News roundup: China may be unifying issue for divided government & more
Democrats and Republicans appear in agreement over the threat from Beijing and need to defend Taiwan against a potential invasion.
China — in the aftermath of mid-term election leaving us with divided government — is one issue that appears that ripe for agreement on potential action as both sides are readying for an adversarial relationship on military, economic and geopolitical fronts.
Just look at the developments this week alone. House Republicans under their new majority are likely to put China under scrutiny in their congressional hearings, including examination of data security under TikTok. Democrats are also engaged on the issue as President Biden return this week from a meeting with Xi Jinping, marking the first time in five years to have met in person as tensions between the United States and China have increased.
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Even Donald Trump, announcing this week his 2024 candidacy for the presidential election, made China-bashing a central component of his monologue one hour-long speech. Trump unabashedly continued his false claims he won the 2020 despite widespread condemnation, but for first the time in the speech suggested China somehow had a role in pulling the levers to orchestrate a Biden win.
The bipartisan consensus on China jumped out at me on Wednesday in particular when I attended Politico’s Defense Summit in D.C. One panel, titled “U.S. Defense Strategy amid Europe War and China’s Rise,” had a Democratic congressman and Republican congressman, as well as a Biden administration defense official, talking so eagerly about confronting China I had difficulty distinguishing any political differences.
Check out these key quotes from the lawmakers on the panel, which had a heavy focus on China not just as a strategic competitor, but a risk to global security if it were to act on its long-stated goal to invade Taiwan:
Rep. Michael Waltz (Fla.), top Republican on the Subcommittee on Readiness, House Armed Services Committee, on China’s potential using force against Taiwan:
“I think it's increasingly becoming a question of when, no longer a question of if. Chairman Xi is telling his country to prepare for war. He is developing the capabilities to do so. To deny our intervention, he's told his military. to have the capability for an invasion by 2027. As many of you know, I think there's real debate within the community of his internal crisis will accelerate that timeline as an external distraction or will delay it.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations, House Armed Services Committee, on the FY-23 National Defense Authorization Act before Congress:
“Really, Taiwan doesn't really have a irregular warfare concept, and the fact [is] that they're going to be going against a massive army, and if they think they're gonna be able to defend themselves in conventional manner at the time, it's just not possible, and they really need to get into that mindset in order for them to really deter China from actually invading, or even making movement to invade. That's a lot of things that we're doing right now with the NDAA is trying to kind of encourage that move in that direction because my biggest fear is that by the time the first Chinese troop lands in Taiwan that the war is basically over.”
So both sides are acutely aware of the threat and eager to take action. There was a similar mindset from the Biden administration’s representative on the panel, who sought to promote the recently updated National Defense Strategy identifying China as a top strategic competitor.
Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Info-Pacific security affairs, on defending Taiwan against invasion by stopping it even before it happens:
“Deterrence by denial remains the central feature of U.S. defense strategy and military strategy as the way as it relates to the Taiwan, the strategy of denial. As part of that, we're working with Taiwan on the concept of defense in depth, because yes, Taiwan is a small island. It's also incredibly difficult to invade. It's mountainous, it's urban, and a military operation requires capabilities the PLA does not posses today. So we think it can be an important part of the deterrence equation.”
So while we may see the typical political gamesmanship and gridlock we’ve become accosted and might predict under a divided Congress, there also appears to be consensus with moving against China as all sides are clear-eyed on the threat.
If there’s disagreement on the issue, it may be one side accusing the other over not doing enough. It was during the same conference at a later event Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the outgoing chair of the House Armed Services Committee, slammed Republican leaders for saying they’d seek to wait until the next Congress take action on the FY-23 National Defense Authorization Act.
House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith slammed Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday after the GOP chief called for delaying passage of the defense policy bill until next year.
“If you kick it off four, five, six months, you are really damaging the United States military. So I hope Kevin McCarthy understands that,” Smith said. “You are damaging the United States military every day past October 1st that you don’t get it done, and certainly more so every day past January [1st].”
“We’re going to get it done this year because that’s the right thing to do,” he added.
With that thought in mind, here’s a sampling of a news stories in recent days serving as a reminder of ongoing issues with China and why it should remain a central focus of U.S. foreign policy:
HONG KONG JAILS WOMAN FOR INSULTING CHINA’S NATIONAL ANTHEM: Free speech remains a right not enjoyed under authoritarian rule in China, as demonstrated by this report from CNN late last week on Hong Kong jailing a woman for waving a British-era colonial flag to celebrate an Olympic win last year.
Paula Leung, a 42-year-old online journalist, admitted the charge and was given a three-month jail sentence on Thursday, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Leung, who said in mitigation that she had autism and learning difficulties, had waved the flag in a shopping mall where a big screen was showing the medal ceremony following Edgar Cheung’s victory in the foil at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021.
In related news, China is calling for an investigation after the unofficial anthem of the 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy protest movement, called “Glory to Hong Kong,” was played at the start of rugby game between Hong Kong and South Korea.
From the Hong Kong Free Press:
According to the government, Asia Rugby has already apologised, saying a junior staffer made a mistake and the Hong Kong team had provided the correct anthem. When “Glory to Hong Kong” was played, the Hong Kong team sought to raise the alarm, and – later – organisers made a public announcement to apologise. During the prize presentation ceremony, the correct anthem was played.
Footage was widely circulated online overnight, with the Hong Kong team appearing stone-faced as the song was broadcast. Asia Rugby appears to have removed its live stream of the event.
China is also finding ways to extend is tendrils beyond its own citizens, as demonstrated by ongoing concerns over security using the TikTok app:
FBI DIRECTOR SAYS TIKTOK CARRIES A RISK TO NATIONAL SECURITY: The head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, told the lawmakers on Tuesday during testimony before the U.S. House the popular social media app TikTok could allow China’s government to influence Americans and or control their devices.
The FBI has "a number of concerns," director Christopher Wray told a House Homeland Security Committee hearing about worldwide threats on Tuesday, just days after Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban the app nationwide.
"They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose, or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it an opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices," Wray said.
TikTok, which hit 1 billion monthly active users in September 2021, is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Chinese national security laws can compel foreign and domestic firms operating within the country to share their data with the government upon request, and there are concerns about China's ruling Communist Party using this broad authority to gather sensitive intellectual property, proprietary commercial secrets and personal data.
FREEDOM HOUSE ISSUES DATA ON DISSENTS AND PROTESTS IN CHINA: Although as the reports above demonstrate carrying out protests carries significant risk in China, the international advocacy group Freedom House is out this week with new data on demonstrations in the face of that danger.
Between June and September 2022 the Freedom House project called the China Dissent Monitor cataloged 668 incidents of protests and other acts of dissent, including among them marches, strikes and hashtag campaigns.
Freedom House is also out this week with a separate report, called “How Civic Mobilizations Grow in Authoritarian Contexts,” details ways organizers are allowed to conduct demonstrations in China and elsewhere.
Although social media is increasingly demonized in the United States, one component of the Freedom House report recognizes the communications via internet play a key role in civic mobilizations under authoritarian governments.
Before internet and mobile phone services were widely available, it was more challenging for activists living in repressive contexts to coordinate collective action and widely communicate an alternate vision for their country. Social media has made these efforts much easier to carry out. The ability to quickly circulate information — via video in particular — has been a powerful trigger to initiate and increase collective action in highly repressive contexts.
Speaking of protests under authoritarian governments, Iran continues to crack down on participants in the ongoing demonstrations.
IRAN ORDERS EXECUTION OF THREE WHO PARTICIPATED IN PROTESTS: The Iranian government is showing no quarter to the protesters and has sentenced to death three individuals who took part and were “found guilty of corruption on each or waging war against God,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Iran sentenced three more protesters to death Wednesday, heightening fears that the government will resort to executions to intimidate Iranians from rallying against the country’s clerical leadership, as state media accused shooters of killing several civilians in the southern part of the country.
The three unidentified individuals were found guilty of corruption on earth or waging war against God for alleged offenses that included killing or injuring security forces, damaging public property and endangering national security, according to the judiciary’s news agency, Mizan.
What makes the news Iran is punishing demonstrators with the death penalty especially heart-wrenching is knowing those engaged in the demonstrations are overwhelmingly the nation’s youth.
The New York Times had a great story earlier this week on youth being responsible for driving the protests and the consequences they were facing for taking part in those acts.
The average age of protesters is 15, according to Iranian officials quoted by the New York Times. The story includes a collage of photos of Iranian youth said to have taken part in the protests, which literally puts a face to their struggles.
From the New York Times:
Lawyers and rights activists estimate that 500 to 1,000 minors are in detention with no clarity on how many are held in adult prisons.
At the juvenile detention facilities the children have been forced to undergo behavior therapy under the supervision of a cleric and a psychologist who tell the children they have committed sins and they must accept their wrongdoing, according to lawyers and rights activists. In several instances the children have been prescribed psychiatric drugs after resisting behavioral treatment, lawyers said.
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