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February 19, 2021 – Stealth War Newsletter 25

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri February, 2021, Age: 3 years



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February 19, 2021

Welcome to the Stealth War Newsletter, a collection of the top 5 recent news items, collected on The Jamestown Foundation’s website, 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

$709 billion

Worth of trade between China and the EU in 2020, allowing Beijing to surpass the U.S. as the EU’s largest trading partner for the first time

Top Stories

Indian media is reporting today that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces have completed their pull back from Pangong Lake as agreed with India the previous week. This week has seen progress in China and India’s disengagement agreement, with satellite imagery showing the withdrawal of Indian and Chinese forces from disputed areas. As the first breakthrough in the nine-month-long border standoff, the agreement places Chinese forces east of Finger 8, north of the lake. Indian forces will be moved back to a base west of Finger 3, with the area between the two positions temporarily declared a no-patrol zone. The agreement only affects the standoff at Pangong Lake and does not affect troop positions at other tense locations, including Gogra, Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.

As part of the agreement, China was required to deconstruct all structures it built between Fingers 3-8 since April 2020. China dismantled a jetty, helipad and temporary hospital all located near Finger 5. Both sides have reportedly pulled back over 200 tanks and armored personnel vehicles and thousands of troops.

Upcoming talks between Indian and Chinese officials will likely address the standoffs at Gogra and Hot Springs, with the Depsang Plains being a location where disengagement could “take time,” according to Indian government sources quoted by ThePrint. Border tensions at Depsang, a strategically important location, pre-date the current border confrontation. The Depsang Plains are near the Daulat Beg Oldie airfield and the Durbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road, which connects the capital of Ladakh, Leh, with the northern airfield.  

Today, China posthumously awarded four PLA soldiers killed in fighting with Indian troops in Galwan Valley in June 2020. The awards marked the first time that Beijing has admitted to PLA deaths in a skirmish defined by soldiers fighting with rocks, batons, and barbed wire-wrapped clubs. The fight killed 20 Indians, but the amount of Chinese dead has remained unknown, with Indian media sources and the Russian news source TASS having reported that as many as 45 may have died. Qi Fabao, the regimental commander from the Xinjiang Military Command, were among those killed. 

President Xi Jinping’s abrupt halt of Ant Group’s initial public offering (IPO) in November 2020 was based on both anger at Jack Ma’s criticism of Xi’s financial oversight and concern over Ant Group’s opaque structure, according to a new Wall Street Journal report. Ant Group provides digital financial services, including its mobile payment app Alipay, which boasts over one billion users. As a result, Ant Group has access to the financial data of a massive consumer base, worrying regulators. Ant Group leader Jack Ma leveraged his connections to China’s elite to flout financial regulations. In loans to hundreds of millions of people in China, Ant Group gained the bulk of profits while state-owned banks took on most of the risk. A government probe also found that many of Ant Group’s powerful stakeholders held stock through murky investment subsidiaries. Since Xi’s ascent to power in 2012, the president has made quashing corruption core to his administration, setting Ant Group and its beneficiaries on a collision course with the government’s anti-corruption campaign. At a summit in October 2020, Ma delivered a scathing speech criticizing financial watchdogs for suppressing economic growth. Ma’s comments only cemented Xi’s anger and led to the cancellation of Ant Group’s $37 billion IPO, which would have been a record debut. State regulatory agencies also ordered that Ant Group restructure internally because of its anti-competitive practices. The episode only reveals Xi’s tightening grip on power, including over China’s most powerful business elite.

Huawei has faced a major squeeze from U.S. sanctions, reporting a 42 percent decline in smartphone sales in the last quarter of 2020 due to restricted chip supplies. In fact, Huawei’s spending on semiconductor chips dropped by 23.5 percent from 2019, allowing Apple and Samsung to surpass the company in chip spending. Meanwhile, China-based competitor Xiaomi increased chip spending by 26 percent. 

In the face of continued sanctions, Huawei reported that it would reduce smartphone production by 60 percent in 2021. As a result, the tech company has announced a pivot to the pig farming and coal mining industries. Huawei hopes to use artificial intelligence to identify individual pigs and track their health, linking the industry to its 5G network. The pig industry is especially lucrative in China, where pork is a major staple in the country’s diet. Founder and chief executive of Huawei Ren Zhengfei also declared the development of a mining innovation lab in Shanxi Province to improve efficiency and worker safety.

In addition, Huawei seeks to establish independence in the smartphone supply chain through developing its own operating system, HarmonyOS. Previously, the phone company relied on Google’s Android. The new operating system, however, seems to be a near replica of Android. Moreover, registering with HarmonyOS requires a lengthy two-day background check, including submitting a passport for identity verification with its social credit system. HarmonyOS further integrates Huawei with China’s extensive surveillance system.

The U.S. has long cast suspicion on Huawei—especially as a leader in 5G technology—due to its ties with the Chinese Communist Party, raising concerns about data privacy and security. Domestically, the Federal Communications Commission approved a measure that would allow rural communications companies to tap into a $1.9 billion fund in order to replace equipment by Huawei and ZTE.

The Chinese central government rolled out new regulations designed to cement its control over online bloggers and religious leaders during the relatively quiet period before the Lunar New Year (Feb. 12) continuing its escalations against civil society in the wake of the pandemic. The Associated Press has reported that the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) will require bloggers and influencers to apply for a government credential before they can publish on politically sensitive topics. Although permits have been needed since at least 2017 to produce content on topics related to political and military affairs, enforcement has been lax. The new rules will expand the requirement to include health, economics, education and judicial matters, and analysts fear that they will be more strictly enforced as well. Citizen journalists who reported on the coronavirus pandemic last year were muzzled via a comprehensive censorship campaign, and in January the video blogger Zhang Zhan, who reported on the coronavirus in Wuhan, was sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a charge that is typically associated with government criticism. Earlier in February, CAC announced a month-long drive to clean up content on search engines, social media platforms and browsers on February 4, beginning with a crackdown on the popular subtitling platform Renren Yingshi.

New “Measures for the Administration of Religious Personnel” published February 8 are due to go into effect in May, repackaging existing supervisory guidelines as a national regulation that could give greater political force to China’s ongoing campaign to “Sinicize” organized religion. Reporting in SupChina observed that, following Xi’s stated satisfaction with the government’s control over Xinjiang during a September policy conference last year, Beijing may seek to double down on its control of other ethnic and religious minorities in the near future. Under the new rules, religious leaders must actively participate in the Sinicization policy to bring religions under party control and cannot engage in any religious activities that contravene national security or ethnic unity. They will also have to comply with a detailed registration process and obtain official approval before training overseas. The new rules follow similar regulations implemented in 2018 and 2020 that have marked a steady campaign to crack down on grayzone religious entities which, while not explicitly banned, had long functioned outside of state control.

This week has seen a large amount of diplomatic activity between the United States and allied countries. Yesterday, foreign ministers of the “Quad”—consisting of the United States, Japan, Australia and India—met for the third time. Notably, the meeting is the first involving new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The meeting also saw the Indian Ministry for External Affairs use the term “Quad” for the first time, having previously referred to the interactions as “meetings of the four countries.” India has traditionally been the Quad country most reluctant to institutionalize the dialogue for fear of instigating China. However, since the beginning of a major border standoff with China in April 2020, New Delhi has signaled it is willing to more closely align with the other three powerful democratic powers of the Indo-Pacific region. Referring to the grouping as the “Quad” is the latest such signal.

The U.S. State Department said that the Quad agreed to meet at least once a year on a ministerial level and on a regular basis at lower levels, in order to “strengthen cooperation on advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific, including support for the freedom of navigation and territorial integrity.” Though often not mentioned explicitly by name, the impetus for Quad cooperation rests on shared concerns about a rising and confrontational China, which is threatening the territory of India in the Himalayas and Japan’s Senkaku Islands. As stated by Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, the ministers agreed to “strongly oppose unilateral and forceful attempts to change the status quo in the context of the East and South China Seas.”

Meanwhile, President Biden today met virtually with other Group of 7 (G7) heads of state and made remarks at the Munich Security Conference (MSC). At the MSC, Biden remarked on competition with China – saying that, “competition is going to be stiff” but that they would need to cooperate in order to address shared problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. And though some European leaders might be amenable to confronting China in certain spheres, the European Union has recently signed a controversial trade deal, signaling that the trade bloc will continue to cooperate with Beijing on trade. As stated by French President Emmanuel Macron, “A situation to join all together against China, this is a scenario of the highest possible conflictuality. This one, for me, is counterproductive.” Germany has also attempted to separate its economic cooperation with China from its security concerns.

However, on Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that, “China and Russia are at the forefront of an authoritarian pushback against rules-based international order.” Stoltenberg’s comments and his proposed strategies, which include an increase in funding of “core deterrence and defense activities” signal NATO’s growing concern with the rise of China and its effect on global stability. Biden and Stoltenberg would clearly both favor the Transatlantic alliance focusing on the China threat, but this might receive push back from member countries who continue to rely on China for their continued prosperity.

Stealth War Flyover


The Jamestown Foundation is proud to release the inaugural episode of a new video series, Stealth War Flyover. Part of Jamestown’s new website, Stealth War, this periodic series will feature Brigadier General (ret.) Robert Spalding and Jamestown Foundation President Glen Howard dissecting the latest news in the ongoing competition between China and the United States.

In this first episode, Howard and Spalding discuss the recent decision by the United Kingdom to ban Huawei from its 5G infrastructure; the announcement by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company that they will cease processing new orders from Huawei; and the sudden closure of China’s Consulate in Houston.

Watch Here

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