July 30, 2021 – Stealth War 48: U.S.-China Security Tensions; Transnational Repression; Alternative Energy Investments; Taliban Delegation Visit; Historic Chinese Floods

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri July, 2021, Age: 2 years

 


July 30, 2021

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch

$769 billion

The value of U.S.-listed Chinese stocks lost in the past five months as Chinese regulators have implemented sweeping crackdowns on industries ranging from e-commerce to online payments and education, spooking international investors.

This Week:

* As Diplomats Signal Willingness to Communicate, U.S.-China Security Tensions Remain High

* New Reports Reveal Wide Extent of Chinese Transnational Repression

* BRI Roundup: Chinese Alternative Energy Investments Grow Despite Roadblock in Britain

* Taliban Delegation Visits China as Regional Insecurity Threaten Beijing’s Interests

* Historic Chinese Floods Raise Concerns for Foreign Journalists, Lower Riparian Nations

Top Stories

(sources: Washington Post, SCMP)

As Diplomats Signal Willingness to Communicate, U.S.-China Security Tensions Remain High

Deeply entrenched U.S.-China tensions were highlighted early this week after Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited China. Echoing the antagonistic public diplomacy seen at ministerial-level meetings in Anchorage, Alaska earlier this year, Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng issued a list of grievances and a list of red lines laying blame for the decline in bilateral relations on the U.S. Nevertheless, readouts from the Chinese side later maintained that the talks were “candid and useful,” and that both sides agreed on the need to maintain communication. Aiding that goal, the new Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang arrived in DC on Wednesday. But Qin, whose deep experience in the UK and EU helped pioneer “the foreign ministry’s brash tone,” will likely reflect China’s greater confidence and its expectations to be treated as a great power in his new role.

At the same time, security issues have remained tense. Travelling in Southeast Asia this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Singapore on Wednesday that although the U.S. does not seek confrontation with China, “we will not flinch when our interests are threatened.” Austin also said Washington is eager to partner with other countries in the Indo-Pacific to ensure regional stability while committing to “a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communication” and added, “big powers need to model transparency and communication.” The Chinese Embassy in Singapore complained the next day that Austin’s comments on China’s “core interests and internal affairs” including Taiwan, the South China Sea and Xinjiang were an “attack and smear” on Beijing that undermined the one China policy and sought to “drive a wedge between China and its neighbors.”

But Austin’s comments were relatively benign, especially compared to past diplomatic showdowns. What was perhaps less conciliatory to the Chinese side was the destroyer USS Benfold’s transit of the Taiwan Strait on the same day, marking the seventh time that an American warship has passed through the Strait this year and sending a continuing strong message of U.S. commitment to Taiwanese security amid a high pace of signalling activity in the region. Earlier in the week, Chinese state media reported that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had conducted yet another drill off the mainland’s southeast coast featuring assault landing and island-control exercises. Other PLA drills in the South China Sea that took place as the British carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in the region to participate in multinational exercises aimed at presenting a show of allied strength to Beijing. And underscoring the dangers of non-transparency, U.S. lawmakers and defense planners expressed ongoing concern following new revelations this week about China’s buildup of its nuclear forces.

(source: Yahoo)

New Reports Reveal Wide Extent of Chinese Transnational Repression

China has recently sentenced its first defendant under the Hong Kong National Security Law, whose broad and ambiguous language has sparked concerns that it could be abused for extrajudicial repression of foreign nationals. Advocacy groups have also raised new concerns about China’s broad system of foreign surveillance and intimidation that at its extreme can include extraterritorial kidnappings. Freedom House has claimed that China “conducts the most sophisticated, global and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world.”

Recent examples include the arrest of Idris Hasan, an ethnic Uyghur who is a Chinese national with Turkish residency. After flying into Morocco last week, Hasan was arrested by local security forces, possibly at the request of China, which considers him a “terrorist” for work that the computer designer previously did for Uyghur organizations. Human rights watchers warned that if extradited to China, Hasan would be at risk of arbitrary detention and torture. Also last week, the Chinese national Wang Jingyu and his fiancee fled to the Netherlands (which lacks an extradition treaty with China) after reportedly receiving harassment from Chinese authorities first in Dubai and then Ukraine. Wang, who claims to be a U.S. permanent resident, fled China in July 2019 after criticizing the state’s stance on sensitive issues such as Hong Kong protests online.

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the number of asylum-seekers from China has dramatically risen, as the state has tightened domestic controls and instituted a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that critics argue has sometimes been leveraged for political purposes. Recent public interest reporting has also laid out how China’s “Operation Fox Hunt” has taken families hostage abroad and pressured immigrants to serve as spies. Chinese relatives of activists overseas have also been imprisoned or worse as a means of silencing criticism and dissent.

Although Uyghurs and other religious minorities are most severely persecuted, they face many challenges in leaving, including increased surveillance and potential retribution to family members left behind. Hong Kongers seeking to leave have benefited from preferential immigration schemes and relative privilege, although some high profile efforts to leave post-NSL have also been thwarted, leading to growing international support for Hong Kong refugees. Based on the sheer numbers, it’s likely that most asylum seekers may be Han people from the mainland.

BRI Roundup

(source: BBC)

Chinese Alternative Energy Investments Grow Despite Roadblock in Britain

The British government is seeking to block China from its nuclear program. The decision could impact the construction of the Sizewell C nuclear plant, Britain’s first, where the government-backed China General Nuclear is a key player. The government is weighing several options for the project, including purchasing an equity stake worth billions of pounds. British policymakers have also recently scrutinized Chinese investments in the national security-related semiconductor space amid growing concerns about Chinese espionage and influence in the country.

Elsewhere, China has pushed forward in its alternative energy investments. On Monday, Guangdong Electric Power Development Co. Ltd. announced that it would invest 12 billion yuan in a solar project in western Qinghai. Similar news has raised speculation that China is actively pivoting away from coal in its Belt and Road-related investments. Even as Chinese overseas investments begin a gradual recovery after dropping heavily during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the International Institute of Green Finance reported that China has not invested in overseas coal projects since the start of 2021. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Environment and Ecology issued joint guidelines to encourage overseas investment in green projects. Meanwhile, the International Commercial Bank of China announced that it would begin to move away from coal project financing, even abandoning a $3 billion coal plant in Zimbabwe. While early signs indicate a possible shift away from Belt and Road investments in fossil fuels, over 70 percent of coal plants built today in the world still rely on Chinese funding.

(source: NYTFT)

Taliban Delegation Visits China as Regional Insecurity Threaten Beijing’s Interests

This Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with nine representatives from the Taliban, in the latest sign of burgeoning support for the extremist insurgent group. Describing the Taliban as a “pivotal military and political force,” Wang Yi stated that the group will “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan.” The high profile gathering—which gave the Taliban an international stage to trumpet their legitimacy—comes as it seizes more territory in Afghanistan.

Wang called on the Taliban to cut ties with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), also known as the Turkestan Islamist Party. ETIM is a militant Uyghur organization with historic ties to al-Qaeda, although the U.S. removed the group from its list of terrorist organizations last year because, as State Department spokespeople said at the time, “for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.” However, a recent report by the United Nations stated that the group has up to several hundred active fighters in Afghanistan and more members fighting in the Syrian civil war.

Taliban representatives offered assurances to Beijing that the organization would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven to attack China. Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province shares a 76-kilometer-long border with China; Beijing’s growing interest in the Middle East stems in part from its border security concerns. However, the Taliban has been inconsistent with its treatment of foreign fighters in the past year. Although it reportedly banned foreign fighters earlier this year, the aforementioned UN report stated that foreign fighters remain within the Taliban, bringing into question the ability of the Taliban to follow through on its promises to Beijing.

The Taliban’s current relationship with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) could point to possibilities for its future treatment of Uyghur militants. The TTP is known to work with the Taliban and is based in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, from where it stages attacks on Pakistan. Two weeks ago, an explosion killed nine Chinese workers in an area where TTP is known to be active, and on Wednesday a Chinese engineer was shot in Karachi by two masked gunmen on a motorcycle. The attacks have not been claimed, but the TTP is believed by some to be responsible. As Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, it is not known whether the Taliban is able, or even willing, to crack down on foreign fighters in the country, potentially threatening Chinese interests.

(source: France 24)

Historic Chinese Floods Raise Concerns for Foreign Journalists, Lower Riparian Nations

Record-breaking rainfall and ensuing floods that have continued over from last week have devastated Henan Province and the rest of China, killing at least 99 people and affecting more than 13.9 million and possibly affecting supply chains for sectors ranging from food and steel to iPhones may be affected. Transport and delivery infrastructure has been unblocked and services have now mostly been restored, according to government reports. Although this week’s floods have been largely managed, China may see more extreme weather events due to climate change. The Vice Minister of Emergency Management Zhou Xuewen has said that Beijing, Tianjin and other regions will likely see flooding between the middle and end of August. Indian experts have also expressed concern about China’s continued over-reliance on dams as a flood control mechanism; even as flooding has also severely impacted Indian states in the Himalayan region this year, China has continued to brook no criticism on its massive dams along the Mekong and Brahmaputra that could have significant downstream effects.

State media initially attempted to play down the scale of human suffering and instead publicized favorite propaganda talking points, including fawning coverage of Xi’s “important instructions” on flood prevention and relief, causing one commentator to complain that the official spin was inappropriately whitewashing tragedy and obstructing disaster relief efforts. As emotions ran high, government organs also fanned xenophobia. In Henan Province, a party organization publicly called on netizens to confront Western media’s “slandering” and “evil” coverage of the weather disasters, and angry residents harassed reporters from the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and The Los Angeles Times the next day.

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