April 9, 2021 – Stealth War Newsletter 32

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri April, 2021, Age: 2 years



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April 9, 2021

Welcome to the Stealth War Newsletter, a collection of the top 5 recent news items, collected on The Jamestown Foundation’s new website, stealth-war-org.cdn-pi.com. To continue to receive this weekly collection, click the button below to subscribe.  

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch

4.4 percent

The percentage by which producer-price inflation in China rose from a year earlier, stoking fears of global inflation

Top Stories

Days after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy announced that a carrier strike group led by the Liaoning would drill near Taiwan in the South China Sea, and that such exercises would become routine, the USS John McCain transited the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday. The USS Theodore Roosevelt was also exercising nearby in the South China Sea. The U.S. has regularly conducted operations in the region since the Biden administration took office in January, and the McCain’s trip marks the fourth such strait transit this year, as tensions increase over heightened perceptions of threats from all sides.

China has continued to fly near-daily excursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, massively taxing Taiwan’s defense. Earlier this year, Taiwanese defense officials revealed that the Taiwan air force had flown 1,000 extra hours deterring PLA aircraft, driving up fuel, maintenance, and personnel costs. Taiwan recently said that it would no longer scramble to respond to each PLA incursion, and instead track intruders with ground-based missiles to save costs. But following Wednesday’s incursion of a reported 15 aircraft, including 12 fighters, Taiwan sent up aircraft to intercept and warn away the Chinese planes. Speaking earlier in the day, the Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu warned that Taiwan would “fight a war if we need to fight a war, and if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day, then we will defend ourselves to the very last day.”

A government minister who oversees Taiwan’s Coast Guard reported to parliament that Chinese drones have been spotted circling the Pratas islands in the South China Sea. He warned that Taiwan might shoot down any drones which entered its restricted waters or airspace, which is generally understood to extend a little under 4 miles from Taiwan’s coast. The Pratas have become a relatively recent point of interest between Taipei and Beijing, as Taiwan has complained of increasing and repeated Chinese air force activity near the islands, which are the closest Taiwan-controlled territory to Hong Kong. In related news, Taiwan has announced that computer-aided war games of a Chinese attack on Taiwan will be conducted between April 23 to 30. They will form the first phase of Taiwan’s largest annual Han Kuang exercises. A second phase, including live fire drills, is scheduled to take place in July.

Following last week’s formal passage of electoral reforms in Hong Kong, the situation remains grim for pro-democracy activists even as China appeals to business interests in the special administrative region. The new changes sharply reduce the number of directly elected legislators in Hong Kong and will further delay already-postponed elections until December, as well as giving more power to national security authorities to vet candidates for public office. This week, the pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, former lawmaker Lee Chuk-yan, and former Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum pled guilty to charges under the Public Order Ordinance of participating in an unlawful assembly in August 2019, but maintained that they had done nothing wrong, with Lee adding, “History will absolve me” and Yeung saying that everybody should be entitled to basic rights like freedom of assembly. Lee, Lai, and five former opposition lawmakers were convicted of the same offense for their roles in a separate 2019 protest six days earlier.

Human rights activists have criticized the Chinese government for using repeated charges—many based on creative applications of colonial-era ordinances—to silence dissent in the wake of the passing of a new national security law last year. In addition to attacks on educators, activists and the media, pro-Beijing forces have also begun targeting the arts. At the same time, top officials in Hong Kong have revived moves to reduce corporate transparency and provide new tax breaks to the wealthy, seeking to keep Hong Kong an attractive place for investment even as the city becomes increasingly autocratic. More than one percent of residents have left Hong Kong since the imposition of the national security law last June, and tens of billions of dollars have left Hong Kong for nearby financial hubs like Singapore.

China has cracked down on researchers, think tanks and businesses criticizing its human rights violations in Xinjiang. After several Western companies announced their intentions to remove Xinjiang cotton from supply chains over alleged human rights abuses, Chinese state-run media called for the boycott of brands such as H&M and Burberry. Chinese nationalists on social media have also unleashed abuse against researchers, following the lead of state-owned media and official propaganda. China has also placed sanctions and asset freezes on think tanks and scholars over allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, including the independent researcher Adrian Zenz, the British academic Jo Smith Finley and the German Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS). Sanctions are more usually targeted to government officials, and China’s shift to targeting academics and researchers marks a concerning escalation. Over 1,150 scholars have signed a solidarity statement calling on Beijing to remove sanctions, warning that continued persecution of China watchers will jeopardize deeper understandings of China and hurt its international reputation.

Local elections in Greenland are the latest battleground for great power influence and access to critical rare earth resources. Officials called for a snap election after environmental concerns emerged over the development of Kvanefjeld mine by Chinese firm Shenghe Resources Holding Co. and Australian company Greenland Minerals. The primary left-wing opposition party, the Community of the People party (Inuit Ataqatigiit), won the election with 37 percent of the vote. The result will likely jeopardize the opening of Kvanefjeld mine.

Greenland has gained international attention amid a global debate on rare earths supply chains. The United States and Europe have turned to Greenland as a possible alternative for sourcing from China which produces over 80 percent of refined products such as rare earth oxides, alloys, and permanent magnets. At the same time, Chinese firms seek access to Greenland’s rare earth minerals to meet domestic demand. While Shenghe holds a nine percent share in Greenland Minerals, the firm was set to take point on the refining process given its technical expertise.

The Siumut Party, which had 29 percent of the vote, had advocated for the mine’s opening as a source of revenue for Greenland in its bid for greater independence from Denmark. The region faces some of the greatest challenges from climate change due to rapid glacial ice melt, and environmental concerns have grown in Greenland. In particular, voters flagged concerns of increased carbon dioxide emissions and radiation from the Kvanjefeld mine.

On Tuesday, the Tibet Autonomous Region introduced 15 new border regulations, mostly updating older rules that banned the moving of border markers and the damaging of military facilities. The regulations also ban carrying or disseminating newspapers, books or electronic products containing content “deemed to endanger national security” in the border region. Though the new rules do not target any group in particular, it is clear that they are intended to stop exiled Tibetans from infiltrating the country.

Exiled Tibetans trained as special operations forces as part of India’s Special Frontier Force (SFF) took part in an operation in August 2020 to seize the heights of the Kailash Range near Pangong Tso, in order to give New Delhi greater leverage in negotiations. It is estimated that 10,000 Tibetans serve the SFF, which worries Beijing. A People’s Liberation Army (PLA) official quoted by the South China Morning Post stated, “The bans were announced recently, a while after the two sides completed their disengagement of troops [in mid-February in Pangong Tso], because Beijing doesn’t want to provoke New Delhi.”

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