April 22, 2022-Stealth War 84: Serbia Receives SAMs from China; China-Solomon Islands Security Deal; J-20 Stealth Fighters Undergo Maritime Training; Xi Calls for Global Security Initiative; China’s Recent Breakthroughs in the Race for Quantum Supremacy

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri April, 2022, Age: 1 year



April 22, 2022

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Stat Du Jour 
This issue’s number to watch60/55 
Official retirement ages in China for men, 60, and women, 55, in white collar work. The retirement age for women in manual labor jobs is 50. China is seeking to raise the retirement age to increase productivity and reduce stress on its pension system. 

This Week: 

Serbia Receives SAMs from China

Solomon Islands Officially Signs Security Deal with China, U.S. Sends Delegation

* China’s New J-20 Stealth Fighters Undergo Maritime Training

Xi Calls for Global Security Initiative Amid Russia-Ukraine War

China’s Recent Breakthroughs in the Race for Quantum Supremacy

Top Stories

Serbia Receives SAMs from China

On April 9, six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes landed in Serbia. The Y-20s delivered HQ-22 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to the Western Balkan nation in “12 covert sorties.” Serbia initially purchased the HQ-22 system in early 2019, although the news appears to have broken in August 2020. In moving forward with the HQ-22 purchase, Belgrade apparently opted to forego buying Russian S-300 and S-400 SAMs, supposedly due to their radars’ relatively weak performance against missile attacks. Whatever mystery initially surrounded the planes’ contents was dispelled on April 10,  when Serbia proudly announced that it had indeed received the SAMs. Chinese state media later specified that it had delivered the FK-3 variant of the HQ-22 SAM system. Along with other arms sales to Serbia (including $20 million for six military UAVs), two decades of strong investment and strategic relations, a common negative history with NATO, and the potential purchase of thousands of Huawei facial recognition cameras, the sale highlights China’s expanding influence in the country and in the Balkans.

During the Ukraine crisis, China’s relations with much of Europe have suffered, but the Balkans in general, and Serbia in particular, are a relative bright spot for Chinese diplomacy. Rather than relying just on economic lures, China has become adept at cultural diplomacy in the region. In its efforts to create a wedge between Brussels and Belgrade, Beijing has also learned how to manipulate political factions in Serbia and its neighbors. The EU still far outweighs China in terms of trade as of 2021 ($32.84 billion vs $4.85 billion), China’s trade with Serbia is almost double that of the latter’s longtime ally Russia. Nonetheless, Serbia’s strong nationalist tendencies and the political aftershocks from the turmoil of the 1990s still threaten its relationship with Brussels, in spite of Belgrade’s hopes to join the EU. Thus, in a strategic sense, for China and Serbia, potential EU membership may not matter. If Serbia joins the EU, Beijing may see it as a source of leverage within the bloc, and if it does not, Belgrade will likely seek to deepen ties with China. In this context, the question becomes, can Serbia play great powers off of each other while maintaining a degree of independence like Yugoslavia did, will it be subsumed by another power, or will its “mini-arms race” that China and Russia are facilitating result in yet another Balkans tragedy?

(source: Nikkei Asia)

Solomon Islands Officially Signs Security Deal with China, U.S. Sends Delegation

China and the Solomon Islands officially signed their framework agreement on security cooperation this week, which was confirmed by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin during a regular press conference on Tuesday. The agreement, which has been closely watched since first reported last month, “proceeds in parallel with and complements Solomon Islands’ existing bilateral and security cooperation mechanisms,” stated Wang. However, the deal raised significant concern among Western nations, particularly Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. These countries have largely seen the move as part of Honiara’s broader shift from Australia to China for future peacekeeping and economic assistance, which could effectively give China a military foothold in the Pacific Islands. Following three days of protest in the Solomon Islands against its decision to switch formal diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China last November, the Pacific Islands nation said it would not allow China to build a military base there.

On Monday, the White House announced it was sending a delegation led by National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink to the region this week. The delegation will visit Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands to “further deepen our enduring ties with the region and to advance a free, open, and resilient Indo-Pacific.” The visit comes after the U.S announced in February it would open an embassy in the Solomon Islands—which has been closed since 1993—and released its new Indo-Pacific Strategy, both aimed to counter China’s increasing influence in the region. When asked about Washington’s trip, Wang called out the U.S. for its efforts to “groundlessly smear China while creating the so-called trilateral security partnership, which has brought nuclear proliferation risks and Cold War mentality to the South Pacific region and posed a severe threat to regional security and stability.” “The label of “undermining regional security” suits them better than anyone else,” he added. As long as the possibility for deployment of Chinese forces on the Solomon Islands remains, this development will continue to gain strong international attention.

(source: Global Times)

China’s New J-20 Stealth Fighters Undergo Maritime Training 

The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) new J-20 stealth fighter planes are currently undertaking routine flight trainings over the East and South China seas according to a senior official from the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), which is involved in producing the jet. At a press conference in March, following close contact between a U.S. F-35 and a J-20 in the East China Sea, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, Air Force General Kenneth Wilsbach provided some rare assessment of the J-20’s capabilities stating: “We notice that they are flying it pretty well. We recently had – I wouldn’t call it an engagement – where we got relatively close to the J-20s along with our F-35s in the East China Sea, and we’re relatively impressed with the command and control associated with the J-20.”

The first J-20 stealth jets manufactured by China were powered by two, Russian-made Saturn AL-31FN-series engines in each plane. However, over the last few years, China began equipping the planes with domestically produced WS-10B engines, which are considered an upgrade. The use of domestically produced engines also underscores the Chinese defense industry’s diminishing reliance on Russian-manufactured technologies. Although the J-20 has been in operation for about six years, the number of planes in service is unclear. State media acknowledges that the fighter jet is still not operated by all five joint theater commands. U.S. sources estimate that the PLA has anywhere from 100-150 plus J-20 stealth planes in service with more currently under production.

Xi Calls for Global Security Initiative Amid Russia-Ukraine War

Yesterday, President Xi Jinping delivered the keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in Hainan Province. In his video speech titled “Rising to Challenges and Building a Bright Future Through Cooperation,” Xi proposed a Global Security Initiative, which he broadly described as “respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries” and “abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.” Following the speech, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin welcomed all countries to participate in the initiative, describing it as upholding true multilateralism. Chinese state media was full of praise for Xi’s proposal, citing Chinese analysts who called it “necessary and urgent as solidarity, security, and development is needed amid rising concerns over the impact on global stability and the economy brought by the Ukraine crisis and attempts to build small cliques to create confrontation.” Attendees of this year’s forum included Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

In response, Western sources have focused on a different part of the speech—Xi’s use of the term “indivisible security,” which has been a term used by President Vladimir Putin to make his case for the invasion against Ukraine. During a press briefing on Thursday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said they took note of the reference, stating “we have continued to see the PRC parrot some of what we have heard coming from the Kremlin.” Price also reiterated the importance of the rules-based international order for peace, pushing back on efforts by Xi and Putin to create a new security architecture. Western analysts also highlighted that this is the first time Beijing has promoted the concept of “indivisible security” beyond the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which could have implications for China taking stronger action on current conflict areas in the Indo-Pacific region, including Taiwan and territorial claims in East and South China Seas.

(source: China Daily)

China’s Recent Breakthroughs in the Race for Quantum Supremacy

On April 13, Xinhua announced that Chinese scientists, “have realized the world’s longest quantum secure direct communication (QSDC), measuring 100 km” (the scientific journal article can be found here). According to the researchers, “QSDC…has become one of the strongest candidates for secure communication in the future.” This announcement follows several other Chinese quantum industry breakthroughs, including the development of improved software for China’s “superconducting quantum hardware platform” in February, successfully exchanging quantum encryption keys via an 833 km optical fiber in January, the creation of China’s first PhD program in quantum science and technology in November 2021, and as of October 2021 apparently having two quantum computers that are possibly the fastest in the world, at least by some measures. These developments highlight what many have been warning of for some time: China is well on its way to overtaking the rest of the world in emerging technologies such as quantum science and technology, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and 6G communications, neuroscience and technology, and much more. These technologies increasingly permeate all aspects of society in the coming decades, in factories, medicine, communication, militaries and intelligence agencies, agriculture, chemistry, space, etc. However, quantum science and technology is critical for security, and particularly cyber security. “Q-Day” refers to the day when a quantum computer can crack RSA-2048 bit encryption in 10-seconds, which would take a standard computer 300 trillion years to crack. It is estimated that a quantum computer would require 4099 stable (a.k.a. logical) “qubits” to achieve this feat; currently the record is under 200.

The threat lies in the fact that governments and other actors around the world are constantly gathering and storing as much encrypted data as possible, waiting to decrypt it come Q-Day. Given that classified government information often needs to stay safe for one or several decades, an unknowable amount of vital information will no longer be safe when quantum computers reach a certain development point. This is not to mention corporate or personal data that was commonly at a lower encryption level than to the current standard of RSA-2048 encryption, which was not implemented until about 2013 and currently accounts for around 90% of internet traffic. In fact, aside from increasing the size of select types of encryption so that it takes too long to decrypt with quantum computers, a “quantum proof” form of encryption has yet to be found, although the US may be close. Fortunately, the U.S. will likely reach quantum proof encryption before Q-Day. Unfortunately, it is becoming apparent that between unforeseen ways around the need for stable qubits and unpredictable scientific breakthroughs, the arrival of Q-Day is getting closer. Who will reach Q-Day first does matter, but what matters more is who can secure their systems first and mitigate threats to what has already been collected. The fallout is unknowable, but it will be significant.

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