March 18, 2022-Stealth War 80: China Helps Russia Bypass Western Disinformation Filters; New Report Posits Lower Economic Growth Trajectory for China through 2050; Five Charged with Working for Chinese Security Services to Target Dissidents in U.S.; Chinese Aircraft Carrier Sails Through Taiwan Straits Hours before Xi-Biden Call; China’s Fertilizer Worries Increase Due to Ukraine War

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri March, 2022, Age: 1 year


March 18, 2022

Welcome to the Stealth War Newsletter, a collection of the top 5 recent news items, collected on The Jamestown Foundation’s website, 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 watch$7.9 Trillion
Approximate amount of debt accumulated by local government administrations in China (see second entry below)  

This Week: 

China Helps Russia Bypass Western Disinformation Filters

New Report Posits Lower Economic Growth Trajectory for China through 2050

Five Individuals Charged with Working for Chinese Security Services to Target Dissidents in U.S.

Chinese Aircraft Carrier Sails Through Taiwan Straits Hours before Xi-Biden Call 

China’s Fertilizer Worries Increase Due to the War in Ukraine

Top Stories

(source: Columbia)

China Helps Russia Bypass Western Disinformation Filters

China is helping Russia bypass disinformation filters set up by Western governments and corporations. International attention has focused on China’s continued economic and potential military assistance to Russia as its brutal attack on Ukraine struggles to make headway and its economy continues to implode due to sweeping international sanctions. However, Beijing has also been providing critical but less noticed assistance to Moscow in the information space. China’s laundering or echoing of pro-Russia propaganda has been particularly critical as Moscow’s ability to put out media, social or otherwise, has been severely curtailed.

Media controls inside China are extensive with human and technological means of blocking some content and boosting others, but that is not where China’s ability to control information flows is most critical to its partner. Russia seeks to influence Europe and the broader world, and that is where China’s army of state media, social media influencers, bots, and ad campaigns come into play. Of particular note are the legions of pro-PRC social media influencers on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and other platforms. PRC propaganda organs have long leveraged Chinese nationals and non-Chinese netizens alike with large follower bases to disseminate tailored messaging in a coordinated manner. Some of these influencers are “useful idiots”, but others are very aware of what they are doing. In either case many of these “influencers” are funded and directed by the Chinese government while claiming and appearing to be random people.

These influencers not only repeat Russian propaganda messaging, but they have actually been broadcasting clips or entire programs of banned Russian state media platforms, allowing Moscow to bypass corporate and state efforts to curtail its disinformation activities. This allows conspiracy theories, such as the U.S. using Ukraine to manufacture bio-weapons, to proliferate beyond Beijing’s official supports of such specious narratives. More importantly, such insidious means of spreading disinformation creates an atmosphere of distrust, or, worse, an apathy towards truth and reality. In either case, disinformation assists both China and Russia in spreading anti-American and anti-democracy messaging. How effective such efforts will ultimately be, in this war as well as the broader ideological contest, remains to be seen.

(source: CGTN)

New Report Posits Lower Economic Growth Trajectory for China through 2050

Assessments that China will attain a leading, if not dominant position in global affairs are predicated on the assumption that the Chinese economy will sustain high-growth rates in the coming decades. However, a recent report by the Lowy Institute, a leading Australian think tank, hypothesizes that China is headed for a sustained slowdown in long-term growth as it reaches the limits of capital-intensive growth, and suffers from demographic decline and reduced productivity. The report observes that even assuming general policy successes- “economic growth will slow to about 3% by 2030 and 2% by 2040, while averaging 2–3% overall from now until 2050.” As a result, although China is still on track to be the world’s largest economy, it is unlikely to separate from the U.S. to the degree that many have assumed, and will remain considerably behind in terms of per capita GDP.

China set a 5.5% growth target at this March’s National People’s Congress, which many experts considered remarkably high. The high growth target suggests that Beijing will maintain relatively loose monetary and fiscal policies throughout 2022 displaying a preference for high growth rates over needed structural reforms. Much of China’s economic growth has been funded by extensive borrowing, and high debt loads, e.g. local governments in China have accumulated nearly $8 trillion in debt. While real reforms are unlikely, the emphasis on growth may also curb further regulatory action targeting the private sector, which was severely crimped by Xi Jinping’s “Common Prosperity” program in late 2020 and 2021.

(source: NY1)

Five Individuals Charged with Working for Chinese Security Services to Target Dissidents in U.S. 

This week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged five individuals with working in conjunction with China’s primary foreign intelligence agency- the Ministry of State Security (MSS) to “stalk, harass and spy on Chinese nationals” in the U.S. who had criticized the PRC. For example, one of those charged was Qiming Lin, an MSS agent operating in New York, who hired a private investigator to harass, dig up derogatory information and physically attack a candidate for U.S. Congress in Brooklyn. Three other individuals were cited as spying on and harassing pro-democracy Chinese dissidents in the U.S., and were charged with “conspiring to commit interstate harassment and criminal use of a means of identification.” Of those charged by the DOJ, three individuals were apprehended, while two remain at large.

When asked about the arrests on Thursday, PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated that he was unaware of the specifics, but stated that China staunchly opposes “unwarranted denigration and smearing against China.” Zhao also claimed that any allegations of “transnational” repression by China were fabricated. Despite Zhao’s comments, the arrests reveal the extent that the PRC is willing to go to try to shape public opinion in the U.S.

(source: Global Times)

 Chinese Aircraft Carrier Sails Through Taiwan Straits Hours before Xi-Biden Call 

Today, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Straits hours before a scheduled phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping regarding the war in Ukraine. Chinese sources framed the Shandong’s patrol as a routine maneuver, but international observers saw it as a clear reminder from Xi to Biden that Beijing considers Taiwan a domestic matter. While in the Taiwan Straits, the Chinese carrier was shadowed by a U.S. Navy destroyer. The Shandong is one of the PLAN’s two operational aircraft carriers; the other- the Liaoning was sold to China by Ukraine and entered active service in 2012. The Shandong is the newer vessel, having entered active service with the PLAN in 2019.

The Shandong’s voyage through the Taiwan Straits follows an uptick in Chinese military activity in the South China Sea including drills in the Gulf of Tonkin that intruded into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). China has also stepped up its criticism of  its neighbor’s security responses to the Ukraine crisis. According to Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, Japanese officials are seeking to use the Ukraine crisis to hype up external threats to increase support for an expansion of Japan’s military, which would include a nuclear-sharing agreement with Washington. This would be a red line for China, considering the historical legacy of Imperial Japan’s militarism in Asia. Although Beijing bashes Tokyo for its understandable concern over Ukraine, the PLA continues to pressure Japan through actions such as flying drones through its airspace. As with their Japanese and Vietnamese counterparts, Taiwan has also suffered from mixed Chinese messaging and responded with defensive actions. Earlier this month, Chinese officials expressed concern over burgeoning support for a Taiwanese independence movement, saying that Taiwan’s only future lay in “peaceful reunification” with the mainland.

(source: Xinhua)

China’s Fertilizer Worries Increase Due to the War in Ukraine

China is worried that fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will create further difficulties for its already strained fertilizer supply. China receives 53% of its potassium (a key fertilizer component) from Russia and Belarus, as well as other fertilizer components. Before the invasion, there was already a well-publicized global shortage of fertilizer, driven by a wide variety of compounding factors. Naturally, this shortage has been causing concern for many countries that are food insecure and/or sensitive to global shortages and inflation. Falling short of its goals for self-sufficient food production, and running low on fertilizer itself, China greatly restricted the export of fertilizer and fertilizer components several times last year, and even cut production at some facilities to 50% to reduce pollution ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Now, between the existing shortages and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global crop yields are generally expected to be lower this year. As a result, prices are expected to go up on just about everything, and various countries are restricting food and fertilizer exports.

Worse still for China and the world, Russia has suspended its fertilizer exports as it faces its own food shortage due to failing production and the disruption of Ukraine’s agricultural cycle. Additionally, Russia and Ukraine combined account for 30% of the world’s wheat consumption, 50% of the world’s sunflower oil, and large portions of other grains; both Moscow and Kyiv have declared export restrictions on grain and other staples. Such events are exactly what Beijing’s decision to lift import restrictions on Russian wheat on the day of its invasion were supposed to head off. Even before the invasion, China was clearly expecting a food shortage this year. Between the food shortage, economic difficulties, Covid-19, and the potential for sanctions if it chooses to assist Russia, there is an increased risk of further food supply issues, which will deepen the economic and social challenges facing Beijing.

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