November 6, 2020 – Stealth War Newsletter 15

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri November, 2020, Age: 2 years



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November 6, 2020

Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch

$394 million

The value of Australian wheat imports to China, currently at risk of being banned as China-Australia trade tensions rise amid a declining bilateral relationship (see below).

Top Stories

As the results of the U.S. presidential election slowly come to light, searches on Chinese social media app Weibo for “#AmericanElections” and “#AmericanRiots” trended. An informal survey of leading experts by Politico’s David Wertime found that some predicted that China would leverage the opportunity to “exploit U.S. chaos,” while others shrugged, convinced that the long-term decline in U.S.-China relations will not be drastically changed by either a continuing Trump administration or a new Biden presidency. Indeed, as noted earlier in the week, regardless of whether it is Trump’s “America first” emphasis on re-shoring manufacturing or Biden’s “build back better plan” incentivizing green development, fears of China’s growing economic might and the dangers of an interconnected global supply chain are reviving a bipartisan interest in industrial policy, once reviled by U.S. policymakers who favored a decades-long allegiance to freer markets.

Following media reports that China’s commerce ministry may soon move to restrict shipments of Australian wine, lobster, sugar, coal, timber, wool, barley and copper, Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has called on China to “play by the rules” and provide answers to worried businesses that face potential disruptions. Birmingham also said that Chinese authorities need to “make it very clear” that they would honor the commitments given under the China-Australia free trade agreement and the World Trade Organization. Current tensions between China and Australia date back to Canberra’s push for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus back in April. In recent weeks, Australian wheat and barley have faced increased checks and suspensions of imports due to the alleged discovery of pests. A move last week to increase testing of lobster imports reportedly “came out of the blue,” and led to some 20 tonnes of product being spoiled.

As a further sign of worsening Sino-Australian relations, Australia has charged a Melbourne man for the first time under its new foreign interference laws. Duong Di Sanh, also known as Sunny Duong, is a prominent member of Victoria’s Southeast Asian community, and has been linked with a number of groups—including the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification—connected to the United Front Work Department, which is responsible for Chinese overseas influence operations. Mr. Duong is being charged with preparing to commit foreign interference, although the exact details of his alleged offenses are unknown. The foreign interference laws were rushed through Australia’s Parliament in 2018, and are designed to strengthen foreign espionage offenses and force people working to foreign companies and governments to declare their activities in a more transparent manner. Speaking about Mr. Duong’s arrest, one government official explained, “Foreign interference is contrary to Australia’s national interest, it goes to the heart of our democracy. It is corrupting and deceptive, and goes beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments.” Analysts are concerned that this arrest may lead to future retaliation from China, such as the detention of another Australian national.

The U.S. has waged a campaign across Europe warning that allowing companies such as Huawei to develop national 5G networks could grant China a foothold to spy and exert influence over critical infrastructure. Following the UK’s July announcement that it would purge Chinese equipment from its 5G networks in the next seven years, Sweden in October banned Huawei and ZTE from its 5G infrastructure. The U.S.’s argument appears to be bearing fruit in smaller European nations’ 5G deliberations as well; last week, the U.S. State Department signed a raft of agreements with Slovakia and other Eastern European nations on high-speed wireless network technology. And while the memorandums did not explicitly name Chinese 5G suppliers, they stressed that 5G procurement policies should take into account whether network suppliers are subject “to control by a foreign government,” implicitly targeting Chinese businesses such as Huawei and ZTE. This week saw another success for the State Department’s campaign against Huawei, with Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban announcing that Huawei “does not meet [security] conditions,” and will be excluded from Romania’s 5G network building.

New media reports coming out of China are critical of the country’s fast-paced adoption of 5G, with a new report from South China Morning Post declaring that China’s “5G push is outpacing reality.”  Former Finance Minister Lou Jiwei warned in September that 5G technology was still immature and suffered from high maintenance costs and lack of applications, despite the billions of RMB invested in rolling it out across China. Despite the government hanging its post-COVID-19 economic recovery hopes on 5G and other high technology industries, as of October, Chinese telecom operators have only built 680,000 5G base stations of an estimated 10 million needed to achieve nationwide coverage. A recent survey of Chinese consumers found that 73.3 percent said they believed there was no need for the public to buy 5G mobile phones, results backed up by Chinese telecom company Huawei’s founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, who has said, “In fact, human societies do not have an urgent need for 5G. What people need now is broadband, and the main content of 5G is not broadband.”

Finally, in a surprising but long-awaited move, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has revoked the designation of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a “terrorist organization.” China was quick to slam Pompeo’s decision, saying it reflected Washington’s “double standards” and “whitewashing” of the global battle against terrorism. The move has been welcomed by human rights groups such as the Uyghur Human Rights Project. ETIM has been designated as a terrorist organization since 2002 based on evidence provided by the Chinese government, and continues to appear on the UN Consolidated List of terrorists and terrorist organizations. Corroborating evidence for ETIM’s activities has been hard to find outside of official Chinese sources, however, and many have argued that its ostensible threat has been overhyped as an excuse to justify China’s escalating persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

Stealth War Flyover


In the third episode of Stealth War Flyover, Jamestown President Glen Howard and former Senior Director for Strategy to the President Robert Spalding discuss China’s threat to arrest U.S. citizens in China in reciprocity for recent arrests of PLA-affiliated people in the United States; the State Department mulling a ban on American businesses working with the Chinese fintech firm, the Ant Group; what the trial release in Shenzhen of a new Chinese digital currency mean for American interests; Peter Navarro’s recent comments at the Hudson Institute; and Hillary Clinton’s recent article in Foreign Affairs on China and US national security strategy.

Stealth War Flyover is a periodic series featuring Brigadier General (ret.) Robert Spalding and Jamestown Foundation President Glen Howard discussing and dissecting the latest news in the ongoing competition between China and the United States.

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