The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is reportedly considering proposals to establish an independent mission center with special focus on China as part of attempts to counter Beijing’s growing influence on the international arena.
Citing sources with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg reported on Friday that the US spy agency's “Mission Center for China” was part of a broader review of the agency’s China capabilities by CIA Director William Burns and would elevate the focus on Beijing within the agency.
“As Director Burns has said, China is one of his priorities, and CIA is in the process of determining how best to position ourselves to reflect the significance of this priority,” the CIA said in a news statement.
Aimed at gaining greater insight into the Washington’s top strategic rival, the mission would make it easier to secure headcount, funding and high-level attention for China-related activities, according to three current and former US officials who spoke about the internal deliberations on condition of anonymity.
The officials said the China proposal reflected the priority Burns had laid out during his Senate confirmation hearing in February.
Burns called China’s “adversarial, predatory leadership” the biggest threat to the US, claiming that Beijing’s goal is to “replace the United States as the world’s most powerful and influential nation.”
“For CIA, that will mean intensified focus and urgency—continually strengthening its already impressive cadre of China specialists, expanding its language skills, aligning personnel and resource allocation for the long haul,” the CIA director told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Burns said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) last month that the agency’s broader China review was also considering whether to deploy China specialists in locations around the world, following the approach used to counter Soviet influence in the Cold War.
Burns said the agency was looking into how to deal with the “ubiquitous technical surveillance” and other “very advanced capabilities on the part of the Chinese intelligence service,” which make it more difficult to conduct espionage overseas.
The proposals for the China mission comes as senior officials have raised concerns over the scale and ambition of Beijing’s alleged spying in the US, with Beijing denying the allegations and accusing Washington of the same act.
China has branded the US as the “biggest threat to global cybersecurity” after Washington publicly accused Beijing of an attack on Microsoft’s Exchange email server software that compromised tens of thousands of computers worldwide.
Last month, China accused the US of mounting cyberattacks against the Chinese government and scientific, aviation and other technical institutions for the past 11 years.
The rivalry between the US and China has intensified in recent years, with Beijing’s growing international clout and rapid economic progress emerging as a viable counter-weight to the US.
China hoped for an improvement in relations under US President Joe Biden, who succeeded Donald Trump in January, but the new administration has shown no sign of backing down on hardline policies toward China.
The two sides are at odds over a range of issues, including alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the disputed territories in the South China Sea, cyberattacks, and Beijing's policies regarding Hong Kong.