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December 11, 2020 – Stealth War Newsletter 19

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri December, 2020, Age: 3 years



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December 11, 2020

Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch

2 years

The length of time that Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig have been detained under opaque charges in China, which Canada’s government has called “hostage diplomacy” (see below).

Top Stories

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the U.S. Justice Department is in talks with Huawei finance chief Meng Wanzhou and may be reaching agreement for a possible “deferred prosecution agreement,” that would allow Meng to return to China in exchange for admitting guilt on some charges. The U.S. has charged Meng with wire and banking fraud in connection to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran on behalf of Huawei. Meng has consistently refused to admit guilt. Meng’s case is also connected with the cases of two Canadian nationals, Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, who were arrested in China shortly after Meng’s house arrest and have been detained for two years. The Chinese government insists that Spavor and Korvig’s arrests are due to national security violations, but has not been transparent on the details of the charges against them. Canada has maintained that what has happened to the Two Michaels, as they’re known, represents an example of “hostage diplomacy,” through which China has illegally sought to pressure the Canadian government on behalf of Meng. On the precise two-year anniversary of their detainment, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing that the two men had been “arrested, indicted and tried.” Later that day, other Chinese officials retracted the statement that they had been tried, saying that Hua had “misspoken.”

A year-long investigation by Axios reporter Bethany Allen Ebrahimian and Zach Dorfman of the Aspen Institute published this week has revealed how a suspected Chinese intelligence operative developed extensive ties with local and national politicians, including a U.S. congressman, as part of an apparent political intelligence operation run by China’s main civilian spy agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), between 2011 and 2015. Politico’s China Watcher newsletter warns that the carefully researched findings of the report should not be over-hyped: “Fang didn’t donate directly to campaigns (which on the federal level cannot accept contributions from non-citizens), and didn’t learn or pass on any classified info. There’s also no implication or data showing she is part of a wave of Chinese students doing this sort of thing.” But the investigation does demonstrate the MSS’s willingness to invest time and resources into long-term operations to cultivate connections with U.S. officials at the sub-national level.

In another demonstration of the perniciousness of Chinese influence operations in the U.S., the Washington Post’s Joe Rogin has reported that Georgetown University’s “Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues” was supported by a $10 million gift from the Thai entity CP Group, which has extensive links to the CCP United Front Work Department that manages overseas influence operations.  Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who earned his PhD at Georgetown, sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on November 30 detailing his concerns, noting: “This gift is of particular concern because the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues employs in senior roles former senior U.S. officials who held key roles relating to U.S. policy towards China.”

On December 7, Hong Kong police arrested eight pro-democracy activists on suspicion of participating in unauthorized assembly during a July 1 protest, including Figo Chan, Tang Sai-lai, Tsang Kin-sing, Andy Chui, Lancelot Chan, and former lawmakers Wu Chi-wai and Leung Kwok Hong Eddie Chu. Police confirmed that the eight arrests were made under the Public Order Ordinance on Tuesday morning. And in an update to last week’s news, the young activist Agnes Chow was denied bail after being sentenced to 10 months in jail for participating in a protest at police headquarters on June 21 last year.

In addition to the increased arrests, Hong Kong police have also increasingly been using financial instruments—with the notable cooperation of HSBC bank—to pressure the opposition. HSBC bank accounts connected to the exiled former lawmaker Ted Hui were frozen at the beginning of this week, and accounts connected to a church thought to have supported protesters were also frozen ahead of police raids and arrests made on Tuesday. The onslaught of near-daily arrests and politically motivated financial probes has made the stark choice confronting Hong Kong’s remaining pro-democracy activists increasingly clear: “go abroad or go to jail.”

Also on Monday, the Trump administration added 14 vice-chairpersons of the National People’s Congress (NPC) to its sanctions blacklist, seeking to punish Chinese officials for eroding Hong Kong’s political independence. The most senior official targeted is Wang Chen, who also serves as a Communist Party Politburo member. This marks only the second time that the U.S. has sanctioned a Politburo member; Chen Quanguo was sanctioned for his role in oppressing Uighurs in Xinjiang in July. Although the new sanctions did not target the NPC Standing Committee chairman and third most powerful man in China, Li Zhanshu, they posed a big enough affront that Beijing summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires Robert Forden to make “solemn representations” about the dangers of U.S. involvement in the country’s internal affairs. A spokesperson for the NPC Standing Committee later called U.S. policies toward Hong Kong, something which China views as the United States’ meddling in the city’s affairs, as “extremely despicable,” adding, “This is a typical case of political bullying and double standards…we strongly condemn and firmly oppose it.”

And as a Sunday deadline looms for the U.S. to clarify potential sanctions on financial institutions involved under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, Mike Pompeo warned business leaders at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council summit on Tuesday that Hong Kong was “no longer anything but another Chinese Communist-run city.”

Finally, Human Rights Watch has released a new report demonstrating how the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) in Xinjiang arbitrarily selected Turkic Muslims for possible detention via close examination of a leaked list of over 2,000 detainees from Aksu prefecture. And an internal document leaked to the Washington Post has revealed that the Chinese tech giant Huawei tested so-called “Uighur alarms” in its facial recognition software which would identify members of the oppressed minority group automatically. Together, these two reports demonstrate the increasing role of cutting-edge technology and AI in China’s repressive surveillance systems, lending further concerns to the real-world abuses that may be perpetrated with the aid of opaque and largely autonomous algorithms. Following reports a few weeks ago that advanced computer chips made in the U.S. power China’s massive surveillance system in processing centers like IJOP, the Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Representative Jim McGovern sent letters to Intel and Nvidia seeking information on the use of their products in Xinjiang.

Stealth War Flyover


In the third episode of Stealth War Flyover, Jamestown President Glen Howard and former Senior Director for Strategy to the President Robert Spalding discuss China’s threat to arrest U.S. citizens in China in reciprocity for recent arrests of PLA-affiliated people in the United States; the State Department mulling a ban on American businesses working with the Chinese fintech firm, the Ant Group; what the trial release in Shenzhen of a new Chinese digital currency mean for American interests; Peter Navarro’s recent comments at the Hudson Institute; and Hillary Clinton’s recent article in Foreign Affairs on China and US national security strategy.

Stealth War Flyover is a periodic series featuring Brigadier General (ret.) Robert Spalding and Jamestown Foundation President Glen Howard discussing and dissecting the latest news in the ongoing competition between China and the United States.

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