May 20, 2022- Stealth War 88: On Eve of Elections, Australia Grapples with PRC Influence; Xi Calls for Greater Security Cooperation at BRICS Meeting; China-India Tensions Soar Over Renewed Pangong Tso Lake Bridge Construction; Japan Mulls Counterstrike Capability Targeting China, North Korea; Chinese Navy Sends 41st Escort Fleet for Gulf of Aden

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri May, 2022, Age: 1 year



May 20, 2022

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Stat Du Jour 
This issue’s number to watch


Number of passports issued by the Chinese government in the first half of 2021, which is around 2% of the number issued in the same period in 2019.

This Week: 

* On Eve of Elections, Australia Grapples with China’s Influence 

* Xi Calls for Greater Security Cooperation at BRICS Meeting

* China-India Tensions Soar Over Renewed Construction on Pangong Tso Lake Bridge

* Japan Mulls Counterstrike Capability Targeting China, North Korea

* Chinese Navy Sends 41st Escort Fleet for Gulf of Aden

Top Stories

(source: China Daily)

Australia’s Elections and China’s Influence

Australia will determine its next Prime Minister in elections this Saturday, along with large numbers of parliamentary representatives. The two front runners for PM are the incumbent, Scott Morrison of the center-right Liberal Party of Australia, and Anthony Albanese of the left-of-center Australian Labor Party. One of the top issues in the election is Canberra’s stance toward China domestically and in the Asia-Pacific. Predictably, Chinese state media and leadership have been watching the elections closely. Headlines from leading state media outlets such as the Global Times, South China Morning Post, and Xinhua have discussed each leader’s position toward China and some policy issues (particularly economic ties and China’s expanding influence in the Pacific Islands); however, most of their articles appear to be primarily concerned with racism against Chinese and Asian citizens of Australia, as well as China being unfairly portrayed as a threat by both PM candidates and Australia simply being an irrational pawn of the U.S. Racism in Australia is a significant concern, and political rhetoric and policy must be carefully crafted to counter the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) without increasing prejudice against Australia’s Asian communities. However, the Chinese state media’s narrative serves two primary functions: to divert attention away from Beijing’s systematic efforts to infiltrate and control Australia’s politics and economy at all levels of society, and the CCP’s ultra-nationalist approach to foreign relations.

Perhaps most illustrative of these issues is the recent arrest of Australian activist and senate candidate for Queensland, Drew Pavlou. Pavlou has been protesting against the CCP alongside pro-democracy Chinese and Taiwanese groups in Australia for several years, which even resulted in his university suspending him. For his efforts, Chinese state media has labeled him a racist and an “enemy” of the state. The saga leading up to his arrest is instructive. A few weeks ago, while protesting the CCP, Pavlou was holding a sign given to him by a fellow ethnic Chinese activist, reading in Mandarin “F**k Xi Jinping.” Pro-CCP Chinese nationals began attacking the activists verbally and then physically, calling the other Asians “race traitors” while accusing the anti-CCP protesters of racism. Pavlou stood on camera calmly receiving blows with his hands behind is back before Australian police intervened, targeting the pro-democracy faction despite the violence originating from the pro-CCP faction. Although vulgar protest signs are not out of the ordinary in Australian demonstrations, the police brought Pavlou to the station and threatened him with charges for offensive language. After his lawyer intervened the police backed down, but still threatened him, arresting him at another protest on May 8 after a similar sequence of events, but this time without any vulgar language.

In addition to being charged with using offensive language for the previous protest, the police claimed that the protest had to be dispersed because it “was causing fear and alarm among the community.” The takeaway is that Australian police and politicians are willing to suppress those who speak out against the CCP, particularly if those supporting the CCP cause a scene or get violent. Rewarding China’s bottom up-top down tactic only emboldens Beijing while undermining the liberties that those in Australia value, and until more are willing to support the pro-democracy Asian community and their allies, the CCP will keep increasing its influence.

(source: Xinhua)

Xi Calls for Greater Security Cooperation at BRICS Meeting

On Thursday, President Xi Jinping called for greater political trust and security cooperation during his virtual address at the BRICS Foreign Ministers meeting—the bloc refers to the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. According to Xi, the BRICS members must “oppose hegemonism and power politics, reject Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, and work together to build a global community of security for all.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who chaired the talks, also promoted China’s recently-announced Global Security Initiative, which he claimed “bridges the peace deficit and guides the way to solve global security dilemmas.” With Russian FM Sergey Lavrov in attendance, the talks mark the first BRICS meeting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both Xi and Wang’s remarks reflect Beijing’s ongoing efforts to rally support from developing countries for its stance on the Russian invasion and oppose the U.S. and Western-led international security architecture. Notably, all BRICS members have adopted a neutral position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and China, India, and South Africa were among the 35 countries who abstained from the United Nations Resolution that condemned Russia for its invasion and demanded it withdraw its military forces (Brazil voted in favor of the resolution, but reportedly tried to soften its language). Also in attendance this week were Brazil’s Carlos Franca, India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and South Africa’s Naledi Pandor.

The Foreign Ministers’ meeting is part of Beijing’s preparations for the 14th BRICS Annual Summit planned for June 24, which China will host as this year’s chair. Among the countries part of the “BRICS Plus” mechanism, Argentina has confirmed it will attend both meetings following Xi’s extension of his “very important invitation” to his Argentinian counterpart Alberto Fernández. Argentina, who has wanted to join the group since it formed in 2009, will likely be the first country as part of Wang’s proposal to expand BRICS. During his visit to Beijing in February, Fernández reiterated his country’s desire to join the group. Argentina’s bid also has the support of its neighbor and BRICS member Brazil, whose Economy Minister Paulo Guedes confirmed he would support Argentina to join the New Development Bank, created by the group in 2014.

(source: Indian Express)

China-India Tensions Soar Over Renewed Construction on Pangong Tso Lake Bridge 

India reacted strongly today to reports that the Chinese government began construction on a second bridge across the strategically vital Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh. In an official statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) claimed that both bridges are being constructed on territory illegally occupied by China since the 1960s. With these bridges, China will be able to mobilize its troops more effectively along the contested border with India, and improve other infrastructure they have plans to build in the border regions. India said they’ve “never accepted such illegal occupation of our territory.” There has been no comment so far from the Chinese government addressing India’s grievances.

The bridge building comes at a time of increased tension between the two countries, and a lingering standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries along several friction points that are strategically vital to the Indian and Chinese borderlands. Since 2020, dozens of soldiers have died in violent clashes between the militaries. The fighting has taken the form of intense brawls in the remote valleys of the Himalayas. Soldiers have been beaten to death with riot shields and large wooden clubs. In the most intense skirmish- the Galwan Valley clash in Ladakh in 2020, twenty Indian and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed. Currently, India’s military lags far behind the PLA, despite the fact that India’s population is nearly equal to that of China, and growing at a faster clip. India is in no shape to risk a war with the rising China, so India’s strong verbal reactions may be all bark and little bite. As Bharat Karnad, a professor of security studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi put it in 2020, “we are not prepared for this kind of escalation.” The same is true two years later, even as the Indian military deploys recently acquired Russian S-400 air defense systems to its borders with China and Pakistan.


Japan Mulls Counterstrike Capability Targeting China, North Korea

 On May 11, during a meeting between Japan’s parliament and Defense Ministry, questions arose about an April 27 suggestion by the Prime Minister’s ruling LDP party that Japan should acquire a “counterstrike capability to attack enemy bases and  ‘command and control functions.’” Specifically, if Japan were attacked by China or North Korea, or otherwise felt it needed to pre-emptively it attack out of self-defense, should Beijing’s Central Military Commission, which oversees the armed forces and is led by President Xi Jinping, be targeted? Both the Defense Ministry and LDP parliament members chose not to directly answer the question, perhaps because the policy is still being formulated or perhaps in order to maintain strategic ambiguity regarding Japan’s potential role in the defense of Taiwan.

A counterstrike capability is not inherently a nuclear one, and it would generally fall under Japan’s constitutional dictum that it may only use force in self-defense or, as of 2015, the defense of close allies. Between China’s increasing threats to Japan’s population and territory, its threats to Taiwan, its drastic expansion of its nuclear arsenal, and North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests, Tokyo has begun grappling with previously unthinkable shifts in its defense policy, including hosting U.S. nuclear weapons, the development of its own missiles capable of hitting targets over 1,000 kilometers away, and breaking its military budget record for eight years in a row ($44 billion is slated for the current fiscal year), with the intention of continuing the trend. The deployment of nuclear weapons may be too unpopular to be feasible at present. Nevertheless, between its concrete steps toward improved capabilities and its rhetoric demonstrating a willingness to inflict significant damage upon Chinese leadership if attacked, Japan is clearly on a trajectory to improving its deterrence credibility. Whether or not such capabilities will be developed in time to prevent China from forcibly taking remote Japanese islands or Taiwan, remains to be seen.

PLA Navy Sends 41st Escort Fleet to Gulf of Aden for Counter-Piracy Patrols

On Wednesday, the 41st fleet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) left port in Zhoushan city, Zhejiang Province to escort civilian ships as part of its regular anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia. The naval task force, which will take over the escort mission from the 40th fleet that embarked from Guangdong province in mid-January, includes the guided-missile destroyed Suzhou (Hull 132), the guided-missile frigate Nantong (Hull 533), the replenishment ship Chaohu (Hull 890), two ship-borne helicopters, and special operations soldiers. Prior to the mission, Chinese troops carried out training exercises that included ship-aircraft joint search and rescue, anti-terrorism and anti-piracy exercises, and simulated rescues of hijacked merchant ships. The PLAN first began its escort missions off the coast of Somalia in December 2008 in response to the increasing pirate activity targeting Chinese civilian ships (mainly cargo vessels and chemical tankers), taking Chinese seafarers captive, and ultimately disrupting global maritime trade. Japan and South Korea have also sent anti-piracy missions regularly to the region since 2009 to protect commercial ships and have worked with the anti-piracy Combined Maritime Task Force 151 operated by the multinational Combined Maritime Forces.

Many analysts have highlighted that this task force is the first time the Suzhou and Nantong ships will perform an escort mission. Making its public debut in March 2021, the Suzhou is an improved version of the Type 052D destroyer (also called Luyang III-class by NATO) designed to replicate the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers and is equipped with advanced radars and electronics similar to the U.S. Aegis Combat System. It can conduct maritime offensive and defense operations both independently and in conjunction with other naval units, and also has advanced long-range warning and air defense capabilities. Importantly, it’s one of the 25 Type 052D destroyers launched by the PLA since 2014. The Nantong, which was commissioned in 2019, is a Type 054A frigate with medium-range air defense capability and can carry out air defense, sea, and short strikes, as well as naval patrol, warning, and escort assignments. These ships are part of China’s rapid naval modernization and shipbuilding spree in recent years, resulting in China having the world’s largest maritime navy by number of vessels, about 355 ships according to a Department of Defense report released last November. In addition to protecting its territorial claims in the South China Sea, China seeks to build a real blue-water navy to operate beyond the Indo-Pacific, posing a great challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to maintain control of blue-water ocean areas in the Western Pacific.

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