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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios 

Several countries have the military and cyber tools to harm America. Some may even have the will to use them.

But as former acting CIA director John McLaughlin puts it, "China is the one country that is clearly challenging the United States for global supremacy... Its challenge ranges across a wide field of power dynamics — from cyber to economics, to science and the military."

McLaughlin explains, "It is fielding and implementing large transformational programs such at the 'One Belt, One Road' initiative that once evolved from U.S. leadership ... creating the fear that even close U.S. friends — all of whom have deep trade relationships with Beijing — will be pulled irresistibly into China's orbit."

It's not just a competition for trade and influence. China is developing military capabilities "that are specifically designed to deter and defeat the United States in a truly global competition, and it’s pursuing victory on all fronts," says Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has been floated as a future CIA director.

  • "China is deploying anti-ship missiles on man-made islands in the South China Sea, meddling in U.S. negotiations with North Korea, propping up the Iranian regime, and taking an ever more menacing stance against Taiwan not because it’s encircled, but because it’s emboldened, and we should take notice," he says.

The bottom line: "China is the most formidable competitor we have faced in our history," Morell says, "And we, the U.S., have not figured out a strategic approach to dealing with it."

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.