From Russia’s cyberattacks and election interference to China‘s economic buildup and expansion in the South China Sea, both countries pose pressing challenges to the global balance of power. Earlier this year, a U.S. intelligence report identified how and why Russia and China remain America’s top two international threats. It detailed how China has become a near peer with the United States and is poised to become the next superpower. And Russia will likely continue its Cold War-style confrontations with the U.S.
“They are both potential threats that both pose different sets of challenges and risks, and both require different policies to mitigate those risks,” said Jeff Smith, Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
China has claimed large parts of the South China Sea which have invaluable trade routes, fishing resources and minerals. Its naval presence there is now at a record high, and in a game of chicken, it’s using its navy and warplanes to dip into the territorial waters and airspaces of places like Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The U.S. has pushed back, though, sending two U.S. carrier groups for military exercises in the area.
China has also continued to try and force Taiwan into reunification.
And in a contested area at its border with India, China has maintained more troops than ever — which in 2020, led to the first deadly battle between the two countries in 45 years.
Then there are China’s plans to double its nuclear stockpile in the next decade. Experts have said there isn’t much the U.S. can do to stop it.
As for Russia, the U.S. can rely on a limited nuclear arms control agreement. Still, intelligence reports have said Russia “remains the largest and most capable weapons of mass destruction rival” to Washington.
“The Russians now, you know, some people describe them as the mafia, running a gas station armed with weapons, but by the size of their economy they’re a middle ranking power now and their population is declining,” Smith said. “And as a geopolitical power, they’re declining. But every time they argue with us and spar with the U. that elevates them again to the superpower table.”
In 2015, Russian troops seized Ukraine’s valuable port city Crimea, and Russia has continued to actively build up its military along the border with Norway, Finland, Poland, and others.
And now Russia is using COVID-19 vaccines, energy, and arms sales as foreign policy bargaining tools to gain influence in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran.
In recent months, Russian hackers have hit oil, computer, and beef packing companies. These attacks have the federal government shoring up its cyber security.
The White House said Russia is likely to blame for the attacks and “The Russian government has a role to play in stopping and preventing these attacks”. And Russia’s cyber shenanigans have even seeped into American politics.
“They hate it when we lecture them about being thuggish autocracy,” Smith said. “Well, they love to be able to point the finger and say, ‘Well, look at your democracy isn’t functioning, you know, look at how contentious your elections are,’ of course, because in part because they’re stoking dissent and confrontation, and sowing mistrust.”
According to U.S. intelligence, China is just as big a cyber threat as Russia. But its cyber efforts are focused on stealing U.S. intellectual property right now. Investigations into economic espionage by China have risen an incredible 1,300 percent the last few years, according to the FBI.
China has also focused on stopping free speech inside its borders by hacking journalists and social media companies like Facebook.
China wants to dominate the space game, as well, for prestige and to make gains economically and militarily, according to U.S. intelligence. America landed its rover on Mars first, but the Chinese weren’t far behind. The Chinese will have a fully operational space station built as early as 2022. And China is looking to build a robotic research station on the moon and then a manned lunar base. It also will continue its spy satellite efforts and counter space weapons aimed at the U.S. and its allies.
Russia, meanwhile, remains a key U.S. competitor in the space race. It has been using spy satellites to gather information from U.S. satellites and military communications to use to their advantage in warfare on the ground, creating close calls between soldiers, fighter jets and warships around the world. It’s also developing new counterspace attacks, including directed laser weapons and jamming technology.
Trade and the Economy
Experts expect China to overtake the U.S. and become the world’s largest economy by 2028. In 2019, it was America’s third largest trading partner, exchanging $558.1 billion in total goods, with more than $451 billion exported by China to America.
Right now, China’s economy depends on the U.S. But Chinese leader Xi Jinping wants to change that with his One Belt, One Road initiative — a modern day Silk Road. It’s a trade route that allows China to easily export its goods to countries across the globe using roads, rail, and ports.
Smith said America must manage a delicate balance between encouraging global economic growth and ensuring China doesn’t use the Silk Road to gain power.
“What the United States is trying to do is to say that we have helped build this international order and this regime in the Indo Pacific and in Asia that has allowed for a period of, frankly, unprecedented prosperity and a lack of conflict in the region,” he said. “And we see China’s rise as trying to shake up and overturn that order and remake that order to the benefit of China, but not necessarily to the benefit of everyone else, including ourselves.”
The U.S. sits at a disadvantage with China, too, because China owns roughly $1.7 trillion of U.S. debt, second only to Japan. Russia, on the other hand, stands way down on the ladder of trading partners, exchanging only $34.9 billion of goods between our countries. Russia owns less than $4 million in U.S. government bonds, having dumped much of its U.S.-owned debt a few years ago.
GWEN: FROM RUSSIAS RECENT ELECTION INTERFERENCE, CYBERATTACKS ON THE US, AND MILITARY BUILDUP ON ITS BORDERS…
JIMMIE: TO CHINAS SURGING ECONOMIC POWER, CYBER-ATTACKS, AND MILITARY THREATS IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.
GWEN: WHICH COUNTRY IS THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE U-S?
JIMMIE: LET US EXPLAIN.
GWEN: EARLIER THIS YEAR, THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE PRESENTED CONGRESS WITH ITS ANNUAL THREAT ASSESSMENT.
THE REPORT LAID OUT POINT BY POINT HOW RUSSIA
JIMMIE: AND CHINA ARE AMERICAS TOP TWO INTERNATIONAL THREATS.
IF IT ISNT ALREADY OBVIOUS, I WILL BE REPRESENTING THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF CHINA — WHICH THE REPORT SAYS HAS BECOME A NEAR-PEER WITH THE UNITED STATES AND IS POISED TO BECOME THE NEXT SUPERPOWER.
GWEN: AND I WILL BE REPRESENTING THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, WHICH THE REPORT SAYS WILL LIKELY CONTINUE ITS COLD WAR-STYLE CONFRONTATIONS WITH THE U.S.
JIMMIE: AND WE ARE BOTH GOING TO BE HELPED BY INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT JEFF SMITH.
GWEN: HE’S A RESEARCH FELLOW AT THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION AND KNOWS A LOT ABOUT THIS STUFF.
JEFF SMITH, FELLOW AT THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: They are both potential threats that both pose different sets of challenges and risks, and both require different policies to mitigate those risks.
JIMMIE: FIRST, MILITARY THREATS. LET’S START WITH CHINA’S EFFORTS TO CLAIM LARGE PARTS OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.
THOSE WATERS HAVE INVALUABLE TRADE ROUTES, FISHING RESOURCES AND ARE RICH IN MINERALS.
CHINA’S NAVAL PRESENCE THERE IS NOW AT A RECORD HIGH.
AND IN A GAME OF CHICKEN, IT’S USING ITS NAVY AND WARPLANES TO DIP INTO THE TERRITORIAL WATERS AND AIRSPACES OF PLACES LIKE TAIWAN, MALAYSIA, AND THE PHILIPPINES.
ALL OF WHICH, LIKE CHINA, CLAIM ACCESS TO THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.
THE U-S IS PUSHING BACK THOUGH, RECENTLY SENDING IN TWO U-S CARRIER GROUPS FOR MILITARY EXERCISES IN THE AREA TO REMIND CHINA, WE HAVE OUR ALLIES BACKS.
THEN THERE ARE CHINAS PLANS TO DOUBLE ITS NUCLEAR STOCKPILE IN THE NEXT DECADE, AND EXPERTS SAY THERE ISN’T MUCH THE U-S CAN DO ABOUT IT.
GWEN: AS FOR RUSSIA, THE U-S DOES HAVE MORE SAY REGARDING NUKES IN THE FORM OF A LIMITED NUCLEAR ARMS CONTROL AGREEMENT.
STILL, INTELLIGENCE REPORTS SAY RUSSIA REMAINS THE LARGEST AND MOST CAPABLE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION RIVAL TO WASHINGTON.
JEFF SMITH: Some people describe them as the mafia, running a gas station armed with weapons, but by the size of their economy. They are a middle-ranking power now, and their population is declining. And as a geopolitical power, they are declining, but every time they argue with us and spar with the U.S. that elevates them again to the superpower table.
GWEN: AND NOW RUSSIA IS USING COVID VACCINES, ENERGY, AND ARMS SALES AS A TYPE OF FOREIGN POLICY TO GAIN INFLUENCE IN COUNTRIES LIKE VENEZUELA, CUBA, AND IRAN.
GWEN: NUMBER TWO, CYBER THREATS.
IN RECENT MONTHS, RUSSIAN HACKERS HAVE HIT OIL, COMPUTER, AND BEEF PACKING COMPANIES.
THESE ATTACKS NOW HAVE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHORING UP ITS CYBERSECURITY.
THE WHITE HOUSE SAYS RUSSIA IS LIKELY TO BLAME FOR THE ATTACKS, AND “THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT HAS A ROLE TO PLAY IN STOPPING AND PREVENTING THESE ATTACKS,” AND RUSSIA’S CYBER SHENANIGANS HAVE EVEN SEEPED INTO OUR POLITICS.
JEFF SMITH: They hate it when we lecture them about being a thuggish autocracy. Well, they love to be able to point the finger and say, Well, look at your democracy isn’t functioning, you know, look at how contentious your elections are, of course, because in part because they are stoking dissent and confrontation, and sowing mistrust.”
JIMMIE: ACCORDING TO OUR NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, CHINA IS JUST AS BIG A THREAT IN THE AREA OF CYBER SPYING AND HACKING AS RUSSIA.
BUT ITS CYBER EFFORTS ARE MORE FOCUSED ON STEALING U-S INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHT NOW.
INVESTIGATIONS INTO ECONOMIC ESPIONAGE BY CHINA ARE UP AN INCREDIBLE 1300 PERCENT IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, ACCORDING TO THE FBI.
CHINA IS ALSO FOCUSING ON STOPPING FREE SPEECH INSIDE ITS BORDERS BY HACKING JOURNALISTS AND SOCIAL MEDIA COMPANIES LIKE FACEBOOK.
JIMMIE: NUMBER THREE, SPACE.
CHINA ALSO WANTS TO DOMINATE THE SPACE GAME FOR PRESTIGE AND, TO MAKE GAINS ECONOMICALLY AND MILITARILY, ACCORDING TO OUR NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE.
AMERICA LANDED ITS ROVER ON MARS FIRST, BUT THE CHINESE WERE NOT FAR BEHIND.
THE CHINESE WILL HAVE A FULLY OPERATIONAL SPACE STATION BUILT AS EARLY AS 2022, AND CHINA IS LOOKING TO BUILD A ROBOTIC RESEARCH STATION ON THE MOON AND THEN A MANNED-LUNAR BASE.
IT ALSO WILL CONTINUE ITS SPY SATELLITE EFFORTS AND COUNTER SPACE WEAPONS AIMED AT THE U-S AND OUR ALLIES.
GWEN: RUSSIA MEANWHILE REMAINS A KEY U-S COMPETITOR IN THE SPACE RACE. IT IS USING SPY SATELLITES TO GATHER INFORMATION FROM U-S SATELLITES AND MILITARY COMMUNICATIONS TO USE TO THEIR ADVANTAGE IN WARFARE ON THE GROUND, CREATING CLOSE CALLS BETWEEN SOLDIERS, FIGHTER JETS, AND WARSHIPS AROUND THE WORLD.
IT ALSO DEVELOPING NEW COUNTER SPACE ATTACKS, INCLUDING DIRECTED LASER WEAPONS AND JAMMING TECHNOLOGY.
JIMMIE: NUMBERS FOUR AND FIVE, TRADE AND THE ECONOMY.
CHINA IS EXPECTED TO OVERTAKE THE U.S. AND BE THE WORLDS LARGEST ECONOMY BY 2028.
IN 2019, IT WAS AMERICAS THIRD-LARGEST TRADING PARTNER, EXCHANGING $558.1 BILLION IN TOTAL GOODS WITH THE BULK OF IT, MORE THAN $45 BILLION EXPORTED BY CHINA TO AMERICA.
RIGHT NOW, CHINAS ECONOMY DEPENDS ON THE U-S, BUT CHINESE LEADER XI JINPING WANTS TO CHANGE THAT WITH HIS ONE BELT, ONE ROAD INITIATIVE, A MODERN-DAY SILK ROAD.
ITS A TRADE ROUTE THAT ALLOWS CHINA TO EASILY EXPORT ITS GOODS TO COUNTRIES ACROSS THE GLOBE USING ROADS, RAIL, AND PORTS.
THE STRATEGY, TO INCREASE CHINAS ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE FROM THE U-S.
THE U.S. IS ALSO AT A DISADVANTAGE WITH CHINA BECAUSE IT OWNS ROUGHLY $1.7 TRILLION OF U.S. DEBT, SECOND ONLY TO JAPAN.
GWEN: RUSSIA, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS WAY DOWN ON THE LADDER OF TRADING PARTNERS AT 26,
EXCHANGING ONLY 34.9 BILLION DOLLARS IN GOODS BETWEEN OUR COUNTRIES.
RUSSIA OWNS LESS THAN $4 MILLION IN U-S GOVERNMENT BONDS, DUMPING MUCH OF ITS U.S.-OWNED DEBT A FEW YEARS AGO.
THE MOVE SPARKING A GUESSING GAME AROUND THE COUNTRY’S MOTIVATIONS.
GWEN: IT’S NOW TIME FOR YOU TO DECIDE.
JIMMIE: WHO IS THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE U-S?
JIMMIE: IS IT CHINA?
GWEN: OR RUSSIA?
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