China wants to avoid an escalation of tensions with the United States and believes it benefits from a more stable relationship with Washington, even as it seeks to bolster its global economic and military power, U.S. intelligence chief Avril Haines told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Despite recent sharp criticism of the U.S. by Chinese President Xi Jinping, “we assess that Beijing still believes it benefits most by preventing a spiraling of tensions and by preserving stability in its relationship with the United States,” Haines, director of national intelligence, told a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
China is increasingly challenging the United States, economically, technologically, politically and militarily around the world and “remains our unparalleled priority,” said Haines.
Haines and other intelligence officials appeared at the hearing as part of an annual assessment from the intelligence community on global threats facing the United States.
Xi’s speech this week at a Chinese Communist Party congress, in which he accused Washington of trying to prevent Beijing’s rise, likely “reflects growing pessimism in Beijing about China’s relationship with the United States” as well as worries about the trajectory of China’s domestic economic development and innovation challenges, Haines said.
Xi also wants “to message his populace and regional actors that the U.S. bears the responsibility for any coming increase in tensions,” Haines said.
The intelligence community’s report on global threats , which was released earlier Wednesday, said Chinese leaders would look to try to divide the U.S. and its allies but also reduce friction with the U.S. when it suited Beijing’s agenda.
“As Xi begins his third term as China’s leader, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) will work to press Taiwan on unification, undercut U.S. influence, drive wedges between Washington and its partners, and foster some norms that favor its authoritarian system,” the report said. “At the same time, China’s leaders probably will seek opportunities to reduce tensions with Washington when they believe it suits their interests.”
On Tuesday, Beijing’s new foreign minister said the U.S. and China are heading toward inevitable “confrontation and conflict” unless Washington changes course.