Washington: Expressing concern over China's military build-up, the head of US intelligence said Chinese construction activities at its outposts in the disputed South China Sea will continue to spark regional tension.
"China's leaders are pursuing an active foreign policy while dealing with much slower economic growth. Chinese leaders have also embarked on the much ambitious military forms in China's history," James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence said in his testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.
"Regional tension will continue as China pursues construction at its expanded outposts in the South China Sea and because competing claimants might pursue actions that others perceive as infringing on their sovereignty," he said.
Agreed, the Defence Intelligence Agency Director Vincent Stewart.
"China is pursuing a long-term, comprehensive military modernisation program designed to improve its capability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts," he said.
"While preparing for a Taiwan contingency remains the primary driver of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) modernisation, the Chinese military has increased its preparations for other contingencies, including conflicts in the East or South China Seas," he added.
Stewart said the Chinese Army is modernising its nuclear forces by enhancing silo and underground facility-based ICBMs and adding more road-mobile systems.
In addition, the Chinese Navy deployed the JIN-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine in 2015, which, when armed with the JL-2 SLBM, provides Beijing its first sea-based nuclear deterrent, he said.
Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said China continues its rapid military modernisation while taking coercive actions to assert expansive territorial claims.
Observing that China will continue to incrementally increase its global presence, Clapper said mileposts have included symbolic and substantive developments, such as the IMF's decision in November 2016 to incorporate the renminbi into its Special Drawing Rights currency basket and China's opening of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in early 2016.
Amid new economic challenges, Chinese leaders are pursuing an ambitious agenda of economic, legal and military reforms aimed at bolstering the country’s long-term economic growth potential, improving government efficiency and accountability, and strengthening the control of the Communist Party, he said.
The scope and scale of the reform agenda—coupled with an ongoing anti-corruption campaign—might increase the potential for internal friction within China's ruling Communist Party.
Additionally, China's leaders, who have declared slower economic growth to be the "new normal" will nonetheless face pressure to stabilise growth at levels that still support strong job creation, Clapper said.