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September 17, 2021 – Stealth War 55: Wikipedia Bans Chinese Editors; “Peace Mission 2021” Drills in Russia; the CPTPP; Reactions to AUKUS; Regime Changes Create Turmoil for Beijing

By: Jamestown Foundation

Wed October, 2021, Age: 2 years


September 17, 2021

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Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch50,000
The number of organ transplants that China is expected to perform in 2021.

Strategic Indicator
This issue’s number to watch600
Number of days General Secretary Xi Jinping has gone without leaving China; the longest time any G-20 leader has gone without traveling abroad.

This Week:

* Wikipedia Bans Chinese Editors in Latest Battle Over Disinformation

* PLA Joins Shanghai Cooperation Organization “Peace Mission 2021” Drills in Russia

* China Applies to Join the CPTPP

* Regional Allies and China React to AUKUS

* BRI Roundup: Regime Changes Create Turmoil for Beijing’s Foreign Investments

Top Stories

(source: Reuters)

Wikipedia Bans Chinese Editors in Latest Battle Over Disinformation

On Monday, Wikipedia announced in an unprecedented move that it has “banned seven users and desysopped [removal of administrator privileges] a further 12 as a result of long and deep investigations into activities around some members of the unrecognized group Wikimedians of Mainland China.” The foundation had been investigating infiltration of Chinese-language Wikipedia for nearly a year and has set up a disinformation team. Wikipedia stated that it had to act now due to “credible threats” to the safety of its volunteers. The Chinese government seeks to control narratives surrounding the nation, ensuring that they align with the official party line. The government also uses civilians to unofficially promote its message, which may be the situation with Wikipedia, even though the site has been banned in the Mainland since 2019.

This news is set against a backdrop of increasing control and regulation of information in China. Restrictions on free speech and human rights are worsening, and at the same time, Chinese control of tech data poses a threat to the West. An example of this occurred on Monday, when the Chinese government announced that tech giants had to end the long-standing practice of blocking each other’s links, and may face consequences for doing so. Although one aim may be to deter  monopolistic behavior, this is also the latest step in Beijing’s ongoing regulatory crackdown on the technology industry.

(source: China Mil).

PLA Joins Shanghai Cooperation Organization “Peace Mission 2021” Drills in Russia

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is holding its annual multinational counter-terrorism exercises- “Peace Mission 2021” in Orenberg, Russia from September 11 to September 25. Troops from all eight SCO member states, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan, are participating in the exercises. Per the Chinese Ministry of Defense (MOD) about 550 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops and 130 vehicles from the Northern Theater Command are involved in the drills. According to Lieutenant General (retired) He Lei (何雷), a distinguished expert at the Academy of Military Sciences, this year’s SCO exercises demonstrates the shared threats facing Central Asian states from the so-called “three [evil] forces” (三股势力) -of “terrorism, separatism and extremism.” (恐怖主义、分裂主义、极端主义).

Chinese sources stress that the annual exercises are routine within the SCO framework, but nevertheless there are some key operational and strategic takeaways. Operationally, the live fire exercises are a chance for the PLA to learn from forces with more extensive combat experience such as the Russian and Pakistani militaries. While training exercises cannot replace direct combat experience, they do help the PLA compensate for its lack of warfighting experience or “peace disease” (和平病)  (the PLA has not engaged in major combat operations since the 1979 war with Vietnam). As Chinese state media observes, the drills also provide an opportunity for the PLA to undertake joint exercises that integrate ground, air, special warfare, reconnaissance and electronic warfare capabilities. For the PLA the exercises are also useful to develop its ability to respond to potential threats to China’s expansive overseas investments and personnel in areas with poor security (see for example recent terrorist attacks on Chinese interests in Pakistan). The participation of four Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) in the exercises indicates that these countries, despite their unease with China’s activities in Xinjiang, are still willing to accept a Chinese framework for counterterrorism that includes Uighur and other separatist groups.

(source: Global Times)

China Applies to Join the CPTPP

On Thursday, the Chinese ministry of commerce announced that it had submitted China’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The agreement was formed in 2018 after the Trump administration withdrew from the Obama-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), leading to its collapse. 11 member states have signed onto the CPTPP: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The CPTPP’s predecessor the TPP was initially formed as an economic bloc to counter the influence of China as a part of the United States’ pivot to Asia. Despite deteriorating relations between China and Australia, China has previously lobbied Canberra for its inclusion in the trade pact. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian noted that the CPTPP has “nothing to do” with AUKUS. Japan, the current chair of the CPTPP, said in a statement that it would consult other members of the trade pact regarding China’s application, noting that Beijing would have to meet the “high standards” of the agreement. Other countries such as the United Kingdom and Thailand have also indicated their interest to join the agreement. China’s application to the CPTPP comes after the world’s largest trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), came into force last year.

(source: The Guardian)

Regional Allies and China React to AUKUS

The United Kingdom, United States, and Australia announced a security pact, AUKUS, which will see the UK and US provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, and aims to deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the South China Sea in a bid to counter China’s presence in the region. In recent years, China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea have raised tensions with its neighbors and the United States. Given Australia’s lack of nuclear infrastructure, it will be at least a year before submarines can be deployed to the region as the United States and United Kingdom offer technical support to develop Canberra’s capacity. The United States in particular intends to provide consultations to build SSN submarines with greater stealth capacities. While the submarines are not nuclear-armed, they are powered with a nuclear power plant in the vessel. China denounced AUKUS as “undermining regional peace and stability” and feeding into a “Cold War zero-sum mentality.”

In a call between Australia and Singapore’s prime ministers, Australia’s Scott Morrison briefed his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsieng Loong about the arrangement. The Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared its hope that AUKUS would “contribute constructively to the peace and stability of the region and complement the regional architecture” considering its positive ties with all three powers. Australia High Commissioner to New Delhi Barry O’Farrell also stated that India was briefed on the arrangement prior to its launch, with policy watchers speculating that New Delhi would welcome AUKUS to deter Beijing. Meanwhile, Indonesia warned against a regional arms race. AUKUS is slated to transform the security landscape of Southeast Asia as the United States and its allies aim to bolster their presence in the region in the wake of an increasingly assertive China.

BRI Roundup

(sources: Global Times)

Regime Changes Create Turmoil for Beijing’s Foreign Investments

China’s foreign investment has been thrown for a loop, as at least two countries that China has invested in through BRI face major regime changes and instability.

One of these countries is, of course, Afghanistan. In the past few weeks, a popular narrative regarding China-Taliban relations predicts that China will begin funding investment projects in Afghanistan, and use the power vacuum left by the United States to project influence in South Central Asia. Earlier this week, Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, said that Afghanistan hopes to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, the flagship $50 billion Pakistan component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, recent remarks from the CCP suggest that China is facing difficulties investing in the volatile region. Mei Xinyu, a representative of China’s Ministry of Commerce, wrote in a recent article that Afghanistan’s development environment is “grim,” that the country is “insignificant” to the BRI and that “large-scale investment” should be “delayed.” In addition, recent terrorist activity on the China-Pakistan border from a Taliban-affiliated group has also caused skepticism of the Taliban among Chinese officials, which has the potential to curb investment in the country.

Afghanistan is not the only volatile state that China has found itself tethered to this week. The military coup in Guinea has angered Chinese investors, who have a large stake in exporting minerals from the small West African country. Beijing is mainly concerned with how the coup will disrupt supply chains for the mineral Bauxite, which aids in producing Aluminum. As Guinea provides 55 percent of China’s Bauxite, aluminum prices rose to their highest level in 10 years on Monday. Unrest in Guinea this week, as well as the recent military takeovers in Chad and Mali and an unsuccessful coup in Niger, have the potential to disrupt China’s influence in the Sahel region, and slow the growth of China’s BRI. ​​The recent unrest in the Sahel and the Middle East will test China’s ability to protect its foreign investment projects in some of the world’s most unstable regions.

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