China is top of the US list of most dangerous military rivals – taking a step ahead of Russia, defense chief warns
- US defense chief told military chiefs the US needed to match Beijing capabilities
- He sent a message to Pentagon staff marking his first year as defense secretary
- Mark Esper told military chiefs China was now ahead of Russia in threat-levels
- Two years after predecessor James Mattis said Russia and China were equal
The US defense secretary has confirmed China is top of the list of most dangerous military rivals.
Mark Esper told military chiefs the US needed to match Beijing’s capabilities by recalibrating training and operations.
In a message to Pentagon staff marking his first year in the role, he said the US must make China ‘the pacing threat in all our schools, programmes and training’, according to The Times.
‘We are now in an era of great power competition and China, then Russia, constitute our top strategic competitors,’ he added.
It comes two years after national defence strategy delivered by James Mattis, his predecessor, said China and Russia were both equally ‘great power rivals’ to the US.
Mark Esper (pictured behind President Donald Trump on May 15) told military chiefs the US needed to match Beijing’s capabilities by recalibrating training and operations
In May China’s foreign minister said the US had pushed relations with China to ‘the brink of a new Cold War’.
Tensions have worsened in recent months over the pandemic and a Beijing move to tighten control over Hong Kong.
Esper (pictured in June) sent a message to Pentagon staff to mark one year in his role
Wang Yi said the United States had been infected by a ‘political virus’ compelling figures there to continually attack China.
Longstanding friction between the two powers over trade, human rights and a range of other issues have been pushed to new heights since the virus outbreak.
On Tuesday the head of the FBI said China was pushing its preference in the US election as part of broad intelligence operations.
Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, did not say whether China backed either President Donald Trump or his presumptive Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Both have harshly criticized Beijing.
The Trump campaign has rolled out TV ads trying to link rival Joe Biden to China, focusing in part on business Biden’s son Hunter did in China.
One online ad in May accused Biden of being ‘China’s puppet’. Some ads made use of a Biden statement during the Obama administration that ‘China is not our enemy.’
Biden in turn has accused Trump of abandoning Hong Kong, where China has clamped down on expression, in his bid to secure a trade deal.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asked reporters rhetorically on Wednesday: ‘Can you really believe what the FBI says?’
‘China’s malign foreign influence campaign targets our policies, our positions, 24/7, 365 days a year,’ Wray said at the Hudson Institute.
‘So it’s not an election-specific threat; it’s really more of an all-year, all-the-time threat.
‘But certainly that has implications for elections and they certainly have preferences that go along with that.’
The Trump campaign has accused former Vice President Joe Biden of being in China’s ‘pocket’
US intelligence concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election, in part by manipulating social media, in an effort to elect Trump.
Wray’s comments come as the Trump Administration ratchets up political and public pressure on China in an election year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been in a war of words with Beijing, announced new US sanctions on Chinese officials on Tuesday over Tibet.
He said the US was barring Chinese authorities from the United States who were found to have restricted journalists, tourists, or diplomats or other American officials from entering Tibetan areas.
China’s President Xi Jinping shakes hands with President Trump at the G20 Summit in Osaka in June 2019. The Trump administration has taken an increasingly hawkish tone on China
Wray was answering questions after a speech focused mostly on China’s alleged economic espionage, cases of which he said have soared by 1,300 percent over the past decade.
He said: ‘It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.
‘If you’re an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data.’
He pointed to the large 2017 data breach at credit reporting agency Equifax.
On Tuesday the head of the FBI, Christopher Wray (pictured), said China was pushing its preference in the US election as part of broad intelligence operations
Wray said China accounted for nearly half of the 5,000 ongoing counter-intelligence cases being pursued by the FBI.
‘We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours,’ he said.
Wray also said China works ‘relentlessly’ to identify ‘middlemen’ to pressure US governors and other officials who take actions it opposes — notably traveling to Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing.
The Trump administration has taken an increasingly hawkish tone on China, including blaming the communist power for not stopping the coronavirus pandemic — on which the president’s own record has been criticized.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quick to denounce Wray’s remarks, calling them ‘political lies’.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson at the Ministry, asked reporters rhetorically on Wednesday: ‘Can you really believe what the FBI says?’
At a press briefing in Beijing, Mr Zhao said Washington’s foreign policy was ‘kidnapped’ by ‘anti-China’ figures like Wray.
He added: ‘I also noticed that he publicly claimed to deal with one China-related case every 10 hours.
‘How [the FBI’s officials] dare to think the Chinese security department can be trifled with.’
Mr Zhao slammed Wray’s comments as ‘untruthful.’ He also accused the FBI chief of having ‘deeply rooted Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.’
‘The Chinese side resolutely opposes it,’ the Chinese official decried.
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