February 12, 2021 – Stealth War Newsletter 24

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri February, 2021, Age: 2 years



View this email in your browser

February 12, 2020

Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch

$13.47 billion

The amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) China received in January 2021, a record high. Last year, China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s leading destination for FDI.

Top Stories

The U.S. President Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping spoke directly for “two straight hours” for the first time this Wednesday, three weeks after his inauguration and reportedly following extensive consultations with allies in Europe and Asia about the construction of the new administration’s China strategy. Readouts from the call were cautiously optimistic on both sides, marking a mild improvement from weeks of crossed messaging and diplomatic posturing at lower levels.

Chinese observers noted the significance of the call’s timing, which took place on Lunar New Year’s Eve. “…Choosing to hold the phone call with the Chinese leader on Chinese New Year’s Eve demonstrates Biden’s willingness to improve ties, and to bring divergences under control,” one analyst noted approvingly.  A White House summary of the call noted that Biden had reaffirmed American priorities of “protecting a free and fair Indo-Pacific” and raised “fundamental concerns” about Beijing’s unfair economic practices and activities in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as well as “aggressive actions” against Taiwan. Following the call, Biden stressed in a tweet that, “I will work with China when it benefits the U.S. people,” with the implication that such cooperation would be carefully considered beforehand.

This week also saw the announcement of a new Pentagon task force for China, a move which appeared to underscore the Biden administration’s willingness to counter China on the military front. The task force, led by noted Asia expert Ely Ratner, plans to study issues including technology, intelligence, and U.S. relations with allies. This could appease some critics who have worried that Beijing could take advantage of the new administration’s deliberate approach to Asia policy.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed this week that the Biden administration had frozen a Trump-proposed federal ruling that would have required U.S. universities  and K-12 schools that are certified to have foreign exchange programs to disclose any contracts, partnerships or financial transactions from Confucius Institutes or Classrooms, as well as any other cultural institutes or student groups, such as Chinese Students and Scholars Associations, that are funded directly or indirectly by China. Confucius Institutes are language and cultural learning centers affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, which have been linked to concerns about foreign influence operations within the U.S. educational system.

The White House has emphasized that the rule was not withdrawn from the Federal Register but from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs process, and that the decision was made as part of a widespread regulatory freeze instituted by the Biden administration on Inauguration Day. A State Department spokesperson on Thursday also stressed that a July designation of Confucius Institutes as foreign missions still stands, and that the government was still looking at the best way to counter Chinese efforts to “undermine and interfere in democracies.” Nikkei Asia recently reported that the U.S. may be taking advantage of the closure of Confucius Institutes to deepen its education cooperation with Taiwan, with the U.S. representative to Taiwan last month calling on Taiwanese Mandarin teachers to fill a gap in language instruction in the U.S. left by the exodus of Confucius Institutes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) finished its long-awaited field investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in Wuhan this week. During a press report on Tuesday, WHO experts concluded that coronavirus was unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab following its investigation in Wuhan of the virus’s origins. Instead, Dr. Peter Ben Embarek restated a common consensus that the virus likely became infectious among humans after spreading from bays via an intermediary species. The WHO visit was politically sensitive for China, which has faced criticism for its early mishandling of the pandemic and its censorship of coronavirus-related research. WHO investigators have also called out their Chinese partners for failing to provide raw data on early COVID-19 cases, instead only allowing foreign researchers access to extensive summaries and analysis prepared by local officials and scientists ahead of the visit.

Nevertheless, the New York Times has reported that the trip appears to be an overall PR success for China, with the WHO team overall delivering praise for Chinese officials and lending support to aspects of an official narrative, including a theory that the virus may be spreadable via frozen food imports and that it may have originated outside of China, which have been heavily questioned by the international community.

On Tuesday, China and several Central and Eastern European countries met virtually at the 17+1 CEEC summit to discuss economic relations and COVID-19 recovery. Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired the event. Formed in 2012, the 17+1 summit is a forum for dialogue and cooperation between Central and Eastern European countries and China, but has been viewed in recent years with increasing suspicion as a tool for China to divide EU policy. In a notable slight, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia sent ministers rather than heads of state to attend the meeting, signaling a growing chill in regional attitudes towards China. China has not delivered on many of its infrastructure promises associated with the 17+1, including the Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant and the Budapest-Belgrade railway. A readout from the event was similarly light, possibly portending the future limits of the CEEC framework.

China’s influence in Europe still looms large following the passage of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. Amid the pandemic, Chinese investments in Central and Eastern Europe reached $100 billion in 2020. At the summit, China pushed its Sinovac vaccines and pledged to import $170 billion worth of regional agricultural products in the next five years.

China and India have agreed to the creation of a “buffer-zone” along a portion of their disputed border. Both sides will withdraw forces from strategically important areas in the Ladakh border zone in the high Himalayas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The disengagement of military forces was announced about two weeks after the two sides held the 9th round of high level commander talks following the outbreak of violence along the border in June 2020.
Both sides have built up infrastructure and logistic hubs in their controlled areas along the border since. But the announcement that China and India will disengage from portions of the Pangong Lake may help to alleviate pressure along the LAC. The two sides have agreed to withdraw their forward troop deployments in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner,” according to Indian defense minister, Rajnath Singh, in a report to Parliament on Thursday. One observer has described the move as an “eminently reasonable agreement and compromise,” with both sides giving up strategically valuable terrain and China agreeing to dismantle any infrastructure projects in the area that were constructed after April 2020.

Copyright © 2020 The Jamestown Foundation, All rights reserved.
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list

The Jamestown Foundation 
1310 L St. NW, Suite #810, Washington, DC 20005
202-483-8888 (phone) – https://www.jamestown.org.



Twitter feed is not available at the moment.