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The second half of 2021 was marked by revelations of a sharp upturn in China’s strategic strength. Beijing stunned the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community in July by firing a hypersonic weapon, in a test that suggested the Chinese military could hit targets anywhere in the U.S. with nuclear weapons. General Mark Milley, chair of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, reacted by saying the event was close to a “Sputnik moment” — in reference to the launch of an artificial satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957, which demonstrated Moscow’s growing prowess and intensified Cold War competition. However, as China’s tech knowhow grows, the pushback from Washington strengthens. In one recent example, the U.S. last month put China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences and 11 affiliated biotechnology research institutes on an export blacklist, for allegedly helping the Chinese military to develop “brain-control” weapons.
South Korea’s era of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to taking sides in the great power rivalry between its historical ally and its rising neighbor is well and truly over. The Moon Jae-in government has moved away from seeking a middle ground between the U.S. and China. Quietly but surely, Seoul has decided to side with Washington in its competition with Beijing. The signs of this shift are everywhere. Prominent examples include the joint statement signed by Moon and U.S. President Joe Biden in May, which called out Beijing’s behavior in everything but name, and Seoul’s military build-up, which targets China as much as North Korea, particularly with the commissioning of an aircraft carrier to be deployed in international waters that include the South China Sea. The U.S., China, Russia, India, Japan, and South Korea are all planning lunar missions in 2022 and beyond. These moonshots lay bare a growing cosmic competition for resources, technological superiority, and national glory, with the potential to amplify rising international political tensions on Earth. The missions also require huge investments that look even more onerous as COVID-19 exacts its economic toll. The defining rivalry, as on Earth, looks to be between Washington and Beijing. Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst and outer space specialist at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), stressed the U.S. and China “are not yet in a space race” on current timetables. But he suggested that could change if America’s plans slip further behind schedule and China accelerates its own, seeing “a window of opportunity to steal the US thunder.”To invoke the U.S.-Chinese rivalry as a defining feature of today’s world is now commonplace, and analysts and policymakers across the political spectrum support the United States’ shift away from engagement and toward competition. Jettisoning Washington’s previous strategy of cooperation and integration, premised as it was on the eventual transformation of Chinese behavior, is a rare point of agreement between the Trump and Biden administrations. There is, however, a glaring omission in the new policy: an objective. Conspicuously absent from the flurry of recent pronouncements is the endgame that Washington ultimately seeks with China. Without a clearly defined goal, any overarching strategy is likely to waste resources, frustrate attempts to track progress, and elude the broad-based domestic support necessary to sustain it. The absence of a clear goal for its self-proclaimed top priority is a liability for the Biden administration—and one that it should urgently work to address.
CCP Foreign Influence
A report published on Tuesday by Madrid-based rights group Safeguard Defenders claims that since 2014, Beijing has forced nearly 10,000 Chinese living overseas to return through covert and often illegal means, including intimidation, threats, and even state-sanctioned kidnappings. The report analyzed more than 120 cases of involuntary returns from two dozen countries, mostly from North America. Kidnapping was the most extreme measure. Others included threatening a target and interrogating their family, freezing personal assets, and sending Chinese agents overseas to harass the victim. “These human rights violations and judicial violations of other countries’ sovereignty are systematic,” said report co-author Chen Yen-ting. “They are not uncommon.”The rapid disintegration of an outwardly strong state apparatus in Kazakhstan, during which law enforcement disappeared from the Almaty streets in a matter of minutes, has demonstrated the risks China may face in other Central Asian countries. The division of the field into security and commerce is arbitrary; the economically based protests in Kazakhstan were intertwined with elite contradictions and widespread problems of the political system. Both the Kazakhstan crisis and its resolution lay primarily in the course of elite politics, where China appears to be an outsider. Beijing’s long-standing policy of non-interference, as well as the belief that a solid economic presence will automatically lead to a favorable image and increased voice in local politics, are some of the reasons China must contend with a limited political role. With China’s growth, the strategy might alter; however, influence operations cannot be supported immediately by diplomatic, intelligence, and expert resources.MI5 has issued a rare warning that an alleged Chinese agent has infiltrated Parliament to interfere in UK politics. An alert from the security service said Christine Ching Kui Lee “established links” for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with current and aspiring MPs. She then gave donations to politicians, with funding coming from foreign nationals in China and Hong Kong. It comes after a “significant, long-running” investigation by MI5, Whitehall sources told the BBC. One of the MPs funded by Ms. Lee was Labour’s Barry Gardiner, who received over £420,000 from her in five years — but he said he had always made the security services aware of the donations. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey also received a £5,000 donation when he was energy secretary.
Tickets for the upcoming Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing will not be sold to the general public in response to COVID-19 but will instead be distributed by authorities, the Beijing Winter Olympics Organizing Committee announced Monday. “In terms of the grim and complex situation of epidemic prevention and control [and] in order to protect the health and safety of Olympic personnel and spectators, we have decided to change the original plan of public ticket sales,” the committee said. Groups of spectators will be invited on site throughout the Games and will be required to “strictly comply with Covid-19 prevention and control requirements before, during and after watching the Games.” In a statement on Monday, the International Olympic Committee said those in attendance will be residents of China’s mainland who have the required “Covid-19 countermeasures.”Companies are bracing for another round of potentially debilitating supply chain disruptions as China, home to about a third of global manufacturing, imposes sweeping lockdowns in an attempt to keep the Omicron variant at bay. The measures have already confined tens of millions of people to their homes in several Chinese cities and contributed to a suspension of connecting flights through Hong Kong from much of the world for the next month. At least 20 million people, or about 1.5 percent of China’s population, are in lockdown, mostly in the city of Xi’an in western China and in Henan Province in north-central China.When the Omicron variant of COVID-19 emerged this fall, governments across East and Southeast Asia returned to a tried-and-true strategy to stop it: They doubled down on border restrictions. The Philippines barred foreign nationals arriving from countries with local Omicron cases. Thailand ended programs that allowed tourists to enter without quarantine. Complicating matters, a small-scale study suggests one of the most common vaccines in the region could be especially ineffective at stopping Omicron’s transmission. The lab study by Hong Kong University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong scientists in November analyzed blood samples from 25 patients vaccinated with two shots of CoronaVac—an inactivated vaccine made by China’s Sinovac. It found none of the samples produced enough neutralizing antibodies to stop the Omicron variant. For the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine, only five out of 25 samples produced enough antibodies.
Hong Kong activist Edward Leung, who first used one of the most popular protest chants of the 2019 pro-democracy demonstrations and the first slogan to be declared illegal under a national security law, was released from prison on Wednesday. Leung first used “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times” as a campaign slogan for a 2016 legislative election he was later banned from running in, due to his past advocacy for independence from China. Such advocacy is now a crime under the controversial security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 that carries a sentence of up to life in prison. The first person arrested under the law drove a motorcycle carrying a black flag with the slogan into several policemen.When Hong Kong’s new “patriots only” legislature convened for its inaugural session on Wednesday, many of the chamber’s 90 seats were embarrassingly vacant. Twenty lawmakers could only log in from home or government quarantine after being caught attending a large birthday party despite official advice to avoid such gatherings. At least one person at the party, which was also attended by 13 senior government officials, was later confirmed to have COVID. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, chosen last month through a rigged election that barred candidates deemed disloyal to Beijing, was intended to be a shining model of Chinese governance. But the birthday bash has angered a populace exhausted by restrictions. The 13 officials caught up in the controversy have been models of contrition. Many of the lawmakers have sought to blame everyone from Cathay Pacific Airways to Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s hapless chief executive.Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong will see his combined prison sentences related to three convictions reduced by four months, shortening his time spent behind bars to 23.5 months after his appeal against a lower court’s decision was granted. Court of Appeal justices Maggie Poon and Anthea Pang ruled on Wednesday that Wong’s sentence in connection with last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil would be slashed from 10 months to eight months. Of those eight months, six will be served consecutively to his other sentences, while two will be served concurrently, effectively reducing his sentence by four months. The reductions means that 25-year-old Wong, who was taken into custody in November 2020, could potentially complete his almost-two-year sentence in March, based on conditions such as good behaviour. However, he will remain in custody awaiting trial as one of the 47 democrats facing national security charges.
On Tuesday, Indian public broadcaster Doordarshan aired an interview with Slovenia’s prime minister Janez Jansa in which he disclosed his government’s plans to follow Lithuania’s lead by establishing reciprocal trade offices with Taipei. He also warned that continued Chinese pressure against the democratic island and its newfound friends in the European Union would backfire. “We support the sovereign decision of the Taiwanese people. If they want to join China; if it is their free will—without any pressure, without any military intervention, without any blackmailing, without strategic cheating, as is happening in Hong Kong currently—then we will support it,” he said. “But if Taiwanese people want to live independently, we are here to support also this position,” said Jansa. His words were a departure from the carefully crafted statements of other world leaders, who are often wary of offending China.Well over 90 percent of Taiwan’s people trace their roots to mainland China, but more than ever, they are embracing an identity that is distinct from that of their Communist-ruled neighbor. Beijing’s strident authoritarianism — and its claim over Taiwan — has only solidified the island’s identity, now central to a dispute that has turned the Taiwan Strait into one of Asia’s biggest potential flash points. Most of Taiwan’s residents are not interested in becoming absorbed by a Communist-ruled China. But they are not pushing for formal independence for the island, either, preferring to avoid the risk of war. It leaves both sides at a dangerous impasse. The more entrenched Taiwan’s identity becomes, the more Beijing may feel compelled to intensify its military and diplomatic campaign to pressure the island into respecting its claim of sovereignty.Brussels has backed Lithuania in its clash with China over Taiwan, after Beijing reacted angrily to the Baltic country’s support for Taipei. The backing came from the EU’s High Representative, Josep Borrell, following a meeting of the bloc’s foreign affairs ministers in Brest, who said that there was “clear solidarity” with Lithuania in the row. “Some things [with China] are going well, some less well,” the foreign policy chief told reporters on Friday. “Notably in the meeting we talked about Chinese activities in Lithuania and the impact of these activities in terms of the EU as a whole. Member states expressed clear solidarity with Lithuania and we discussed how we can actively press on with de-escalation in terms of this crisis.”
Billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya triggered a backlash on social media after saying during a recent episode of his podcast that “nobody cares” about the ongoing human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in China. During a 90-minute episode, Palihapitiya told co-host Jason Calacanis on their “All-In” podcast that he would be lying if he said that he cared about the Uyghurs, an ethnic Muslim minority in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang. “Every time I say that I care about the Uyghurs, I’m really just lying if I don’t really care. And so, I’d rather not lie to you and tell you the truth, it’s not a priority for me,” said Palihapitiya, a venture capitalist who reports say owns as much as 10 percent of the NBA team the Golden State Warriors (video here). However, an NBA source familiar says Palihapitiya owns around 2 percent. Palihapitiya did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the investment discrepancy. A Xinjiang official warned that foreign companies could face boycotts from Chinese consumers, in one of the most direct signals yet that Beijing is willing to use its market power to counter a U.S.-led human rights campaign. Foreign companies removing Chinese products while profiting from the nation’s market will inevitably face resistance from consumers, Xinjiang government spokesman Xu Guixiang told a news briefing Thursday, according to state broadcaster China Central Television. “We advise these companies not to underestimate the patriotic enthusiasm of Chinese consumers, the ability of Chinese consumers to safeguard their legitimate rights and interests, and the consequences of sneaky political manipulation,” Xu said. “I advise these companies to consider their own interests,” he added, pointing out that Hennes & Mauritz and Intel Corp. both eventually had to “bow to Chinese consumers.”A months-long investigation by New Lines can reveal that over the past five years almost $65 million has filtered through various entities connected with people who have defended the Chinese government and downplayed or denied documented human rights violations committed by Beijing against the Uyghur and Turkic Muslim minorities. This funding has moved through a complex series of mostly tax-deductible investment funds and charities, all linked by virtue of their governance structures to one man: the 67-year-old American tech magnate Neville Roy Singham. Of mixed Sri Lankan and Cuban heritage, Singham has long held an ideological affinity with the Chinese Communist Party, dating to his youthful membership in the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, a Mao-influenced group based in Detroit, Michigan. In his capacity as a cadre of the organization, which advocated revolutionary unionism in opposition to racist policies within reformist unions, Singham took a job at the Detroit Chrysler plant in 1972 at the age of 18.
The China Debrief is a resource of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.