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Ratcliffe testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May. Photo: Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe told Axios in an interview Thursday that "China and China alone is the only country that has the ability to compete with the U.S." — and hopes the intelligence community will adopt his view even under "the next administration."

Why it matters: Ratcliffe's comments suggested that he's trying to lock in the Trump era's harder line on China for the long term.

Driving the news: Ratcliffe published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday evening in which he stated that the "People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War II."

What he's saying: Ratcliffe told Axios that shifting the intelligence community's priority to China has been "really my focus since I’ve been in this position. Hopefully that will continue regardless of ... the next administration."

  • And he said he wrote the op-ed "because, without getting into the Biden administration specifically, there are folks that have been politicizing intelligence and haven’t been talking about threats honestly, to fit a political narrative."
  • "Now the election is over. We need to speak honestly."

Ratcliffe said the threat is urgent, because the U.S. has a limited window of opportunity to act while China remains the weaker country.

  • "It’s always better to fight downhill. At this point, for all of the threats that China poses, we have the ability to fight them downhill because we are still stronger," Ratcliffe said. "I don’t want our country to be in a position where we fight them uphill."
  • Ratcliffe also said that China poses a graver threat than the Soviet Union because, while the Soviet Union was primarily a military competitor, China aims to win in economic, technological, and military competition around the globe.

China's telecom giant Huawei poses a dual concern because leaders in Beijing know that it could "drive a wedge" between the U.S. and its allies, said Ratcliffe.

  • The U.S. has told some European allies that if they use Huawei or other Chinese companies to build 5G infrastructure, the U.S. would no longer be able to share some sensitive intelligence with allies because those networks would not be secure.
  • If a U.S. ally were to choose Huawei, not only would they be vulnerable to Chinese digital incursions but their relationship with the U.S. would be weakened, Ratcliffe added.

Across the aisle: Democrats see Ratcliffe as a Trump loyalist, but they aren't disputing his claims.

  • The Democrat-led House Intelligence Committee found in a September report that the U.S. intelligence community had failed to adapt to China's rise, and that this failure risked America's future ability to compete with Beijing.

What they're saying: "It’s imperative the Intelligence Community rebalance its focus and funding to more effectively address the vast array of challenges that China poses to our national security,” committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement in response to Ratcliffe's op-ed. “This is an area of substantial bipartisan agreement, and a challenge we must rise to meet."

Between the lines: Schiff's comment suggests that the Trump administration's effort to cement a tough approach to China may succeed.

Go deeper: Trump plans last-minute China crackdown

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - World

Former Google CEO and others call for U.S.-China tech "bifurcation"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new set of proposals by a group of influential D.C. insiders and tech industry practitioners calling for a degree of "bifurcation" in the U.S. and Chinese tech sectors is circulating in the Biden administration. Axios has obtained a copy.

Why it matters: The idea of "decoupling" certain sectors of the U.S. and Chinese economies felt radical three years ago, when Trump's trade war brought the term into common parlance. But now the strategy has growing bipartisan and even industry support.

49 mins ago - World

Jimmy Lai among Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders sentenced to prison

Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of the city's most prominent pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.