The U.S. and China’s risky hunt for secrets
The spy game between the U.S. and China is even more expansive than the one that played out between the Americans and the Soviets during the Cold War, said Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director. China’s large population and economy enable it to build intelligence services that are bigger than those of the U.S.
When a Chinese spy balloon drifted across the continental U.S. in February, it threw a spotlight on an expanding and highly secretive spy-versus-spy contest. American intelligence agencies learned that the People’s Liberation Army had kept President Xi Jinping himself in the dark about the errant balloon’s trajectory until it was over the U.S.
For the U.S., espionage efforts are a critical part of President Biden’s strategy to constrain the military and technological rise of China, in line with his thinking that the country poses the greatest long-term challenge to American power. For Beijing, the new tolerance for bold action among Chinese spy agencies is driven by Xi, who has led his military to engage in aggressive moves along the nation’s borders and pushed his foreign intelligence agency to become more active in farther-flung locales.
Effective espionage can halt a slide into war or smooth the path of delicate negotiations. It can also speed nations toward diplomatic rifts or armed conflict. The espionage struggle could also be a substitute for armed clashes — as it often was during the Cold War.