The US Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, warned that China's steady military and economic expansion may ultimately lead to Beijing attaining superpower status while the United States steadly declines as a superpower.
"Globalization is causing a shift of momentum and energy to greater Asia, where China has steadily expanding reach and may become a superior competitor to the United States at some point," Negroponte said at a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee on global security threats.
"Consistent high rates of economic growth, driven by exploding foreign trade, have increased Beijing's political influence abroad and fueled a military modernization program that has steadily increased Beijing's force projection capabilities," the US intelligence czar said.
In the foreign policy domain, China is focused for now on other Asian nations "where Beijing hopes to make economic inroads to increase political influence and to prevent a backlash against its rise," said Negroponte.
But he suggested however that China's sphere of influence will broaden over time.
"Beijing also has expanded diplomatic and economic interaction with other major powers, especially Russia and the European Union, and begun to increase its presence in Africa and Latin America," he said.
On the military front, Negroponte noted that China is "vigorously" pursuing a modernization program of its weapons systems.
China's runaway economic expansion is slowed however by "a number of difficult economic and legal problems," including corruption, a faulty education system, and environmental degradation.
"Beijing's biggest challenge is to sustain growth, sufficient to keep unemployment and rural discontent from rising to destabilizing levels, and to maintain increases in living standards," said Negroponte.
"Indeed, China's rise may be hobbled by systemic problems and the Communist Party's resistance to demands for political participation that economic growth generates," he said.
"Beijing's determination to repress real or perceived challenges, from dispossessed peasants to religious organizations, could lead to serious instability at home and less effective policies abroad."
At the same hearing, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, said China's military near future includes efforts "to expand and modernize all categories of its ballistic missile forces, to increase survivability and war-fighting capabilities, to enhance their deterrence value and to overcome ballistic missile defenses."
Michael Hayden, the deputy director of national security, said China's military buildup may exceed what is needed to protect their own security, and may be designed to defeat the United States in a military showdown.
"They have this perception, there's almost a momentum in Chinese thinking, that they are great powers. They clearly want and need to be viewed as a great power. As history has so bloodly shown..."Great powers feel they need certain things."
"They're not necessarily tied to a specific military event, either proposed or expected, but simply become the trappings of -- I'll use the word -- their global legitimacy.