Financial Times

CIA chief warns on Chinese military threat

By Edward Alden in Washington
Published: February 16 2005


The director of the US Central Intelligence Agency has warned that China's military modernisation is tilting the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait and increasing the threat to US forces in the region.

Delivering the agency's annual assessment of worldwide threats on Wednesday, Porter Goss, a former Republican congressman who was named in September to head the CIA, dropped any mention of the co-operative elements of the US-China relationship that characterised recent CIA statements. Instead, he said China was making determined military and diplomatic efforts to “counter what it sees as US efforts to contain or encircle China”.

Mr Goss's statements on China were a small part of testimony that highlighted the threat Islamic terrorism poses to the US and emphasised concerns over Iran and North Korea. He has also said that he wants to refocus the agency on its traditional mission of assessing threats and avoid statements that could be interpreted as setting US policy.

But the statement on China indicated the CIA is paying growing attention to what it considers potential military threats amid China's growing economic ties with its neighbours and the US. Mr Goss referred to US concerns over the increase in Chinese ballistic missiles deployed across the Taiwan Strait and the improvements in China's nuclear and conventional capabilities.

The change in tone was notable given US concerns over Europe's plan to end its embargo on arms sales to China. Experts on China said that, while warnings about China's military capabilities were not new, the CIA had in the past underscored the co-operation between the US and China.

In testimony last year, George Tenet, former CIA head, praised China for co-operation in the war on terrorism and for its participation in the nuclear talks with North Korea. In 2003, Mr Tenet described US-Taiwan relations as relatively placid and said China was trying to assert its influence through “economic growth and Chinese integration into the global economy”. James Lilley, a former US ambassador to China, said that, while it was appropriate for the CIA to focus on longer-term threats, the growing economic ties between China and Taiwan were making conflict less likely.

James Steinberg, deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, said: “It is a little surprising that it didn't say anything about the enormous emphasis China places on a stable international environment and constructive relations with the US.”