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February 18, 2022-Stealth War 76: Solomon Islands; Pro-PRC accounts flood Twitter during Olympics; Taiwan Seeks to Protect Core Techs; Morocco signs BRI roadmap; Equatorial Guinea, US and Chinese base

By: Jamestown Foundation

Mon March, 2022, Age: 2 years


February 18, 2022

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– 50%
Television ratings decline for NBC’s broadcast of the 2022 Olympics Games in Beijing. 

This Week: 

*  U.S. to Open Embassy in the Solomon Islands as China’s Influence in the Pacific Expands 

*  Pro-PRC Accounts Flood Twitter During Beijing Olympics

Taiwan Seeks to Better Protect Core Technologies from PRC Economic Espionage

* BRI Roundup: Morocco Becomes First North African Country to Sign BRI Implementation Plan 

*  U.S. Dispatches Senior Officials to Equatorial Guinea as West African Nation Weighs Hosting Chinese Base

Top Stories

(source: VOA News)

U.S. to Open Embassy in the Solomon Islands as China’s Influence in the Pacific Expands

On February 12, as part of the U.S.-Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. will reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands, in part to counter expanding Chinese influence in the Pacific Island Countries. The U.S. established diplomatic ties with the Solomon Islands when it gained independence in 1978, but Washington only had an embassy there from 1989-1993, and it was not until 2019 that the National Security Council had a dedicated director position for Oceania. In spite of heavy influence by France, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, China has also established a presence in the region in the interim. China’s efforts to develop its influence in the PICs has been particularly motivated by its diplomatic contest with Taiwan. In 2019, the Solomon Islands, which was by far the largest of Taipei’s remaining allies in the Pacific, de-recognized Taiwan in favor of China. As a result, then Vice President Mike Pence cancelled a visit to the Solomon Islands and the U.S. discussed ending aid.

Due to the internal political-ethnic divisions in the Solomon Islands, switching diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China was a complicated feat. Yet, recognition of China over Taiwan, and the strengthening of China’s regional influence was not entirely unexpected. By 2010, the Solomon Islands was running a $258 million trade surplus with the PRC, with over 50 percent of exports going to China. By 2020 China made up 45 percent of all trade with the Solomon Islands, with logging and bauxite mining among the largest industries (at current rates forests will be exhausted by 2036). As ties deepened, Solomon Islands’ politicians flirted with dropping Taiwan as a longtime partner in favor of China. In the run-up to the 2019 elections, China was bribing politicians to drop recognition of Taiwan should they win. As additional inducement, China promised to supplant Taiwan’s contributions to the Solomon Island’s rural development fund—notorious for its role in the islands’ culture of corruption—with an $11.3 million donation, in addition to other benefits, such as development and mining deals.

In the two years following the recognition shift, China has increased its aid to the Solomon Islands. Beijing and Honiara have also intensified bilateral  diplomatic engagement. In May 2021, the Solomon Islands sent  its first ambassador to Beijing and in November, China signed a comprehensive strategic partnership with the PICs including the Solomon Islands.

In November 2021, local grievances and disagreements over recognizing China over Taiwan led to violent riots, in which Chinese citizens and businesses were targeted. China responded by sending anti-riot gear and six police advisors (with UN peacekeeping backgrounds), reigniting earlier fears that China could establish a security presence in the Solomon Islands.

(source: CGTN)

Pro-PRC Accounts Flood Twitter During Beijing Olympics

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) has touted Beijing’s hosting of the Winter Olympics as a major achievement with the Chinese capital becoming the world’s first and only “Dual Olympic” city. However, the Olympics have also generated new levels of criticism of the PRC’s human rights records, including its draconian policies targeting ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere. In an effort to influence the discussion surrounding the Olympics and human rights, pro-China Twitter accounts, many of which are automated, have flooded the social media platform with posts using hashtags employed by human rights activists such as #GenocideGames. These posts are likely intended to dilute criticism of China’s human rights record at a sensitive moment.

In addition to its effort to blunt criticism, the PRC has also sought to promote an idealized image of the games on Twitter and other social media platforms. For example, images of the games show Beijing’s hills as white and snowy, but in reality, the Olympics are using artificial snow, and the terrain around the capital is brown and gray at present. Analysis by ProPublica found that as many as 90% of pro-China accounts on Twitter were created after December 1, 2021. The journalistic watchdog also identified as many as 3,000 suspicious looking accounts ginning out pro-China posts. It is also noteworthy that although Twitter, Facebook and other foreign social media platforms are blocked in China, PRC officials, state media, and pro-China bots and spammers have an active presence on these platforms. These developments testify to how intertwined the Olympics have become with the PRC’s international propaganda narrative, emerging as a key element in Xi Jinping’s push to “tell the Chinese story well.”

Taiwan Seeks to Better Protect Core Technologies from PRC Economic Espionage

Taiwan is increasing its efforts to protect core technologies, particularly its semiconductor industry, based on allegations of technology theft by mainland companies. Yesterday, the Executive Yuan approved revisions to its National Security Act, making it a crime to engage in “economic espionage” or the unauthorized use of “national core technology trade secrets” outside the island. The proposed amendments impose sentences of up to 12 years in prison and a fine of $1.79 million to $3.59 million to anyone who steals national core technologies or trade secrets and gives them to China or other hostile foreign states. This is a considerable increase from the existing sentence of five years in jail and about a $358,000 fine. The Executive Yuan also approved amendments to the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area that would require government approval to visit China for those who have received government subsidies for national core technology businesses within three years of leaving their work. Anyone who violates this requirement will now face fines of up to $358,000. The Executive Yuan will soon release a list of core technologies, and the draft amendments will need to be approved by the Legislative Yuan and issued by President Tsai Ing-wen to take effect. 

At the Cabinet meeting to discuss the new legislation, Premier Su Tseng-cheng stressed the importance of high-tech industries to Taiwan’s economy, but noted that China’s “red supply chain” has been “utilizing various methods to lure high-tech talent from Taiwan and steal Taiwanese core technologies.” Legislative Yuan Secretary-General Cheng Yun-peng echoed the Premier’s concerns, stating “China’s economic espionage is laying siege to the rest of the world right now.” The amendments seek to establish stricter regulations and to protect these vital technologies from PRC espionage, especially Taiwan’s enormous semiconductor industry, which produces the majority of the world’s advanced semiconductor chips. Beijing has recently sought to build up its own chip industry to gain semiconductor independence, and has been targeting Taiwan’s chip industry knowledge and talent. Referring to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co’s (TSMC) most advanced 2-nanometer chipmaking technology, Cabinet spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng said the draft amendments provide extra protection against such technology. “If their technologies were stolen there would be a significant impact,” Lo said of TSMC. Last year, Taiwan removed all job postings in China to mitigate the brain drain to the mainland, and called for increased cooperation with the EU on semiconductors amidst the global chip shortage and supply chain issues. Yesterday, TSMC posted a job announcement for a geopolitical analyst to provide strategic planning for the company amid rising U.S.-China tensions over securing access to semiconductors.

BRI Roundup: Morocco Becomes First North African Country to Sign BRI Implementation Plan 

Early this year, Morocco signed an agreement with China to facilitate joint implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, becoming the first Maghreb country to do so. The implementation plan is the next step after “signing up” to BRI, which 140 countries have already done, and marks a new stage associated with project selection, funding modality, budget supervision and monitoring, and human resources management. For Morocco specifically, the plan will focus more on integrating existing infrastructure and forming partnerships between economic players in both countries, and less on launching new projects. This sits in stark contrast to traditional Chinese involvement in North Africa, which centers around construction and investment.

Despite its recent signing of the BRI roadmap, Morocco is not the center of Chinese activity in North Africa, rather Egypt and Algeria hold that title. Since 2005, Egypt has attracted $25.78 billion in Chinese investments and construction contracts, and Algeria has brought in $25.71 billion in deals. The single largest Chinese construction project is a railway in Algeria worth $6.25 billion. As a result, Morocco is attempting to catch up, or perhaps sidestep, its regional rivals when it comes to gaining access to Chinese investment and development assistance. 

In signing the roadmap, the Moroccan government will gain greater access to Chinese financing provided by BRI and can better leverage its geographical position to transform the kingdom into a trading hub. Morocco’s geography is perfectly suited to serve as a crossroads between Europe, North Africa and Asia. 

China will also gain  from deeper cooperation with Morocco. Not only will Chinese enterprises be able to take advantage of Morocco’s geographic position as a transit point for BRI investment and construction, but due to Morocco’s heightened status within trade organizations such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and EU, Chinese manufacturers will be in a better position to access European and African markets. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the geopolitical significance of the relationship. Morocco lies south of the Straits of Gibraltar on the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans. Through the BRI, China will obtain leverage over Morocco, which is important due to the North African nation’s presence along a key maritime choke point, and China’s reliance on seaborne trade. 

(source: CGTN)

U.S. Dispatches Senior Officials to Equatorial Guinea as West African Nation Weighs Hosting Chinese Base

This week, senior U.S diplomatic and military officials visited Equatorial Guinea, and were hosted by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The U.S. is reportedly pressing Obiang to reject China’s plan to build a military base on the West African nation’s Atlantic Coast.

In December, CSIS hypothesized that should construction proceed, the port of Bata, which hosts a commercial and a naval port, would be the most feasible facility location. Per CSIS, Bata has two long commercial piers that could handle large People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy warships. The U.S.-China tug of war over Equatorial Guinea has put the small West African country in a difficult position. The U.S. has criticized Equatorial Guinea’s poor human rights record, but American oil companies have invested heavily and helped develop the country’s oil and gas market. Relations with the US have also improved of late. In March 2021, Equatorial Guinea rejoined the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. After accidental explosions at military barracks in Bata in March of last year, the U.S. furnished both technical and financial assistance to support recovery efforts. China is also a key economic partner for Equatorial Guinea. For example, over the last 15 years, Chinese companies won around $3.3 billion in construction contracts.

Last year, General Stephen Townsend, U.S. Africa Command Commander, warned of China’s inroads in to Equatorial Guinea. Townsend also warned that a Chinese naval base in the Atlantic would be disquieting for US security, due to the relatively close distance between the U.S. East Coast and Africa’s West Coast.