China has become the biggest strategic threat to the United States, says one U.S. military official who spoke to NBC News.
“PRC is the most pressing threat in the Pacific,” one U.S. military official in the region said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. While North Korea is a near-term issue, “it’s a fight we could win,” the official said — but he worries about a fight with China.
The biggest concern is China’s island-building, the official said, but also Beijing’s dramatically improving military and cyber capabilities.
Some U.S. officials privately worry that China will wind up dominating the entire South China Sea region without ever having to fire a shot:
The U.S. military officials in the region warn that China’s ultimate goal is to become dominant by slowly making changes to the international order. China will use the laws it likes, ignore the ones it doesn’t and eventually other nations will have to adapt, thereby re-setting the rules in China’s favor.
The Chinese have changed the rules, for example, with their new man-made islands. In recent years China has transformed reefs, rocks and sandbars in the South China Sea into forward-based military installations, sparking a territorial dispute and diplomatic conflict. The islands are hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland in international waters.
The Chinese have declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) around the islands. If the Chinese enforce the zone and the international community begins to adhere to it, the islands will become accepted as Chinese territory. “We ignore the problem too long and we can’t tackle it anymore,” said an official.
“China is on a path to win without a fight,” one official said.
Analyst Comment: A rising number of U.S. military officials now consider the Chinese a bigger threat to U.S. national security in the foreseeable future than Russia.
Why it’s on our radar: Information in this article helps satisfy Priority Intelligence Requirement 2: What are the latest indicators of a U.S.-China conflict? Each week in our Strategic Intelligence Summary, we gauge the likelihood and scope of conflict with Russia, China, North Korea, and in the Middle East, and track the latest developments in each region. Subscribe here to receive our premium intelligence products prepared by Intelligence and special operations veterans.