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House Select Committee on China; US Increases Support for Taiwan; Espionage
News Brief (5 MAR 23)
Select Committee on China
House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party - Congress.gov
VERMILION: Often referred to as the “House Select Committee on China,” this committee was established during the 118th Congress (Jan 2023) and was purpose built to focus on economic and security competition with the Chinese Communist Party. Aside from economic coercion, the CCP employs the “Three Warfares” (Information, legal, and psychological warfare) against the United States and allies. Having a designated group to recognize and combat these efforts will likely strengthen the resolve of the American people.
Members of the Select Committee (wikipedia):
WASHINGTON (AP) — A special House committee dedicated to countering China began its work Tuesday with a prime-time hearing in which the panel’s chairman called on lawmakers to act with urgency and framed the competition between the U.S. and China as “an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century.”
While some critics have expressed concern the hearings could escalate U.S.-Chinese tensions, lawmakers sought to demonstrate unity and the panel’s top Democrat made clear that he doesn’t want a “clash of civilizations” but a durable peace.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have been rising for years, with both countries enacting retaliatory tariffs on an array of imports during President Donald Trump’s time in office.
China’s opaque response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its aggression toward Taiwan and the recent flight of a possible spy balloon over the U.S. have fueled lawmakers’ desire to do more to counter the Chinese government. The new Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party is expected to be at the center of many of their efforts over the next two years.
BEIJING (AP) — China lashed out Wednesday at a new U.S. House committee dedicated to countering Beijing, demanding its members “discard their ideological bias and zero-sum Cold War mentality.”
The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party must “view China and China-U.S. relations in an objective and rational light,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing.
“We demand the relevant U.S. institutions and individuals discard their ideological bias and zero-sum Cold War mentality,” she said. They must “stop framing China as a threat by quoting disinformation, stop denigrating the Communist Party of China and stop trying to score political points at the expense of China-U.S. relations.”
VERMILION: Nothing surprising here.
US Increases Support for Taiwan
VERMILION: The temperature of U.S.-China relations rose sharply this week following many high-level events. Between the PLA sorties in the Strait, Blinken’s comments on Taiwan, the foreign military sales deal between the US and Taiwan, comments from Beijing on fast tracking Reunification, and the new intelligence assessment on the covid lab-leak theories, this has been a busy week.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Makes Historic D.C. Trip: Reports - National Review
Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu traveled to Washington, D.C., for meetings with senior U.S. officials yesterday — the first time any of the island nation’s top diplomats has made a visit to the U.S. capital since Washington officially recognized China’s communist regime several decades ago.
Taiwanese media outlets, including the Liberty Times, TVBS Taiwan, and UDN, reported on the secret meeting and published images and media of various U.S. and Taiwanese officials entering and leaving the venue. According to the Liberty Times, Taiwan’s five most senior officials — the president, vice president, premier, foreign minister, and defense minister — had previously been prohibited by the U.S. from coming to Washington on official business. Wu’s trip changed that.
Wu’s trip to Washington follows a sea change in how the U.S. approaches its relationship with Taiwan. In 2018, Congress passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which encouraged more in-person exchanges between officials from the two countries. Then, in the final days of the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo eliminated all of the bureaucratic guidelines constraining U.S. diplomatic engagement with Taiwan, an onerous set of rules that regulated the venue of meetings and display of the Taiwanese flag, among other things. While the decision was the target of media criticism for allegedly constraining the incoming Biden team, Secretary of State Antony Blinken ultimately opted to maintain the elimination of most of those rules, while only putting some of them back in place.
VERMILION: Normalizing high level diplomatic meetings is a small step towards revising the US position of strategic ambiguity.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sent 68 aircraft and 10 warships close to Taiwan since Monday, according to the island’s defence ministry, while the US confirmed its P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane had been deployed to fly through the Taiwan Strait.
The Chinese military jets were deployed just after the US Navy announced on Monday that the P-8A was flying through the Taiwan Strait.
The US Seventh Fleet said it considered the Taiwan Strait an international waterway, and that operations like Monday’s transit would continue.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows, including within the Taiwan Strait,” it said, adding that the plane was operating in “international airspace”.
VERMILION: These flights are in protest to Blinken’s comments on Taiwan and not in protest to the approved sale of $619 million USD of missiles and equipment for F-16’s to Taiwan. The Biden administration has approved nine Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases during its tenure, but these sales do not infuriate Beijing as much as Blinken refuting a key claim from Beijing that Taiwan is “internal matter.”
The United States has approved the sale of US$619 million of missiles for Taiwan’s F-16 fleet in a new arms deal that the self-ruled island has welcomed as important in deterring a potential attack from the People’s Liberation Army.
In a statement on Thursday, the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency announced that the US State Department had approved a possible sale to Taiwan of F-16 munitions and related equipment worth US$619 million.
The agency said the island had asked to buy 100 AGM-88B high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARM); 23 HARM training missiles; 200 AIM-120C-8 advanced medium range air-to-air missiles; four AIM-120C-8 AMRAAM guidance sections; and 26 LAU-129 multipurpose launchers.
Also included were LAU-118A missile launchers with aircraft launcher interface computer; AIM-120C captive air training missiles; dummy air training missiles, integration, test and munitions support and equipment; spare parts and technical and related logistics support.
It said the sale would provide Taiwan with “the defence of its airspace, regional security and interoperability with the US”, but would not alter “the basic military balance in the region”.
“In the face of the Chinese Communists routinely dispatching warplanes and drones to harass our air-defence identification zone and disrupt the freedom of our air operations – which has created serious military threats to us – we thank the US military decision to continue to supply us with defensive weapons that help to maintain stability in the region,” Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
It said the two types of missiles were required by the island’s air force to help Taiwan effectively deal with threats and provocation from the PLA.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry described the proposed sale as a strong US security commitment to help upgrade Taiwan’s defence capability and fresh proof of solid US-Taiwan relations.
The latest proposed sale is set to infuriate Beijing, which has strongly protested against the US supplying arms to Taiwan in all earlier deals, including during the Biden and previous administrations.
Beijing on Tuesday slammed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for his recent comments on Taiwan, calling them “totally irresponsible and absurd”.
Speaking at a regular press briefing in Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning questioned Blinken’s intentions and stressed that the issue of Taiwan is an untouchable red line in US-China relations.
In an interview with The Atlantic to mark the first anniversary of the Ukraine-Russia war, Blinken was asked if the war has hastened Beijing to take military action against Taiwan. He replied: “One of the reasons that the world is so concerned about a crisis across the Taiwan Strait is because this is not an internal matter, as China would have it, based on its sovereignty. It’s a matter of concern to quite literally the entire world.”
He went on to say: “Fifty per cent of the commercial container traffic goes through [the Taiwan] strait every day. A big majority of the semiconductors that the world needs for everything from our smartphones, our dishwashers, to our automobiles are produced on Taiwan.
“If there were a crisis in Taiwan as a result of China’s aggression in some fashion, that would have, I think, disastrous consequences for the world economy and for countries around the world. And that’s a message too that Beijing is hearing increasingly,” a transcript of the interview posted on the State Department’s website read.
But Mao dismissed Blinken’s comments and warned the US against forging closer ties or steps up defence cooperation with Taiwan.
“We call on the US side to rein back at the brink of the precipice … The US side will suffer grave consequences and pay a heavy price if it is determined to go down its wrong path,” Mao said.
Earlier this month Blinken cancelled a planned trip to China in the wake of the controversy about an alleged Chinese spy balloon.
Mao also chided South Korea about Taiwan this week, warning Seoul to strictly abide by the one-China principle, which emphasises Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan.
Last week Foreign Minister Park Jin told CNN: “We are opposed to unilateral change of [the] status quo by force. So in that sense, we will make sure that if something happens in the Taiwan Strait, we have to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
“Peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is essential for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, and it’s indispensable for security and prosperity of the region as a whole.”
But Mao warned that if Seoul did not respect the one-China principle it could undermine the stability of the Korean peninsula.
“The Taiwan issue is China’s internal affair and no business of foreign countries,” she said on Monday.
“If the Korean side wants to safeguard peace and stability on the peninsula, then it must respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, strictly abide by the one-China principle and handle the Taiwan issue carefully.”
The following day, she returned to the topic, saying the importance of the one-China principle “can never be overstated”.
Beijing will speed up its “reunification” plan for Taiwan, a deputy to the top legislature said ahead of its annual meeting that starts this weekend.
“The [Communist] Party’s overall strategy for resolving the Taiwan issue in the new era has basically taken shape, and the strategic goals and focus of the future reunification cause have also become very clear,” National People’s Congress deputy Li Yihu said.
“The mainland will promote national reunification on a fast development track,” Li told China Review News Agency in an interview published on Monday.
Li made the remarks days before this year’s meetings of the top legislative and political advisory bodies – known as the “two sessions” – begin on Saturday.
A series of new policies, including on Taiwan, are expected to be unveiled during the gathering, along with the defence budget and a government reshuffle. Comments made by NPC deputies such as Li can provide some insight into Beijing’s policymaking, which remains largely secretive.
In the interview, Li – who is also dean of the Taiwan Research Institute at Peking University – said 2022 was an “extraordinary” year for cross-strait ties and that its major events would “have a certain impact on the future direction” of the relationship.
He said Taiwan policy had been formulated, with the report from the ruling party’s national congress in October offering the “highest guiding principles”, while its opposition to Taiwanese independence was enshrined in the constitution and a white paper on the issue released.
Li also said Beijing was more focused on opposing “interference” in the Taiwan Strait after provocations by Taipei and Washington, including then US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in August.
He said tensions could again rise if Pelosi’s successor, Kevin McCarthy, goes ahead with a trip to the island this year, and if Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen were to visit the US.
“In terms of US-Taiwan collusion, the United States may also play the ‘Taiwan card’ more actively to contain the rise of mainland China,” Li said.
He said the two sides of the strait lacked the foundation for political consultation since Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party had rejected the one-China principle, which he said was a precondition to resume dialogue and build political trust.
VERMILION: Li Yihu is known for aggressive comments on Cross-Strait Relations. He may be a deputy to the National People’s Congress and head of Peking University's Taiwan Studies Institute, but he is not a main player in the formulation of China’s foreign policy. His comments could pre-date these “new policies” on Taiwan coming out of the “Two Sessions” or Liang Hui in early March, but we’ll have to wait and see the significance of these measures.
VERMILION: Intelligence and espionage is a core component of the CCP. Excellence in intelligence is what allows the CCP to control their own people and keep foreign countries from understanding what is happening within China, and this translates abroad. The CCP actively uses human intelligence, counterintelligence, and cyber intelligence resources to effectively penetrate free and open societies. Australia, the US, Canada, and many other democratic countries are starting to communicate to their domestic population just how deeply the CCP has penetrated their civil societies. The Chinese advantage in this environment will be extremely difficult to counter. Ethnically homogenous authoritarian countries are a tough nut to crack.
Australia faces an unprecedented threat of espionage and foreign interference with more Australians being targeted by agents than ever before, the head of the nation’s main domestic spy agency said on Tuesday.
Multiple nations were using espionage and foreign interference to advance their interests and undermine Australia’s, Mike Burgess, secretary-general of security at the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, said in his 21-page assessment speech.
“They [China] are using espionage to covertly understand Australia’s politics and decision-making, our alliances and partnerships, and our economic and policy priorities,” Burgess said.
“Based on what ASIO is seeing, more Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than at any time in Australia’s history – more hostile foreign intelligence services, more spies, more targeting, more harm, more ASIO investigations, more ASIO disruptions.”
He added, “From where I sit, it feels like hand-to-hand combat.”
His comments were released to the media before the speech at ASIO headquarters in the Australian capital Canberra.
He said his agency had noticed an uptick in online targeting of people working in Australia’s defense industry since September 2021, when U.S. President Joe Biden, then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a three-way agreement known as AUKUS to provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered by U.S. nuclear technology.
Chinese state-backed hackers APT27, also known as Iron Tiger, have developed a malware toolkit called SysUpdate that targets devices running on the Linux operating system.
Iron Tiger is known for carrying out cyber espionage on behalf of the Chinese government. It was first spotted in 2009 and typically targets governments, defence companies and critical national infrastructure in Asia, America and the Middle East.
It operates as part of a larger syndicate of Chinese cyber espionage gangs called TiltedTemple, another member of which has recently been uncovered in a spear phishing attack on Belgian MP Samuel Cogolati.
The MP was reportedly targeted in January 2021 while writing a resolution to warn of “crimes against humanity” against Uyghur Muslims in China. The Belgian Centre for Cyber Security Belgium (CCB) wrote that the MP had probably been infected by the specific Chinese cybercriminal, a move that was seen uncharacteristically bold as it called out the Chinese hackers directly.
VERMILION: China state-backed cyber espionage groups are proving to be an ever increasing headache for the US and allies. There is a limited amount of knowledge on these organizations and how they operate.