U.S. President Donald Trump's top intelligence official is calling out China, describing the government in Beijing as the most pressing threat to freedom and democracy since the Second World War.
The warning from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is not the first of its kind from top U.S. intelligence or law enforcement officials, who for years have cautioned that China's expanding economic and military strength presented a growing danger to the United States. But this call to action may be the most dire.
"Beijing is preparing for an open-ended period of confrontation with the U.S.," Ratcliffe wrote in an opinion piece published late Thursday by The Wall Street Journal. "Washington should also be prepared."
Ratcliffe, who was sworn in this past May after narrowly winning confirmation in the U.S. Senate, has consistently named China as one of his top intelligence priorities.
But in the months leading up to November's presidential election, he repeatedly clashed with Democratic lawmakers, some of whom criticized him for promoting a "false narrative" by insisting China was a greater threat than Russia.
.@SpeakerPelosi @RepAdamSchiff also charge @POTUS administration, @DNI_Ratcliffe of seeking to promote a "false narrative" w/#Russia #China #Iran & #Election2020— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) August 29, 2020
"Only one country – Russia – is actively undertaking a range of measures to undermine the presidential election"
"I don't mean to minimize Russia," Ratcliffe told Fox Business News this past August, defending his record. "But the threats that we face from China are significantly greater … anyone who sees intelligence knows that."
Economic, technological, military threats
Until now, many of the warnings from intelligence and law enforcement officials have focused on China's efforts to overtake the U.S. economy.
According to the FBI, the number of economic espionage cases involving China has risen by about 1,300% over the past decade.
As of July, the bureau said it was investigating more than 1,000 cases involving China related to either the actual or attempted theft of U.S. technology.
But officials have also grown more wary of Beijing's military, naming China, along with Russia, as one of the two main threats to the post-World War II international order in the latest U.S National Defense Strategy.
And where U.S. military officials once saw China as a lesser threat than Russia, they say that is no longer the case.
"I definitely see the People's Liberation Army Air Force as the leader as the adversary," General Kenneth Wilsbach, the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, told defense reporters last month, pointing to "unprecedented advancements" by Beijing.
"Not that the Russians are a pushover, because they have considerable [air power] capability," Wilsbach said. "I just believe the Chinese have outpaced them."
'The intelligence is clear'
Now, less than two months before President-elect Joe Biden installs his own director of national intelligence, Ratcliffe is hoping to make sure the Trump administration's warnings about the threat from China do not go unheeded.
"The intelligence is clear," Ratcliffe wrote. "Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically."
"There are no moral or ethical boundaries to their pursuit of power," he added. "China has even conducted human testing on members of the People's Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities."
Ratcliffe argues the consequences of China's refusal to play by any rules even extends to U.S. families. It is estimated the damage from economic espionage and subterfuge is in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually, costing the average U.S. household $4,000 to $6,000 a year.
And all the while, Chinese influence operations have expanded, Ratcliffe argues, targeting members of Congress and their aides "with six times the frequency of Russia and 12 times the frequency of Iran."
U.S. counterintelligence officials said Wednesday that China's agents already have started targeting members of the incoming Biden administration. Chinese officials called the charge "ludicrous."