April 23, 2021 – Stealth War 34: U.S. Climate Summit; Bo’ao Forum; Australia Cancels BRI Projects

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri April, 2021, Age: 2 years



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April 23, 2021

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch
34 percentJump in semiconductor exports from Taiwan to the PRC in March as the global economy recovers from COVID-19 and Chinese companies seek tech supplies amid a global chip shortage.

Top Stories

The United States and China offered differing visions of global policy responses to threats from climate change in the U.S.-hosted virtual Earth Day climate summit. 40 countries participated in the summit, making up 80 percent of the global economy. The United States and China expressed a willingness to cooperate on climate issues, a marked difference in an otherwise increasingly strained relationship. In remarks to the forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping highlighted the role of developing countries in advancing climate goals. U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to cut U.S. emissions by half by 2030 as outlined in the Paris Climate Accords, which the U.S. rejoined within Biden’s first week in office. The European Union agreed on Wednesday before the summit to go carbon neutral by 2050. In contrast to the U.S. and the EU’s ambitious climate goals, China pledged only to reduce coal consumption starting in 2026. After the conference, spokespersons for the Chinese government defended its lack of concrete commitments by asserting that climate change should not be a “geopolitical tool.”

Despite assertions of bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and China on climate issues, tensions continue to rise between the two countries. On the same day of the climate summit, the U.S. Senate unveiled the Strategic Competition Act targeting China. Provisions include a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and cooperation with international allies to counter China. The bill currently enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support.

In addition, the U.S. and China are set to name new ambassadors. China is likely to appoint Qin Gang as its next ambassador to Washington. Qin is currently the Vice Minister of foreign affairs for China. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is expected to nominate R. Nicholas Burns, an experienced diplomat who has served both Republican and Democratic administrations, as its ambassador to Beijing. The veteran diplomats will take charge of an increasingly competitive relationship between the two major global powers.

On April 20, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave the keynote speech to the Bo’ao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, where he called for a more equitable management of world affairs. The speech was widely regarded as another example of Beijing attempting to establish itself as an equal to Washington. Without mentioning the United States by name, Xi’s speech, titled “Pulling Together Through Adversity and Toward a Shared Future for All,” took aim at the superpower, laying out a worldview without a single hegemon and instead centered on the United Nations and other international organizations. However, Xi’s remarks also focused on advancing China’s Belt and Road Initiative and a future Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations. Both of these initiatives are seen as an attempt to establish new multilateral groupings with China at their center. Xi also emphasized China’s role in combating the coronavirus, stating, “China will continue to carry out anti-COVID cooperation with the WHO and other countries, honor its commitment of making vaccines a global public good, and do more to help developing countries defeat the virus.”

Signs of how China would behave as a global leader can be seen in its current relationship with India. On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced that Beijing would be willing to offer assistance to India, which is currently experiencing a catastrophic wave of coronavirus infections that is overwhelming the country’s healthcare systems. As Wang stated in his remarks, in language similar to Xi’s speech at Bo’ao on the coronavirus pandemic, “The novel coronavirus is a common enemy of all mankind, and the global community needs to unite as one to fight against epidemics.”

While offering assistance with the pandemic and emphasizing the two countries’ economic relationship, China is at the same time continuing to confront India on its shared border, occupying territory claimed by New Delhi. The 11th round of talks on the border crisis, which took place on April 9, were inconclusive, with analysts predicting that the confrontation might extend well into the future. Meanwhile, People’s Liberation Army Daily, a Chinese military mouthpiece, has publicized the deployment of an artillery brigade that includes an advanced long-range rocket launcher to the Himalayas. This is the first time China has deployed a long-range missile system to its border with China, with the PLA noting the system will be used as a deterrent against India.

Chinese diplomats have emphasized to Indian counterparts that the confrontation at the border should be siloed and handled separately from more positive aspects of the relationship, including their economic ties and, potentially, joint efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. However, analysts and observers of Indian foreign policy say that is now unlikely, with New Delhi targeting Chinese investments in the country in retaliation for the border crisis.

Xi’s speech at Bo’ao sought to establish that China is an emerging leader in world affairs that is capable of aiding in the economic development of partner countries and support efforts to combat the pandemic, but its action against neighboring powers reveals the coercive and negative aspects of the country’s rise.

A report released by private cybersecurity firm FireEye indicates that Chinese state-affiliated hackers may have breached the networks of U.S. government agencies, defense contractors, financial institutions, and other critical sectors. While an investigation into the compromise continues, hackers are suspected to have stolen intellectual property and project data. Chinese hackers are believed to have infiltrated U.S. networks through exploiting flaws in virtual private network servers through a sophisticated operation. As of now, the breach is still ongoing. The high-level campaign targeted individuals with information valuable to the Chinese government, according to FireEye.

In the Netherlands, Chinese telecoms company Huawei may have monitored millions of users’ phone calls through Dutch network provider KPN, according to a report viewed by De Volksrant. KPN commissioned the report in 2010 after the Netherlands’ intelligence agency warned of possible espionage. Conversations that may have been monitored include calls by Chinese dissidents and former Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenade. KPN first partnered with Huawei in 2009. Both KPN and Huawei have rejected claims that Huawei improperly took client data. After it received the report, KPN continued to award contracts for 3G and 4G components to Huawei. Nonetheless, KPN was also the first company to cut ties with Huawei last year amid the European Union’s efforts for technological independence from China.

In Canada, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou won a three month delay in U.S. extradition hearings. Meng’s defense team requested the delay to review newly-available documents from a settlement between Huawei and HSBC. Meng, arrested in Canada in 2018, faces fraud charges in the U.S. for potentially breaching sanctions against Iran.

The Australian federal government scrapped a set of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects between the government of Victoria and China’s National Development and Reform Commission on Wednesday. The decision was made under a law passed in December that gives Australia’s foreign minister the power to cancel agreements between overseas governments and Australian authorities, including universities. Australia reviewed over 1,000 deals under the law, according to the office of the foreign minister. Only four deals were cancelled after the extensive review—two with China, one with Iran and one with Syria. Victoria is Australia’s wealthiest state, and the BRI agreements aimed to encourage investment and trade between the two nations. Australia’s federal government cancelled a BRI memorandum of understanding and framework agreement with Victoria. Australian foreign minister Marisa Payne called the projects “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy.” In response, China labelled the decision as “unreasonable and provocative.”

The project cancellations are a blow to the two countries’ relations. Ties between Canberra and Beijing have worsened since Australia called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in 2020. As Australia’s largest trade partner, China lashed out by setting tariffs on Australia’s exports of barley and wine, as well as blocking coal shipment. As a result, Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent in 2020.

Yesterday, the United Kingdom joined the United States, Canada and the Netherlands in declaring that China’s ongoing treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang constitutes an act of genocide. China is accused of detaining up to 2 million in reeducation camps in the autonomous region, with survivors alleging widespread abuse, including torture, rape and forced labor.

The UK is the latest country to condemn China’s treatment of its minorities in Xinjiang, and other European countries might soon follow suit. While the UK House of Commons was approving a measure to condemn China’s human rights abuses yesterday, the German Bundestag’s human rights committee announced that it would hold cross-party hearings on May 17 to assess China’s treatment of Uyghurs.

What approach ends up being taken in Rome and Berlin waits to be seen, but the actions taken in London and other Western capitals on this matter have drawn the ire of Beijing and will likely continue to be a thorn in relations with China.

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