WASHINGTON — The United States could fall behind in its global competition with China without additional resources to develop better intelligence on the Chinese government, and spy agencies must focus more on the challenge of pandemics and trade, according to a report by the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released Wednesday.
The warnings in the report, the result of a classified two-year study of American intelligence agencies’ work, were similar to the conclusions of a Republican study on China also released Wednesday. While that report, by a task force of House Republican lawmakers, has a wider focus, it too called for a more aggressive stance toward China and better defenses against Chinese theft of intellectual property and efforts to influence American politics.
While there is a bipartisan consensus on China, the failure of Democrats and Republicans in the House to work together on the issue was another sign of the partisan dysfunction that has gripped Washington and that could be a hurdle to revising American policy on China despite the agreement.
The House Intelligence Committee report, primarily the work of the panel’s Democratic majority, calls for a “significant realignment of resources” to help the United States compete with China. The report calls for a broader look at national security threats, including climate change and pandemics, while trying to collect intelligence on China.
“Absent a significant and immediate reprioritization and realignment of resources, we will be ill prepared to compete with China — diplomatically, economically and militarily — on the global stage for decades to come,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the committee. “The good news is that we still have time to adapt.”
China has been a growing challenge for the United States. President Trump has said without evidence that the coronavirus pandemic originated at a Chinese laboratory, a conclusion the intelligence community has not backed up. China has also been accused by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of stepping up its efforts to interfere in the November election.
The House report recommends a broader approach for the role of intelligence in the United States government, saying agencies’ insights need to be accessible to agencies outside the traditional confines of the national security establishment, like the Commerce Department and public health agencies.
The report also highlights the challenges laid bare by the pandemic and discusses tensions between Beijing and local government that hampered China’s initial understanding of it. The report says the emergence of the pandemic highlights the “continued potential for devastating and destabilizing global events originating in China.”
“The stakes are high. If the I.C. does not accurately characterize and contextualize Beijing’s intent, America’s leaders will fail to understand the factors that motivate Chinese decision-making,” the report said, using an abbreviation for the intelligence community.
The report’s unclassified summary does not address the loss of the C.I.A.’s spy network on China, which devastated the agency’s ability to collect information there and made the United States much more dependent on British and other allied countries’ intelligence for insights on Beijing.
The unclassified portion of House Intelligence Committee report also does not make recommendations of stepped-up covert action in China and describes only in general terms how it would build up C.I.A. expertise on China.
There is little doubt that China’s intelligence activity has become more aggressive under President Xi Jinping, said Derek M. Scissors, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. The United States, including its intelligence services, needs to become more aggressive at deterring Chinese intervention in American politics, he said.
“The obvious play is to threaten spreading anti-Xi information in China,” Mr. Scissors said. “We can devote more resources to doing that. We can evade Chinese censorship, internet controls and so on.”
Like the intelligence report, the Republicans’ China task force report looks at national security issues and China’s bid to dominate emerging technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence. But it also looks more broadly at China’s theft of American secrets and competition in key industries, and calls for a tougher attitude toward Beijing’s human rights violations against the Uighur minority, the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and its poor environmental record.
The Republican report covers a variety of industries and technologies, including next-generation mobile communications. But it also looks at some areas, like space launches, that have been less of a focus of the Trump administration.
One key finding of the report is that the United States must watch investment by China in privately held space companies to ensure Beijing cannot steal technologies or other intellectual property being developed by the United States.
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