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June 18, 2021 – Stealth War 42: Anniversary of Galwan Valley; G7 & NATO Communiques; Chinese Semiconductor Output

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri June, 2021, Age: 2 years



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June 18, 2021

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch


The number of military vehicles that China delivered to Lebanon this week, a BRI partner, as part of new military assistance.

This Week:

Tensions Continue on Sino-Indian Border One Year After Galwan Valley Fighting

* G7 and NATO Communiques Signal Stronger Stance on China

* Prospects for Chinese Coal Decline at Home and Abroad 

* PLA Launches Largest Intrusion Into Taiwan

China invites foreign journalists to strict press tours in Tibet, Xinjiang

* Amid Pressure on Huawei, Chinese Semiconductor Output Reaches All-Time High

Top Stories

Tensions Continue on Sino-Indian Border One Year After Galwan Valley Fighting

June 15, marked the one-year anniversary since Indian and Chinese forces engaged in a brutal fight in the Galwan Valley in the countries’ western border.  The fighting killed 20 Indian troops and at least 4 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers near Patrol Point 14 (PP-14) in the valley. Since then, ten rounds of negotiations have taken place at the Army Corps Commander level. Disengagement at Pangong Tso was achieved in February, but there has been little progress in the other locations.  

The violence at Galwan Valley precipitated a fundamental change in New Delhi’s perception of Beijing. Chinese forces successfully occupied land priorly controlled by India—though the border in general is disputed by Beijing—forcing a fait accompli on New Delhi. As noted by Indian strategist Shivshankar Menon, China’s success in seizing the territory put the onus on India to respond. New Delhi had the option of either escalating the situation vertically, by engaging in a military operation to force out Chinese troops, or horizontally, by seizing territory on other parts of the border or increasing tensions in the maritime theater. India, wisely, did not engage in a vertical escalation operation, likely due to the risk of triggering a larger conflict. But Indian special forces did seize strategic heights on the Kailash Range south of Pangong Tso, although they left these territories in exchange for wider disengagement around that lake. 

Though both sides have signaled that they would continue to negotiate, they have fundamentally different views of how to proceed. India demands a restoration of the April 2020 status quo ante. China, however, looks to hold onto the strategic locations it has seized, and will likely use the extended negotiations to solidify its positions. As recently noted by The Hindu, the PLA has recently built additional accommodations in areas along the border, including the construction of field hospitals and the procurement of snow vehicles.

India has indicated that it is also expecting to maintain its troop presence on the border for potentially years to come in order to avoid another seizure of territory, or until a restoration of the status quo ante. Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane recently noted in an interview, “The whole of the northern front…will see this enhanced presence till such time that we keep talking and the de-escalation happens.” Both sides are maintaining 50,000-60,000 troops each on their sides of the border, including the presence of heavy armored vehicles. The face-off is likely to continue into the foreseeable future as Beijing and New Delhi both refuse to compromise on what they see as the borderline, and it will continue to affect Sino-Indian relations more broadly.

G7 and NATO Communiques Signal Stronger Stance on China

Communiques published after the completion of the G7 and NATO summits this past week indicate that Western nations are shifting their focus to manage the rise of China. The G7 statement specifically called on “China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and…Hong Kong…” A statement that emerged from the NATO summit was noticeably harder on Beijing, saying, “China’s stated ambitions and assertive [behavior] present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security.” The NATO communique also stated that the alliance remained “concerned with China’s frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation.”

Both the G7 and NATO communiques both contained promises for the partner nations to work together to assure cybersecurity and apply existing international law to govern cyberspace. These assurances come as recent news has emerged that a cyberattack on Pulse Connect Secure networking devices in April, widely blamed on China, was worse than previously understood. New reports indicate that hackers also breached Verizon, New York City’s subway agency and the largest water agency in the United States. The recent ransomware attack that temporarily shutdown Colonial Pipeline, stressing energy resources in the southern United States, demonstrates that the United States, and its allies and partners in the G7 and NATO, need to make greater strides in protecting critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.

BRI Roundup

Prospects for Chinese Coal Decline at Home and Abroad 

This week, China’s controversial foreign and domestic coal projects have been spotlighted. In Bangladesh, the SS Power One coal-fired power plant linked with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), dispossessed small landowners and sparked local protests even as local authorities have clamped down hard on dissent, with the Third Pole reporting a host of safety and labor concerns. In one recent incident, 7 workers were killed by local law enforcement after a dispute with Chinese managers on site, and police subsequently filed criminal charges against 2,500 unnamed workers. Although Bangladesh has talked about phasing out coal for environmental reasons, nearly 33 coal-fired power projects are still planned or currently under construction. Chinese BRI-linked investment will finance nearly half of these projects.

At home, Xi Jinping has promised to make the country carbon-neutral by 2060, but its path away from coal dependency will be difficult. Coal still accounts for a majority of China’s current electricity consumption, and the country has planned to increase coal-fired production in certain provinces to maintain energy security during the 14th Five Year Plan. Interestingly, a recent analysis found that one-tenth of the money invested in Chinese coal over the last two years has come from abroad—most of it from UK and U.S. bank investments.

After a disastrous trial energy policy was implemented in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong in May, several cities in the industrial heartland had to suspend factory energy use as high industry consumption and hot weather increased grid pressures. The future of alternative energy also looks grimmer this week, after a “performance issue” was reported at the Chinese Taishan nuclear power plant (also located in Guangdong province) and officials admitted that a small number of fuel rods at the facility had been damaged, resulting in an increase in radiation levels that remained within the parameters for safe operations.

It’s worth noting that the 2060 goal to achieve carbon neutrality would not technically cover foreign coal projects, and the world’s largest polluter continues to fund the vast majority of new overseas coal capacity. But pushback is growing on all sides. A recent report found that countries had cancelled or delayed 73 gigawatts of China-backed coal capacity since 2017, roughly 4.5 times the amount of projects that entered into construction during the same period. China’s largest asset bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), made waves when its chief economist announced this week that the bank would create a road map and timeline “for the gradual withdrawal of coal financing” as Beijing has stepped up its pressure on Chinese banks to “green” investments in BRI projects.

PLA Launches Largest Intrusion Into Taiwan

This Tuesday, the PLA air force (PLAAF) launched its largest intrusion of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, via a sortie consisting of 28 PLAAF planes, including fighter jets, nuclear-capable bombers, an anti-submarine aircraft and a plane designed for electronic warfare. This marked the fourth time that PLA planes entered Taiwan’s ADIZ this month. The operation follows recent U.S. naval missions in the region, including the crossing of the South China Sea by the USS Ronald Reagan and a training exercise with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.

The intrusion was notable for being the first time that PLA planes conducted such an operation in the eastern half of the island. According to RAND defense analyst Derek Grossman, it “helps the PLA air force improve operational capabilities in line with the leadership directive to train under realistic conditions… The bottom line is this latest operation, to me, represents the next logical step toward readying the PLA for actual combat.”

China Invites Foreign Journalists to Strict Press Tours in Tibet, Xinjiang

After a crackdown on foreign journalists operating in China, the Chinese government has permitted foreign reporters to enter Xinjiang and Tibet in strictly controlled press tours. In both regions, the Chinese government attempted to highlight social stability and economic prosperity it has brought under its rule. Moreover, both regions have been touted as tourist attractions, with the development of cultural villages to encourage domestic tourism.

Reporters visited religious sites, development projects and schools in Tibet, noting that security has been heightened since 2008 anti-government protests. Like China’s other religious minorities, Tibetans are heavily surveilled and pressured to sinicize their religion and language under an overt Chinese “civilizing” mission. China has also stepped up its efforts to further weaken support for the spiritual leader in exile of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, with one Reuters journalist noting that although portraits of His Holiness had been omnipresent on previous trips to Tibet, they now appeared to be missing, replaced by pictures of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. The new president of Tibet’s government-in-exile, Penpa Tsering, has expressed his desire to re-open talks with the Chinese government but also criticized its ongoing repression of Tibetan language and culture.

In Xinjiang, China has demolished traditional religious sites and built new cultural attractions for tourists, while maintaining a heavy security presence. Although Beijing has claimed that reporters can freely travel in both regions so long as they follow local laws, foreign journalists in Xinjiang noted the ubiquitous presence of plainclothes police. Chinese propaganda, including images of Xi Jinping and slogans warning against “extremism,” appeared in both urban and rural environments.

Amid Pressure on Huawei, Chinese Semiconductor Output Reaches All-Time High

On Thursday, the United States Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to ban approval for 5G equipment from suppliers deemed to be national security threats, including Huawei and ZTE. The Romanian President Klaus Iohannis also signed into law a bill effectively banning Huawei from its 5G networks. The Romanian law is based on a 2019 memorandum of understanding between Romania and the U.S. to bar 5G vendors considered to be national security threats. The United States’ campaign against Huawei has become a key tenet of its diplomatic efforts, and it recently unveiled a series of incentives to encourage alternative sourcing for 5G technology. American officials seek to offer training to partners in Central and Eastern Europe as well as developing countries to construct 5G networks that do not include equipment from Huawei or ZTE.

China has doubled down on supporting its critical technology sector as it faces growing pressures abroad, including ramping up the production of semiconductors amid a global shortage. According to data released by Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s output of integrated circuits in May increased by 37.6 percent year-on-year. Spurred by state support, Huawei has continued to invest in its chipmaking subsidiary, HiSilicon, despite facing onerous export controls that have restricted its supply of the most cutting-edge chips. China’s continued investment in chipmaking exhibits how critical the sector is in its ambitions to become a global tech giant, with the industry serving as a major area of competition between Beijing and Washington.

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