Colombo, March 10: The annual threat assessment of the US intelligence community dated February 6, 2023, includes the possibility of armed clashes between India and China and India-Pakistan. Globally, the US sees China, rather than Russia, as the greatest threat to it
“While India and China have engaged in bilateral border talks and resolved border points, relations will remain strained in the wake of the countries’ lethal clash in 2020, the most serious in decades. The expanded military postures by both India and China along the disputed border elevate the risk of armed confrontation between two nuclear powers that might involve direct threats to US persons and interests, and calls for U.S. intervention.”
“Previous standoffs have demonstrated that persistent low-level friction on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) (the China-India border) has the potential to escalate swiftly,” the assessment prepared by the US Intelligence Community said.
On the Indo-Pakistan scenario, it says that the conflict between India and Pakistan is of particular concern because of the “risk of an escalatory cycle between two nuclear-armed states.”
It says that “New Delhi and Islamabad probably are inclined to reinforce the current calm in their relationship following both sides’ renewal of a cease-fire along the Line of Control in early 2021. However, Pakistan has a long history of supporting anti-India militant groups, and under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is more likely than in the past to respond with military force to perceived or real Pakistani provocations.”
“Each side’s perception of heightened tensions raises the risk of conflict, with violent unrest in Kashmir or a militant attack in India being potential flashpoints.”
The focus of the annual report is the threat to the security of the United States. The information available as of 18 January 2023 was used in the preparation of this assessment.
The report mentions threats posed by “regional powers” and terror groups. “Local and regional powers are seeking to exert their influence, often at the cost of neighbours and the world order itself. Iran will remain a regional menace with broader malign influence activities, and North Korea will expand its WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) capabilities while being a disruptive player on the regional and world stages.”
About Russia, the report says that Moscow will remain a “formidable” but “less predictable” challenge in the next decade because it will face a range of constraints. “Russia probably does not want a direct military conflict with U.S. and NATO forces, but there is potential for that to occur.”
Further, “there is real potential for Russia’s military failures in the war to hurt Russian President Vladimir Putin’s domestic standing.” But this could also trigger “additional escalators actions by Russia in an effort to win back public support,” the report adds.
“Moscow will continue to employ an array of tools to advance what it sees as its own interests and try to undermine the interests of the United States and its allies. These are likely to be military, security, malign influence, cyber, and intelligence tools. But Russia’s economic and energy leverage will probably be a declining asset.”
China’s economic and military progress makes it the greater threat, the report says. Reason? “China has the capability to directly attempt to alter the rules-based global order in every realm and across multiple regions, as a near-peer competitor that is increasingly pushing to change global norms and potentially threatening its neighbours.”
“In 2023, Beijing will continue to apply pressure and possibly offer inducements for Taiwan to move toward unification and will react to what it views as increased US–Taiwan engagement. Beijing claims that the United States is using Taiwan as a “pawn” to undermine China’s rise, and will continue to take stronger measures to push back against perceived increases in US support to Taiwan. Beijing may build on its actions from 2022, which could include more Taiwan Strait centerline crossings or missile overflights of Taiwan,” the report says.
Beijing will try to expand its influence abroad and its efforts to be viewed as a champion of global development via several initiatives––including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative.
Importantly, “despite the global backlash over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China will maintain its diplomatic, defense, economic and technology cooperation with Russia.”
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is making “uneven progress” toward establishing overseas military facilities. But it will probably continue to use “tailored” approaches to address local concerns as it seeks to improve relations with amenable countries and advance its overseas basing goals. In addition to continuing to develop its existing military base in Djibouti, Beijing reportedly is pursuing potential bases in Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, and the UAE, the report says.
On China’s nuclear doctrine, the report says that “Beijing is not interested in agreements that restrict its plans and will not agree to negotiations that lock in US or Russian advantages. Beijing’s heightened confidence in its nuclear deterrent is likely to bolster its resolve and intensify conventional conflicts. China is building hundreds of new ICBM silos.”
China In Space
The report notes that “China is steadily progressing toward its goal of becoming a world-class space leader, with the intent to match or surpass the United States by 2045. Even by 2030, China probably will achieve world-class status in all but a few space technology areas.”
“China’s space station began assembly and crewed missions in 2021, and reached full operational capability in 2022. Beijing plans to conduct additional lunar exploration missions, and it intends to establish a robotic research station on the Moon and later, an intermittently crewed lunar base.”
The report warns that the PLA will continue to integrate space services—such as satellite reconnaissance and positioning, navigation, and timing—and satellite communications into its weapons and command-and-control systems in an effort to erode the US military’s information advantage.
Counter-space operations will be integral to potential PLA military campaigns, and China has counter-space- weapons capabilities intended to target U.S. and allied satellites, the report notes.
“China already has fielded ground-based counter-space capabilities including electronic warfare systems, directed energy weapons, and ASAT missiles intended to disrupt, damage, and destroy target satellites,” the report adds.
The report alleges that Beijing uses espionage, subsidies, and trade policy to try to give its firms a competitive advantage in the world market. It notes that China is central to global supply chains in a range of technology sectors, including semiconductors, critical minerals, batteries, solar panels, and pharmaceuticals. China aims to control key supply chains and “use those supply chain dependencies to threaten and cut off foreign countries during a crisis.”
The report points out that China is leading the world in building new chip factories, with plans to build dozens of semiconductor factories by 2024. China accounted for only 11% of worldwide semiconductor fabrication capacity in 2019, but it is forecasted to reach 18% in 2025.
China’s dominance in the mining and processing of several strategic materials, including rare-earth elements, presents a major vulnerability to the US. China-based firms are on track to control 65% of the lithium-ion battery market by 2025. China produces 40% of the world’s active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). China’s global share across all the manufacturing stages of solar panels now exceeds 80% and is set to rise to more than 95% during the coming years.
According to the report, China currently represents the “broadest, most active, and persistent cyber espionage threat to U.S. Government and private-sector networks.”
A Chinese cyber strike would be “designed to deter US military action by impeding US decision-making, inducing societal panic, and interfering with the deployment of U.S. forces,” the report warns.