January 28, 2022-Stealth War 73: Why South Korea’s Elections Matter for the US and China; Beijing Reacts Angrily as U.S. and Taiwanese Vice Presidents Exchange Greetings in Honduras;U.S. and China in Race to Find Downed F-35; PLA Cuts its Teeth in UN Peacekeeping Operations; German Intelligence Calls out Chinese Hackers

By: Jamestown Foundation

Wed February, 2022, Age: 1 year


January 28, 2022




Welcome to the Stealth War Newsletter, a collection of the top 5 recent news items, collected on The Jamestown Foundation’s website, stealth-war-org.cdn-pi.com. 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


Percentage of people in Taiwan who want unification with China “as soon as possible.” 





This Week: 

*  Why the Upcoming Presidential Election in South Korea Matters for US-China Strategic Competition

*  Beijing Reacts Angrily as U.S. and Taiwanese Vice Presidents Exchange Greetings in Honduras

*  U.S. and China in Race to Find F-35C Fighter Jet Downed in South China Sea

PLA Cuts its Teeth in UN Peacekeeping Operations

*  German Intelligence Calls out Chinese Hackers for Cyber Attack on its Tech and Pharma Companies




Top Stories




(source: The Economist)




Why the Upcoming Presidential Election in South Korea Matters for US-China Strategic Competition




South Korea will hold its presidential election on March 9. For the first time in years, there are significant foreign policy differences between the leading candidates. Representing the ruling progressive Democratic Party is Lee Jae-myung. Representing the conservative opposition, the People Power Party, is Yoon Seok-youl. Both candidates are relatively unpopular. The two candidates differ somewhat on their views of North Korea, with the progressive party generally supporting engagement and humanitarian efforts, and the conservatives taking a more hard line approach to Pyongyang.

South Korea’s approach to China has also emerged as an election issue. The progressive party is hesitant to join the U.S. in shifting South Korea’s focus to strategic competition with China. Instead, progressives contend that something of a balance must be struck between China and the U.S., particularly because China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner and essential to successful engagement with North Korea. While the conservatives acknowledge China’s economic influence, they remain wary of the country’s attempts to coerce South Korea, and have called for  “strategic clarity,” i.e., that Seoul must make clear to China, the U.S., and North Korea what steps it is and is not willing to take to achieve balance among nations. This stands in contrast to South Korea’s traditional strategic ambiguity, which is designed to give Seoul flexibility and to avoid confrontation.

As a consequence, the progressives have concerns about joining the Quad (a security pact between the US, Japan, Australia, and India), which under their leadership, South Korea declined to join in 2021. Though the progressive candidate has not voiced an opinion one way or another, the conservative party has made clear that they would seek Quad membership. Similarly, there are differing perspectives on resuming military exercises with the U.S., and on the U.S. transferring operational military control over combat operations to South Korea. Military exercises were scaled down in 2018 in an effort to bolster Inter-Korean diplomacy. Progressives worry that resuming the exercises could undermine negotiations and trigger North Korean aggression. Conservatives are more open to the resumption of exercises. For the US, such exercises are key to maintaining military readiness to deter North Korea

The military exercises, however, are just a small part of a bigger picture, namely, the transfer of US military leadership to South Korea, known as “OPCON transfer.” The progressives wish for a quick transition, while the conservatives want to wait. From a US perspective, if the transfer occurs too hastily, military readiness will decrease and increase the threats from North Korea and China. Finally, there are concerns about the health of South Korea’s democracy, which, unfortunately, neither candidate has presented much in the way of  a solution for. All anyone can do for now is watch and wait.





(source: Jakarta Post)




 Beijing Reacts Angrily as U.S. and Taiwanese Vice Presidents Exchange Greetings in Honduras  




In an interview with NPR this week, China’s recently appointed Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang warned that America could face “future conflict” with China over Taiwan. Perhaps not coincidentally, Qin’s remarks coincided with a rare in-person meeting between U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te during the inauguration ceremony for the incoming President of Honduras Xiomara Castro in Tegucigalpa on Thursday. Honduras is one of Taiwan’s 14 remaining diplomatic allies, although as a candidate, Castro campaigned on  establishing official relations with China. In fact, Lai had traveled to Honduras to attend Castro’s inauguration in order to shore-up shaky bilateral ties.

In response to a question about the interaction between Harris and Lai, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated “there is no Taiwanese “vice president” since Taiwan is a province of China”, but strongly urged the U.S. to stop sending “wrong signals” by interacting with “separatist forces” in Taiwan.

In 2022, China has continued to apply military pressure on Taiwan. On Sunday, 39 PLA Air Force warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, which was the largest intrusion since last October. The intrusion was also notable as the first time a J-16D electronic warfare aircraft has been observed near Taiwan’s airspace.








U.S. and China in Race to Find F-35C Fighter Jet Downed in South China Sea




The U.S. Military and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are both searching for the wreckage a US Navy F-35C stealth fighter jet that recently crashed in the South China Sea. Earlier this week, news reports confirmed the incident took place when the F-35C warplane had a “landing mishap” on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier. The incident resulted in seven injuries to the crew, including the pilot who safely ejected from the aircraft. The crash occurred during routine operations with minimal damage to the flight deck and all sailors are currently in stable condition.

Now, the race is on to salvage the remains of the aircraft and maritime experts believe it could take more than 10 days to reach the crash site. The stealth plane costs over $100 million and contains classified technology and information. Analysts warn of the “intelligence bonanza” if the PLA were to recover the downed aircraft, which could provide China with insight into the latest American aircraft technology. Chinese state media said the accident reveals the “exhaustion of the U.S. military, which has been flaunting its prowess against China at the cost of the physical and mental health of its troops and high technical risks.” At a press conference yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed China has “no interest” in finding the aircraft and instead “urged the country concerned to do things that are conducive to regional peace and stability, rather than flex muscle in the region.” Despite Zhao’s claim, the PLA may have already begun its search efforts for the fighter jet.








PLA Cuts its Teeth in UN Peacekeeping Operations




September 2020 marked 30 years of China’s military participating in UN peacekeeping operations (UNPKOs). By that point, China had, “sent over 40,000 peacekeepers to 25 UN peacekeeping missions.” However, the bulk of these deployments have occurred over the last decade, as China’s overseas interests have proliferated and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is seeking to increase its operational experience. Though there was at least one instance in Cambodia from 1992 to 1993 where China deployed around 400 engineering troops, along with 49 military observers, China’s contributions remained below 100 civilian and military personnel between 1990 and 2000. The next decade saw a relatively large yearly increase, reaching over 2,000 people by 2008, and 3,000 units by 2015 with a landmark pledge to have 8,000 units (one-fifth of committed UNPKO troops at that time) prepared for peacekeeping operations at any given time. As of November 2021, China’s deployed PKO troops numbered 2,253, making it the 9th largest contributor, well ahead of the UK, US, France, and Russia.

China’s increasing involvement in UNPKOs is attributable to increased UN influence, a desire for soft power gains, the expansion of the military’s non-combat capabilities, and for the military to learn from others by participating in missions. However, as China’s influence, investments, and ambitions grew, its interests expanded to include the protection of the nation’s burgeoning economic interests abroad. This resulted in a large number (28, or about 80%) of its deployments going to protecting its interests in conflict-torn countries.

Ultimately, those concerned about China’s growing global influence and military capabilities should monitor China’s peacekeeping activity, as such missions often go overlooked, but are nevertheless valuable to Beijing, both in terms of military diplomacy and intelligence gathering operations. Additionally, as China seeks to reshape global institutions, it is seeking to boost its standing at the UN by touting its contribution to international peacekeeping operations. 





(source: Reuters)




 German Intelligence Calls out Chinese Hackers for Cyber Attack on its Tech and Pharma Companies




On Wednesday, German intelligence claimed that Chinese hackers are targeting German commercial companies in the pharmaceuticals and technology sectors. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) announced it received information about an “ongoing cyber espionage campaign by the cyber attack group APT27 using the malware variety HYPERBRO.” The BfV said the attackers had been exploiting vulnerabilities in software such as Microsoft Exchange since last March to launch the attacks. The BfV also warned companies that the group could be seeking to steal trade information and intellectual property, as well as to infiltrate networks of corporate customers or service providers to access several companies at once. The BfV has not yet released the names of the specific targets of the attacks.

Active since 2010, APT27 has been accused of launching attacks on Western government agencies. Its name is an alias for a Chinese hacker group known as “Emissary Panda,” which has been suspected of targeting foreign embassies to gain information in critical sectors such as government, defense, and technology, as well as COVID-19 vaccine information. Last July, the U.S., NATO, the EU, Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand accused Chinese hackers of conducting a global cyberespionage campaign. The Department of Justice then charged four Chinese nationals for their roles in the cyber attacks, including the targeting of dozens American government agencies, companies, universities, and NGOs. In response, Chinese officials quickly denounced the accusations, as Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian called them “absolutely unacceptable.” Chinese state media called it an attempt to contain China’s rise, and shifted the focus to the U.S.  “Such groundless accusations will not change the fact that the US remains the world’s top spying empire with widespread malfeasance in cyberspace, and some of its recent spying scandals even put some of its allies into an awkward position.” Chinese officials have yet to respond directly to German claims.







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