains towards its goals of becoming a military superpower by 2049. Expansion into the cybersphere also implicates notions of potential digital authoritarianism, or China’s potential to use digital information technology to surveil, repress, and/or manipulate domestic and foreign populations.

Digital authoritarianism

China’s foray into digital authoritarianism has been driven by the coalescence of its technological prowess and illiberal governance. The nation has experienced its own indigenous innovation, particularly in the field of Artificial Intelligence, which has strengthened it as a true surveillance state. State-directed subsidies have invested heavily in strategic technologies, producing over a dozen billion-dollar companies. Advances on these frontiers have enabled the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to monitor the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens through an extensive system of surveillance technologies. The implications of China’s sweeping surveillance capabilities have left US policymakers wary as the CCP has begun exporting its authoritarianist ideologies and the accompanying technology stack abroad to nearly 60 countries. Through rhetoric ingrained in agreements and physical export of surveillance materials, China has begun to influence the surveillance procedures of countries such as Ecuador, which has adopted the Chinese model of strictly monitoring its own citizens. Ramifications of this export-driven authoritarianism could see the rise of this ideology beyond China’s borders, posing a globally systemic threat to the US and its brand of democratic values.

The report enumerated the dangers the US may face if it continues to fail to adapt to the challenges presented by China’s rising digital authoritarianism. Proposals to the IC vary widely, from expanding US military influence in the Indo-Pacific region and acquiring intelligence assets that are proficient in Mandarin to developing communication and data-sharing channels between the IC and non-defense governmental agencies. It is clear that the IC must restructure its operating principles in order to effectively address this challenge to democratic ideology.

Looking forward

China has and will continue to play a leading role in 21st century power politics. According to the HPSCI, constant advancements in AI technologies are driving its campaign for authoritarian ideology across the globe – providing a serious threat to US national security and interests. To counter this, it will be integral that the US takes proactive steps to predict and characterize the intent of the CCP as an actor in shaping the international system.

By realigning resources and addressing the military and political threats posed by China, the HSPCI believes the US may have a chance to maintain global leadership; otherwise, the US could see its position supplanted as an ideological shift within an international arena that values democracy and liberal ideals shifts towards one that values authoritarian principles of surveillance and statewide monitorization.

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