June 3, 2022- Stealth War 90: Amazon to Close Kindle Bookstore, End Device Sales in China; Low Expectations for First In-Person Meeting of Current PRC, U.S. Defense Chiefs; U.S. National Guard May Collaborate With Taiwan; China Denounces Exclusion from U.S.-led IPEF, As Taiwan Eyes Membership; China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway to Begin Construction

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri June, 2022, Age: 8 months

 

 


June 3, 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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Stat Du Jour 
This issue’s number to watch13 

Consecutive vetoes by China in the UN Security Council that have aligned with Russia. 

This Week: 

* Amazon Will Close Kindle Bookstore, End Device Sales in China 

* Low Expectations for First In-Person Meeting of Current PRC, U.S. Defense Chiefs 

* U.S. National Guard May Collaborate With Taiwan

* China Denounces Exclusion from U.S.-Led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, As Taiwan Eyes Membership

* China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway to Begin Construction

Top Stories

(source: Jing Daily)

Amazon Will Close Kindle Bookstore, End Device Sales in China 

In a post on WeChat, Amazon announced on Thursday that its plans to close its digital Kindle bookstores in China and will also stop selling the Kindle e-reader to Chinese retailers. The company has not enjoyed the same level of e-commerce success in China as it has in other regions, which is largely due to the entrenched presence of local competitors such as Alibaba and JD.com. Although Amazon will still maintain its extensive cloud-computing and cross-border commerce operations in China, the Seattle-based company’s decision to close its Kindle bookstore aligns with a recent trend of advanced technology firms ending or majorly scaled down their operations in China. Last month, Airbnb announced that it would cease its domestic operations in China, but will continue to maintain an office in the country to focus on Chinese customers traveling abroad. Last year, the Microsoft-owned professional networking platform LinkedIn shut down its service in China due to what the company described as “challenging circumstances.”

Technology companies have been attracted to China by the size of its market and manufacturing capacity, but many have found it difficult to gain a foothold in the country. One reason for this is that the Chinese government requires most foreign technology companies that want to do business in China to enter joint venture agreements with Chinese counterparts. Such agreements have become a major vector for foreign technology transfer to China. Once Chinese companies have acquired the necessary know-how, regulatory constraints on foreign players in the market intensify in order to promote “national champions” to take the place of international competitors. 

(source: Global Times)

Low Expectations for First In-Person Meeting of Current PRC, U.S. Defense Chiefs

On May 31, after some speculation, it was officially announced that People’s Republic of China (PRC) State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe will attend the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore from June 10-12. The conference is the premier security forum in the Asia-Pacific region, and provides a venue for world leaders and leading experts to discuss current issues. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will also attend this year’s dialogue.

Although Austin was sworn in on January 22, 2021, he did not hold his first phone call with Wei until April 20, 2022, which was to follow up on the March 18  call between President Biden and President Xi, wherein the U.S. President underscored the consequences for the PRC if it actively aids Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. The reason communication took so long to establish is that for over a year, Austin had sought to schedule a call with General Xu Qiliang, the Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). As the PLA is a party army and not a national army, command and control of the military is exercised through the Central Military Commission (CMC), which is headed by Xi Jinping and its two Vice Chairman General Xu Qiliang and General Zhang Youxia. The Minister of Defense is part of the state bureaucracy and is hence, not a particularly key role in the PRC’s military hierarchy. This is evidenced by the fact that both Xu and Zhang are on the Politburo, but Wei is not. However, because of his role as the highest state official responsible for military affairs, Wei is technically Austin’s counterpart. It is also notable that General Xu has previously met with foreign defense chiefs such as Australian Secretary of Defense Greg Moriarty in 2018.

Most details of the April discussion come from PRC media, and paint Defense Minister Wei as having drawn hard lines while hoping for stable U.S.-PRC relations, and emphatically warning the U.S. against interfering with its interests in Taiwan. The official U.S. Department of Defense press release regarding the call was scant on details, simply referring to bilateral relations, regional security issues, and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, unnamed U.S. officials indicated that the call included U.S. warnings against the PRC providing aid to Russia, demands to cease military provocations towards Taiwan, agreeing to improve crisis communication and manage strategic competition, and U.S.-Australia concerns about the PRC’s growing security ties with the Solomon Islands. All things considered, it would appear that little was achieved by the call, aside from theoretically establishing a necessary but limited line of communication. Given Wei’s relative lack of importance in the Chinese system, and the major differences between both sides, It is doubtful that any in person interactions at the Shangri-La Dialogue will change this dynamic.

(source: RFA)

U.S. National Guard May Collaborate With Taiwan

On May 31, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen announced that the US is planning to arrange “cooperation” between its National Guard and Taiwan’s military, apparently based in part on a meeting with US Senator Tammy Duckworth, which immediately followed US President Joseph Biden visit to the region.  Senator Duckworth’s discussion with President Tsai was part of a surprise three day visit to Taiwan. Around the time of Senator Duckworth’s arrival, 30 Chinese war planes undertook combat exercises in Taiwan’s air identification defense zone, bringing the total number of its planes to do so to at least 100 in all of May, marking the second largest single incursion this year. The PRC clearly anticipated the potential for intensified military cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, as made clear by the state run news outlet Global Times.

Just before her visit, Duckworth co-sponsored legislation that promotes the monitoring and improvement of U.S.-Taiwan military cooperation, including the training of Taiwanese reservists, and improvement of U.S.-Taiwan force interoperability, via the US National Guard. As Senator Duckworth left on June 1, the PRC announced its third large-scale combat drill near the island nation in the last 30 days (May 9 and 25), explicitly linking it to President Tsai’s proclamation. The Global Times also cited PRC policymakers and experts who indicated that the military exercises are now not only about “warning” but about preparing for conflict, particularly one of urban attrition which they anticipate is the goal of US National Guard involvement. In addition, the clear concerns about direct U.S. military intervention on Taiwan’s behalf, the potential for increased military cooperation between the two countries clearly raises concerns Beijing. Over time, such cooperation could enhance Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, and weaken China’s military option for achieving “national reunification.”

(source: Wikimedia)

China Denounces Exclusion from U.S.-Led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, As Taiwan Eyes Membership 

On May 23, U.S. President Joseph Biden launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). China is not included in the grouping which has drawn  harsh criticism from Beijing. On May 31, during his visit to Fiji, Foreign Minister Wang Yi denounced China’s exclusion, indirectly referring to the IPEF as an Asian-Pacific version of NATO. Wang also criticized the IPEF’s lack of a plan to lower tariffs, arguing that there could be no free market without such a reduction. In spite of his nation’s exclusion from the framework, it still maintains strong economic ties with its regional neighbors via the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Notably, nearly all the founding members of the IPEF, save India and the US, are members of the RCEP. Thus, with the advent of the IPEF, the United States seeks compete economically with China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The initial countries in the framework are the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. More countries will be allowed to join IPEF in the future. In fact, as of May 26, Fiji was admitted as a member of IPEF. The framework is broadly based on the following pillars: Trade, Supply Chains, Clean Energy and Infrastructure, and Tax and Anti-Corruption measures. The IPEF seeks to build inclusive and free trade agreements for all participating countries. In the aftermath of the global shutdown and the reduced flow of goods, it promotes resilient and more efficient supply chains. IPEF also further seeks to implement the goals of the Paris agreement via the joint development of clean energy technologies. Finally, Tax and Anti-Corruption measures will be enforced in order to promote a fair economic policy in line with United Nations standards. This agreement comes some 5 years after the Trump administration pulled the United States out of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Interestingly, despite President Biden’s recent shows of support, Taiwan has also been left out of the IPEF. In spite of calls for Taiwan’s inclusion by nearly 50 US senators and 200 representatives, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the island nation would not be included in the launch of the IPEF. However, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed optimism that it will be included in IPEF in the future. These hopes were further bolstered by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s May 20 meeting with Taiwan’s Minister-Without-Portfolio John Deng, discussing opportunities to improve economic relations and mutual economic growth. Currently, it remains to be seen whether Beijing will levy economic repercussions against the IPEF members. Due to the importance of the RCEP for China’s economy, it seems unlikely that it will take drastic measures. Moreover, President Biden’s recent support for Taiwan does not completely rule out the possibility of its inclusion in the IPEF.

(source: Global Times)

China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway to Begin Construction

In late May, ministers from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan announced that construction on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway will begin in August 2023, ending two decades of stalled debate and high-level meetings by officials from all three countries. Originally conceived in 1996 when China announced the construction of a South Xinjiang rail route from Korla to Kashgar, the railway will cross from China through Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan before connecting to Iran, Turkey, and eventually Europe. In total, the route between the three Central Asian countries is about 523 kilometers with 260 km of track to be laid in Kyrgyzstan, 213 km in China, and 50 km in Uzbekistan, including 95 railway bridges and 48 tunnels. According to Kyrgyz Prime Minister Akylbek Japaroy, it will be the “largest project in Kyrgyzstan’s history.” The railway system will not only expand Chinese influence in Central Asia, but also improve the economies of central asian countries by making them a transit link in a chain that stretches from Europe and the Mediterranean to the burgeoning markets of East Asia. Uzbek officials claim that upon completion, the railway will be the shortest route to transport goods from China to Europe and the Middle East, since it will slash the freight journey by 900 km. This will in effect save seven to eight days in shipping time. 

According to Kyrgyz president Japarov, all agreements concerning the railway have been signed by all parties. Following a feasibility study this year, the countries will meet at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in September to sign a final document to begin construction of the railway. 


 


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