April 2, 2021 – Stealth War Newsletter 31

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri April, 2021, Age: 2 years



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April 2, 2021

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch

3.8 percent

The growth of Huawei’s reported sales of phones, network equipment and other technology last year, down from 19.1 percent growth in 2019. Gains were driven mostly by the Chinese market, while sales in other markets shrank amid the pandemic and U.S. sanctions targeting its smartphone unit.

Top Stories

On March 27, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif signed an expansive security and economic agreement between their two countries in a ceremony in Tehran. Neither country has released the terms of the deal—dubbed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership—but it is believed to adhere closely to an 18-page draft reported on by the press last year. This draft detailed that China would invest over $400 billion into Iran over the next 25 years in exchange for a regular, potentially discounted, supply of oil. The Chinese investment will reportedly be made to Iranian banking, telecommunications, infrastructure, health care and information technology industries. The draft agreement also reportedly called for deeper Sino-Iranian military ties, including joint training and exercises, research, weapons development and intelligence sharing.

However, analysts have questioned the much-publicized sum of $400 billion. Neither country has disclosed details of the final deal. When pressed on the total amount of investment going into Iran, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian refused to answer. In that same press conference, Zhao stated that the agreement does not include “any quantitative, specific contracts and goals” and will only “provide a general framework for China-Iran cooperation going forward.” China and Iran reportedly have much to still work out, including the specifics of economic deals and contracts, and military relations. Furthermore, as some analysts have pointed out, in order to reach $400 billion of investment into Iran, China would have to throw $16 billion per year into the country. According to the China Global Investment Tracker, China’s investment in Iran between 2005 to 2020 totaled $4.7 billion. It is unlikely that China will be able to reach an investment level of $16 billion per year.

That the agreement lacks detail is likely a result of domestic Iranian factors, as well as Chinese ties to the Gulf nations of the Middle East. Chinese investment remains a sensitive issue for many Iranians, who are worried about a loss of sovereignty and economic opportunity to Chinese companies that are moving into the country. Meanwhile, China has invested more heavily into Iranian rivals Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Wang Yi’s visit to Tehran, which included the signing of the agreement, was only one stop on a six-nation tour of the Middle East that included the Kingdom and the UAE, and also Turkey, Bahrain and Oman.

China’s interests in the Middle East remain resource-driven, as the region is the largest source of the country’s imported petroleum. Beijing has long avoided picking sides in the Middle East, and will likely continue this policy in order to ensure the regular supply of energy. The recent Sino-Iranian Comprehensive Strategic Partnership is surely a remarkable development, but it could be hampered by a lack of detail in how the agreement will be carried out, as well as China’s partnerships with the rest of the region.

On Thursday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a WHO team that had traveled to Wuhan in January had trouble accessing raw data during its investigations on the origin of COVID-19 at the release of a much-anticipated report. The United States and 13 countries expressed concern over the investigation in a joint statement, citing a delay in access to information and raw data. Peter Ben Embarek, the team leader of the WHO’s mission to China, has already stated that the team encountered obstacles in accessing data due to many reasons, including privacy laws.

Chinese officials briefed diplomats on the report’s contents ahead of its official release. The remarks were broadcast by CCTV, with countries from the League of Arab States and the African Union in attendance. At the press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokespersons condemned the politicization of the investigation by Western countries, and foregrounded a theory that the virus could have originated outside of China and been introduced to Wuhan via cold-chain shipments of imported foods. This theory has failed to win favor outside of China, although the WHO report maintained that it was more plausible than a so-called “lab leak” theory. Nevertheless, Gheybreyesus has said that all origin hypotheses “remain open,” and recently the former CDC chief Robert Redfield became one of the highest-profile scientists to lend credence to the “lab leak” theory. Twenty countries have also issued a joint statement regarding the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for a strengthened global health infrastructure and greater international cooperation on public health crises, including data-sharing and transparency.

After ten military aircraft flew into Taiwan and Japan’s air defense identification zones on Monday, analysts called the exercise—which included participation by fighters and an anti-submarine warfare aircraft a “pointed message” to the governments of Taiwan, Japan and the U.S. The parallel maneuvers followed the largest-ever incursion into Taiwan’s air defense zone last Friday, and come as senior U.S. officials have voiced their concerns that China’s ability and motivation to invade Taiwan are growing. The former CIA analyst John Culver has warned that China’s rhetoric and actions towards Taiwan have historically been “reactionary, not exploitative,” although that may be changing since Xi has sought increasingly to tie “reunification” to legacy-making goals such as achieving the “China Dream” and “national rejuvenation.”

Friday’s maneuvers followed the signing of the first agreement between Taiwan and the Biden administration to strengthen maritime coordination, and Monday’s came after the U.S. ambassador to Palau traveled to Taiwan as part of a Palauan presidential delegation visiting Taipei. Palau is one of Taiwan’s 15 remaining diplomatic allies, and US Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland became the first US diplomat to visit Taiwan after the U.S. switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. In response to the visit, Beijing warned Washington not to cross its “red line” on Taiwan, with a foreign ministry spokesperson saying, “the Chinese side resolutely opposes any form of official contacts between US and Taiwanese officials.”

But Washington has continued to signal its commitment to Taiwan. A top U.S. diplomat in Canberra recently said that the U.S. has taken part in “strategic planning” with Australia to consider potential joint responses to a war over Taiwan, and Taiwan’s Air Force recently told media that it was in talks with U.S. defense companies to buy upgraded air defense missiles, with deliveries to start in 2025 and deployment the following year. The Financial Times has also reported that the U.S. is preparing to issue formal guidelines that will keep changes made during the Trump administration that would lift limits on contacts between American diplomats and Taiwanese officials that had been in place for decades.

Arguments for the legality of extradition of Huawei Central Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canada to the United States ended on Thursday. The Canadian authorities arrested Meng in 2018 based on a U.S. warrant alleging that she misled HSBC, leading to a possible violation of American sanctions against Iran. Meng’s lawyers argued that the case should not be determined through an extradition trial, but instead by Canada’s minister of justice and a trial in the United States. As a result, Meng’s legal team claimed that her continued detainment was unlawful. Another round of arguments will begin on April 26, and the trial is expected to end in May.

After the arrest of Meng in 2018, China detained two Canadian citizens in what is commonly viewed as a tit-for-tat move. The two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were charged with espionage and have been in detention since December 2018. Closed trials for the two Canadians began just ahead of the China-U.S. Anchorage meetings and have formally ended, although official verdicts are yet to be announced. Diplomats from more than two dozen countries were barred from viewing the court proceedings. While the two men have been in detention, they have been denied all outside contact. In addition, their family members and advocacy groups have described the conditions of their detention as poor. Canadian and American officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have repeatedly called for the release of Kovrig and Spavor. Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected any trade of Kovrig and Spavor for Meng. The detainments has led to a chilling in China-Canada relations.

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