January 21, 2022- Stealth War 72: China, Russia Deepen Cooperation with Iran; China’s State Sanctioned Kidnapping; Slovenia Plans to Open Taiwan Representative Office; New HK Security Law; China-Pakistan Cooperation

By: Jamestown Foundation

Wed February, 2022, Age: 1 year


January 21, 2022

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch77,000 

Estimated number of STEM PhD students that China will produce per year by 2025 per a recent report from the Georgetown University Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). The report predicts the U.S. will produce 40,000 STEM PhDs in 2025.

This Week: 

*  China, Russia Deepen Cooperation with Iran

*  China’s State Sanctioned Kidnapping: Thousands of Fugitives Forced Back to China Since 2014

* First Lithuania, Now Slovenia Plans to Open Taiwan Representative Office

*   Hong Kong to Draft New National Security Law

*  BRI Roundup: Phase II of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Launched

Top Stories

(source: Xinhua)

China, Russia Deepen Cooperation with Iran

China and Iran have strengthened their ties considerably over the last year building on a close relationship dating back to the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Currently, Iran is seeking to negotiate a restoration of its 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S., France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany, which was scuttled by the Trump administration in 2018. However, Iran is also hedging its bets, holding high level meetings with China and Russia in an effort to strengthen economic and security cooperation with both Beijing and Moscow.

On January 14, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to announce the implementation of the 25 year Sino-Iranian comprehensive cooperation agreement signed last year. The agreement has largely been viewed as a trade and investment plan that further integrates Iran into the Belt and Road Initiative and develops its infrastructure through $400 billion in financing from China. In exchange, China will receive discounted oil shipments from Iran (4 million barrels were reportedly off-loaded to China in the last few weeks alone). However, the pact also has a security element, which includes provisions for joint exercises, intelligence sharing, and research and development for weapons systems, as well as a campaign to fight foreign “misinformation” against the two states.

Days after the Sino-Iranian ministerial meetings in Beijing, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 19, 2022. No agreements were publicly signed, but the Iranian foreign minister stated that the two presidents agreed to a framework for a 20 year agreement based on the Iran-China agreement that would increase economic and military cooperation.

Russia, China and Iran have also recently undertaken trilateral naval exercises, and apparently, intelligence gathering in the Arctic. Just a day before the meeting between Putin and Raisi, trilateral naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman commenced. The exercise between the Chinese, Russian and Iranian navies occurred in conjunction with Russian land and sea exercises in Belarus, on the Ukraine border, in the Mediterranean, in the north Atlantic Ocean, and in the Pacific Ocean. Denmark also recently warned that Iran, China, and Russia were gathering intelligence in the Arctic, particularly around key sea lanes and the Danish territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Despite recently improved ties, Iran’s relations with Russia and China still face challenges. For example, neither China nor Russia are eager to see a nuclear armed Iran; rather they wish to leverage Iran against the U.S. and use it to balance other regional powers in the Middle East. Regardless, ties to China and Russia are likely to remain Iran’s main source of external backing, particularly as the resumption of the 2015 nuclear agreement remains in doubt. 

 China’s State Sanctioned Kidnapping: Thousands of Fugitives Forced back to China Since 2014

On Tuesday, the pan-Asian human rights NGO, Safeguard Defenders, released a report on China’s frequent use of illegal forced repatriations to capture fugitives from countries with which Beijing lacks extradition agreements. In 2014 and 2015 respectively, “Fox Hunt” and a larger operation known as “Sky Net” were launched as part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. Since 2018, these programs have been overseen by China’s highest disciplinary organ, the National Supervision Commission. According to China’s official data, the programs have forcibly returned at least 10,000 people from over 120 countries since 2014, with 2,500 returned since 2019. Safeguard Defenders notes the full extent of coercive repatriation remains unknown, and many, if not most of those individuals forcibly returned to China are being targeted not for corruption, but for political dissent. 

As the report notes, the authority to kidnap or coerce individuals back to China is explicitly granted in the fifth category of article 52 in the 2018 National Supervision Law. Based on 62 case studies, the report determines that the three main means of forcing people back to China include threatening or punishing targeted individuals’ families in China, sending undercover agents to convince people to return by various means, and outright abduction. Despite citizenship laws stating that Chinese citizenship is automatically revoked if a national gains citizenship elsewhere, an unknown number of people who became citizens of other countries, such as Sweden and Australia, have been forcibly repatriated. 

First Lithuania, Now Slovenia Plans to Open Taiwan Representative Office

Chinese officials expressed indignation after Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša announced Monday that Slovenia and Taiwan are seeking to establish mutual representation offices in Ljubljana and Taipei, respectively. Janša also stated he would support the decision “if [the] Taiwanese people want to live independently” and its entry into the World Health Organization. In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing was “deeply shocked” to hear of these plans, saying the Slovenian leader’s “dangerous” moves have “challenged the one-China principle and supported Taiwan secessionists.” Some Chinese media sources called Janša a “fringe politician.” One Chinese expert claimed the leader is using the “Taiwan card to cover his troubled resume, at the cost of dragging down the EU and complicating China-EU relations.” 

Slovenia’s announcement follows Lithuania’s decision to permit a Taiwan Representative Office, a de facto Taiwanese embassy, which was officially opened in Vilnius last November. Unlike other representative offices in other cities, the Vilnius office uses the name “Taiwan” and not “Taipei”, which has particularly infuriated China. Beijing responded with strong diplomatic and economic coercion against Lithuania and has repeatedly warned other countries against official contact with Taiwan.

Taiwan welcomed Slovenia’s announcement of the new representative office. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs retweeted Janša’s interview and expressed its gratitude to the Prime Minister “for the staunch support” and his decision to “#StandwithLithuania.” Whether Slovenia will follow Lithuania in withdrawing from the “16+1” group between Beijing and Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries is unclear, but Beijing will certainly respond in a harsh manner as it seeks to roll back deepening ties between Taiwan and a growing array of CEE countries. 

Hong Kong to Draft New National Security Law

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced plans to draft new security laws for the city during the first session of the new legislature. The session will be the first since the pro-democracy political opposition was effectively banned from Hong Kong’s legislature in the December 2021 “patriots-only” election. Lam confirmed that her government will create “local legislation” that meets the requirements of Article 23 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which requires the city to introduce its own national security laws. While specific offenses were not disclosed, Article 23 currently lists secession, sedition, treason, subversion and theft of state secrets as punishable offenses. It also prohibits foreign political organizations from holding political activities in the city or having ties with local organizations.

In June 2020, Beijing imposed the existing national security law on Hong Kong that broadly defines secession, subversion, foreign collusion, and terrorism as criminal offenses. At the time, Chinese state officials said the new law was aimed at “anti-China troublemakers in the city” and “ensures Hong Kong’s security, stability, and tranquility. Hong Kong officials used the law to arrest more than 150 people, including opposition politicians and journalists, as part of a broader crackdown during the mass pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020. Over the last few months, a number of major independent media outlets in Hong Kong have been shut down, including Stand News, Citizens News, and Apple Daily, whose pro-democracy founder, Jimmy Lai, is currently serving a 14-month sentence for “organizing illegal protests.”

In December, Hong Kong made headlines for its “patriots-only” election, held under new electoral rules imposed by China, in which only candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee could be nominated to run for political office. President Xi said that the “patriots only” election system benefits Hong Kong, and Lam claimed the new election system “adheres to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.” However, voter turnout in the election reached a record 30% low, and many pro-democracy activists called the vote a sham. Western governments have criticized the December elections and the new security law as a way for the Chinese government to silence dissent and curtail freedom of speech. On Wednesday, European lawmakers urged the European Commission to take action against Hong Kong’s “deterioration” of media freedom and review the city’s World Trade Organization status.

(source: Global Times)

 BRI Roundup: Phase II of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Launched 

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) comprises a series of major infrastructure projects intended to accelerate Pakistan’s economic development, and to better link Pakistan with China. Due to CPEC’s economic and geopolitical importance to Beijing, it is often labeled as a “flagship project” of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Moin ul Haque, Phase I of the project, which concentrated on the immediate needs of energy generation and national highways has been completed, and Phase II has been launched. Phase II will focus more on “industrial relocation, agricultural modernization, [and] science and technology cooperation.” Moin ul Haque adamantly disputed Indian media claims that progress on CPEC has stalled in recent years, claiming that despite complications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that CPEC remains a top priority and will “continue unhindered.”

CPEC began in 2015. The mega-project connects Xinjiang with the port city of Gwadar in Balochistan in southwestern Pakistan. From 2020-2021, Pakistan experienced a significant economic recovery partially due to CPEC-related growth, which contributed to a substantial increase in GDP, and has created some local jobs. However, the opportunities resulting from CPEC have not been evenly shared across Pakistan, and protests against perceived exploitation by China have broken out, most seriously in Gwadar in late November and early December



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