India-China Talks - Wang Yi's Sub-continent Visit - Ukraine War: Narrative, Diplomacy, NATO, & Russia - China on US Cyber-activities - Solomon Islands Pact - MU5735 Crash - Political Inspections
I. Wang Yi’s India Visit
by Manoj Kewalramani
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s ‘surprise’ visit to India was the first by a senior Chinese official since the standoff in Eastern Ladakh began in April 2020. Wang flew into India after an actual surprise visit to Afghanistan. Before going to Afghanistan, Wang was in Pakistan, where his comment about Kashmir at the OIC meeting led to an angry retort from the Indian MEA.
Anyway, while in India, Wang met with National Security Advisor and SR on boundary talks Ajit Doval first before meeting with Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar. According to the Indian foreign minister’s press briefing immediately after the talks, the meeting lasted around three hours. It is important to note that the Indian foreign minister actually did this briefing soon after the talks. It was a sign of how important it is for India to get ahead in setting the narrative. I’ll discuss some of this later in this section.
First, here are the key points from what Jaishankar said:
The two sides “addressed a broad and substantive agenda in an open and candid manner." We discussed our bilateral relations that have been disturbed as a result of Chinese actions since April 2020. The occasion provided an opportunity to exchange views on major international issues, including Afghanistan and Ukraine. We also took up some other important concerns in our bilateral relationship, including education, travel and commerce.”
“We have had 15 rounds of talks between Senior Commanders and progress has been achieved on several friction points from the disengagement perspective. This needs to be taken forward since the completion of disengagement is necessary for discussions on de-escalation to take place. I would describe our current situation as work in progress, obviously at a slower pace than desirable and my discussions with FM Wang Yi today were aimed at expediting the process.”
“The frictions and tensions that arise from China’s deployments since April 2020 cannot be reconciled with a normal relationship between two neighbours. Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke about China’s desire for a return to normalcy, while also referring to the larger significance of our ties. I was equally forthcoming that India wants a stable and predictable relationship. But restoration of normalcy will obviously require a restoration of peace and tranquillity. If we are both committed to improving our ties, then this commitment must find full expression in ongoing disengagement talks.”
“We had an extensive exchange of views on a number of contemporary matters. I laid out India’s principled approach to international relations based on respect for international law, UN Charter and sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. Disputes should be resolved without use or threat of use of force. Nor should there be attempts to unilaterally change the status quo. Where India and China are concerned, our relationship is best served by observing the three mutuals – mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests.”
Responding to questions from the media, Jaishankar emphasised the “abnormality” of India-China relations owing to the PLA’s ingress into Eastern Ladakh. On the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he sought to emphasise the differences between the Chinese and Indian viewpoints:
“Regarding Ukraine, well, I would say my most, sort of, accurate characterization would be that, you know, Mr. Wang Yi presented the Chinese understanding, the Chinese view of the situation developed there and the developments pertaining to it, and I presented the Indian view. I think, the Indian view, many of you may have heard me speak about it yesterday in Parliament as well. And obviously what he said was his view and what I said was my view, but where we had a common element was that both of us agreed on the importance of an immediate ceasefire, as well as a return to diplomacy and dialogue.”
He also said that the topic of the Quad “was not raised. So, there was no conversation on Quad.” And he added that neither was the idea of the Indo-Pacific discussed. Jaishankar also said that China’s hosting of the BRICS summit later this year was discussed. He said: “Then, regarding the visit, the question of invitation to the BRICS - Yes, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and I discussed the Chinese chairing of the BRICS and they spoke obviously about hosting a summit at which they would like naturally the participation of all the leaders.” Finally, he was clear that India had not been invited for a meeting on Afghanistan’s neighbours that Beijing plans to host.
The Chinese side, meanwhile, issued three separate readouts — two of these are around the meeting between Wang and Doval. Each of the Chinese readouts painted a much more positive picture of the bilateral relationship. The first readout shared Wang’s three-point formula:
First, both sides should view bilateral relations from a long-term perspective…Both sides should adhere to the strategic judgment made by the leaders of the two countries that ‘China and India should not be a threat to each other, but an opportunity for each other's development’, put the differences on the boundary issue in a proper place in bilateral relations, and stick to the right direction of bilateral ties.
Second, China and India should view each other’s development with a win-win mentality. China welcomes India's development and revitalization, and supports India in playing a more important role in international affairs. China does not pursue the so-called ‘unipolar Asia’ and respects India’s traditional role in the region. China is ready to explore the ‘China-India Plus’ cooperation in South Asia and forge a sound interaction model, so as to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results at a higher level and in a wider range.
Third, both countries should participate in multilateral processes with a cooperative posture. This year and the next will witness ‘Asia Moment’ in global governance. China will host the BRICS summit, and India will host the summits of the Group of Twenty and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. If China and India speak with one voice, the whole world will listen; if the two countries join hands, the whole world will pay attention. The two sides should step up communication and coordination, support each other, send more positive signals for upholding multilateralism, and inject more positive energy into improving global governance.
The report also adds this:
“Doval appreciated China’s profound thinking and constructive opinions on India-China relations, saying that India also believes that India and China, as partners rather than rivals, should not let the boundary issue affect the overall bilateral relations…Just as rocks can’s stop rivers from rushing forward, differences between the two sides should not change the positive trend of bilateral relations. Both sides should make efforts to remove obstacles and interference affecting bilateral ties and strive for an early return of bilateral relations to the right track…The two sides affirmed the results of the China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting and diplomatic consensus, and agreed to speed up the resolution of individual remaining problems, properly manage and control the ground situation, and avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment. The two sides agreed to follow the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question signed in 2005, and solve the boundary issue through peaceful and friendly consultations without using or threatening to use force against each other.”
The readout of Wang Yi’s chat with Jaishankar, which was also published in the People’s Daily, says:
“As the world is entering a new phase of turbulence and transformation, the two countries should strengthen communication, coordinate stances, safeguard respective legitimate interests and the common interests of the developing countries, and make respective contributions to peace and stability in the region and beyond…Wang Yi said, as mature and rational major developing countries, China and India should put the boundary issue in a proper place in bilateral relations, and should not let the boundary issue define or even affect the overall development of bilateral relations. China and India should help each other succeed, rather than engage in attrition; support each other, rather than exclude each other. The two sides need to uphold the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries that ‘China and India pose no threat but offer development opportunities to each other’, properly resolve the boundary question, and manage and control differences, so as to contribute to the development of bilateral relations.”
Also these four points:
The two sides agreed that it is in the common interests of both countries to restore peace and tranquility in the border areas, and the two countries should achieve regular management and control of the areas on the basis of disengagement, and take effective measures to avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment.
The two sides believe that China and India share the same or similar positions on major international and regional issues. Efforts should be made to understand and support each other to provide more positive energy to the unstable world.
The two sides agreed to engage in dialogue and communication on deepening economic and trade cooperation, facilitating personnel exchanges, and promoting exchanges on the transboundary river hydrology.
The two sides also exchanged views on the prevention and control of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and multilateral affairs, and agreed that multilateralism should be upheld, the UN Charter and international law should be abided by, and disputes should be settled peacefully via dialogue. The two sides also expressed grave concerns over the impact of unilateral sanctions on the global economy and supply chain security.
First, I read Wang Yi’s three-point formula as sort of Wuhan 2018 redux. I am not sure there are many takers for this argument in India at present, particularly with the standoff in Ladakh continuing. For any of these fanciful notions about the Asia Moment or not seeking a unipolar Asia, Beijing’s actions rather than words will determine the trajectory. At present, I view all of this as tactical adjustments considering the developments related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China hosting the BRICS summit later this year. The Doklam experience in 2017 did demonstrate that getting summitry right matters to Beijing. That said, it is indeed in both sides’ interests that there is peace and tranquility at the LAC and that the pre-April 2020 status quo is restored. However, a note of caution is warranted. Even if disengagement and subsequently de-escalation are achieved, it will take a long time, sustained effort and trust-building — not just politically but also on the ground — in order to achieve normalcy.
Second, there was this excellent question by Suhasini Haider from The Hindu to Jaishankar during the briefing. She asked: “if your conversations have been on every part of the bilateral relationship - trade, travel, you've discussed multilateral issues, the UN Security Council reforms. Would this be then a sort of return to normalcy in bilateral talks?” For what it’s worth, in my view, normalcy should not be thought of in terms of the buckets of issues that are being discussed or that the two sides are agreeing to discuss in the future. Some of these are and should be par for the course considering immediate concerns and India’s national interests. Rather, normalcy should be viewed from the perspective of whether the dialogue that is taking place is aimed at tapping the potential for growth and deepening the relationship. If this is the yardstick, then it is clear that the India-China relationship is nowhere close to normal.
Third, it is unsurprising that the Chinese side has sought to portray New Delhi and Beijing’s views on the war in Ukraine as “similar.” In contrast, the Indian side sought to portray them as rather distinct. I guess this was one of the key agenda points for Wang’s visit, i.e., to get a sense of the mood in Delhi and project commonalities. This works for the domestic narrative and to potentially create a wedge between India and the US, particularly when there has been some disquiet in Washington over India’s position on the matter. It’s also interesting to note that the Chinese readout talks about “grave concerns” being expressed regarding sanctions and impact on supply chains. It’s not surprising that these issues would have been discussed. The sanctions imposed by the West and global commodity market upheavals do have a significant impact on India. But it’s worth noting that the Indian official narrative excluded any mention of this.
Finally, on the narrative setting effort, do check out this thread on Dmitry Medvedev’s recent comments:
And this thread one:
Adding to Tanvi’s thread, do check out these comments from Russian Ambassador to India Denis Alipov.
“India hasn’t rushed to join the closely-knit Western clique, despite all the calls and pressure exerted to take a position denouncing Russia, and New Delhi did not do it, primarily because it pursues its own strategic interests under the current situation," Alipov pointed out. "It is a mistake to believe that India has sided with Russia, as well as it is wrong to believe, as Western countries apparently think, that India supports Russia. That is not the case. As far as we are concerned, we would like more pronounced support from India. But nevertheless, it sticks to this neutral path, precisely because it is pursuing a policy of strategic autonomy that the Indian leadership has repeatedly voiced,” the Russian envoy noted.
II. The Ukraine War: China Diplomacy, NATO, Biden’s Speech, & China-Russia Ties
by Manoj Kewalramani
SCMP’s Jun Mai gets it spot on when he argues that Beijing is seeking to rally support among developing nations for its position on Russia’s war on Ukraine. This week Wang Yi was not just on a visit to the Indian sub-continent but he also met with foreign ministers from Algeria, Egypt, Tanzania and Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia and Niger. I covered most of these conversations in my daily tracker through the week. One of the key agenda items of these meetings has been to project commonalities in views about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In addition, Xi Jinping spoke to British PM Boris Johnson and South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.
“Recognizing the different national conditions of China and the UK and hence different development paths, President Xi pointed out the need for the two sides to take a strategic and long-term perspective, uphold mutual respect, keep an open and inclusive mindset, increase dialogue and exchange, and expand mutually beneficial cooperation. He affirmed China’s candid, open and inclusive attitude toward dialogue and cooperation with the UK. He called on the UK to view China and China-UK relations in an objective and impartial light and work with China to keep moving the bilateral ties forward.”
“The two leaders also exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine. President Xi expounded on China’s principled position, stressing the need for the international community to make genuine efforts to promote peace talks, create conditions for a political settlement of the Ukraine issue, and facilitate an early return of peace in Ukraine. He expressed China’s readiness to play a continued, constructive role to this end.”
So what we have seen is that China has not been able to condemn the invasion. They abstained in the UN General Assembly on the vote on the resolution clearly condemning the invasion. We have also seen that Chinese state authorities have spread some of the same lies about Ukraine and about NATO and in that way, probably the political support to Russia. And of course, for NATO, it is of particular concern that China now for the first time has questioned some of the key principles of our security, including the right for every nation in Europe to choose its own path. Because in the joint statement between President Xi and President Putin, they actually, together, stated that they are against any further enlargement of NATO and that is new. Partly that they work so closely together and partly that China joins Russia in trying to deny European nations the freedom to choose their own path. And therefore, we call on Russia, and I expect the leaders when they meet tomorrow, to call on China to condemn the invasion and to engage in diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful way to end this war as soon as possible and not providing material support.
The statement following the summit had a specific paragraph mentioning China too. It said:
“We call on all states, including the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to uphold the international order including the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, as enshrined in the UN Charter, to abstain from supporting Russia’s war effort in any way, and to refrain from any action that helps Russia circumvent sanctions. We are concerned by recent public comments by PRC officials and call on China to cease amplifying the Kremlin’s false narratives, in particular on the war and on NATO, and to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”
The Chinese foreign ministry responded to this by discussing NATO’s bombing of the erstwhile Yugoslavia and saying:
NATO is convening a summit on Ukraine on the 23rd anniversary of its bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. I wonder if the US and other NATO members have asked themselves: What is the root cause of the Ukraine crisis? What responsibility should the US and NATO assume? Before reflecting on their crimes against the people in countries like Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan, the US and NATO have neither right nor authority to judge others. Born out of the Cold War, NATO serves no other purpose than war. It has never contributed to peace and security of our world and will never do so. All those who truly love peace and are committed to advancing peace will resolutely reject NATO’s continued expansion.
To another question, Wang Wenbin said:
We always believe that security is indivisible. Seeking bloc confrontation and absolute security will only lead to the most insecure scenario. Ukraine should be a bridge for communication between the East and the West, rather than the frontline for major power rivalry. Countries in Europe should work to build a balanced, effective and sustainable regional security architecture, rather than redraw the line of confrontation between the East and the West. The US and NATO should hold dialogue with Russia, rather than start a new Cold War. We always hold that there should be no double standard in international relations. Ukraine’s sovereignty and security should be upheld, and Russia’s legitimate security concerns should also be respected. Europe’s peace and stability should be defended. The same goes for other countries. One shall not wage wars across the world while saying it’s against war, or wantonly shatter peace while claiming to uphold peace.
I think the Cold War narrative from Beijing too is going to get a serious boost after Joe Biden’s speech in Warsaw last night. Some excerpts:
“Today’s fighting in Kyiv and Mariupol and Kharkiv are the latest battle in a long struggle: Hungary, 1956; Poland, 1956 then again 1981; Czechoslovakia, 1968. Soviet tanks crushed democratic uprisings, but the resistance continued until finally, in 1989, the Berlin Wall and all of the walls of Soviet domination — they fell. They fell. And the people prevailed. (Applause.) But the battle for democracy could not conclude and did not conclude with the end of the Cold War. Over the last 30 years, the forces of autocracy have revived all across the globe. Its hallmarks are familiar ones: contempt for the rule of law, contempt for democratic freedom, contempt for the truth itself.”
“That’s why — that’s why I came to Europe again this week with a clear and determined message for NATO, for the G7, for the European Union, for all freedom-loving nations: We must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul. We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after and for the years and decades to come. It will not be easy. There will be costs. But it’s a price we have to pay. Because the darkness that drives autocracy is ultimately no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere. Time and again, history shows that it’s from the darkest moments that the greatest progress follows. And history shows this is the task of our time, the task of this generation.”
Biden ended with this line for Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” The White House subsequently sought to clarify this remarks, with an official saying: “The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change.”
Quick thought: Yeah, I think this remark would have been heard loud and clear in Beijing too, confirming some of the deep-seated anxieties about the objective of US policy vis-a-vis China. It’s going to be tough turning back from this. And when you put this comment in the context of the above two paragraphs, it’s likely to cement the understanding that there is indeed a new Cold War that is taking shape, with regime change and systemic change being key objectives of US policy. Even in the narrow sense of this being just about Russia, it is worth noting that Putin’s ouster — even through domestic upheaval — is likely to have a ripple effect on Chinese politics too. Xi Jinping has a vested interest in seeing Putin survive.
Moving on, while the West continues to debate Beijing’s support for Russia, there are some limits that are becoming clearer. For instance, Bloomberg reports that:
“European Union officials suspect that China may be ready to supply semiconductors and other tech hardware to Russia as part of an effort to soften the impact of sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. The EU is concerned that China is ready to help President Vladimir Putin’s government weather the economic penalties it has put in place along with the U.S., the U.K. and Japan with particular focus on the availability of high-tech components, according to two people with knowledge of the bloc’s internal assessments. U.S. officials have also warned that Beijing may provide help to Putin, and China’s potential influence on the situation in Ukraine was a central issue in discussions Thursday between President Joe Biden and his allies from NATO, the Group of Seven industrialized nations and the EU in Brussels. At the NATO summit there was a broad consensus that the allies should prevent China from getting too close to Russia, but there was no agreement on how they should achieve that, another diplomat said.”
Amid this, it’s also worth noting that earlier this week US NSA Jake Sullivan said that “he has not seen any evidence of China providing military equipment to Russia.” Also, while there has been some talk from the US about secondary sanctions, this Bloomberg report by Lisa Du and Nick Wadhams offers a different take. They report that:
“Chinese companies and government officials are rushing to find out how to comply with U.S. sanctions on Russia, easing concerns in the Biden administration that Beijing will help Vladimir Putin evade them. Chinese diplomats in Washington have been in contact with U.S. counterparts asking for granular details on the sanctions, according to people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified. That’s encouraged U.S. officials, even though they remain wary that China may simply be looking for loopholes to help Russia, the people said. For now, they added, there’s no consideration of imposing Iran-style secondary sanctions.”
In the interim, Reuters reports that China’s Sinopec Group has suspended talks for a major petrochemical investment and a gas marketing venture in Russia. The report adds:
“Since Russia invaded a month ago, China’s three state energy giants - Sinopec , China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) (0883.HK) - have been assessing the impact of the sanctions on their multi-billion dollar investments in Russia, sources with direct knowledge of the matter said. ‘Companies will rigidly follow Beijing's foreign policy in this crisis,’ said an executive at a state oil company. ‘There's no room whatsoever for companies to take any initiatives in terms of new investment.’ The Ministry of Foreign Affairs this month summoned officials from the three energy companies to review their business ties with Russian partners and local operations, two sources with knowledge of the meeting said. One said the ministry urged them not to make any rash moves buying Russian assets. The companies have set up task forces on Russia-related matters and are working on contingency plans for business disruptions and in case of secondary sanctions, sources said.”
Finally, do note this recent comment by Qin Gang, China’s ambassador to the US.
“China and Russia’s cooperation has no forbidden areas, but it has a bottom line,” Ambassador Qin Gang told state-backed broadcaster Phoenix TV on Wednesday. “That line is the tenets and principles of the United Nations Charter, the recognized basic norms of international law and international relations.” “This is the guideline we follow in bilateral relations between China and any other country,” Qin added, responding to a question about Beijing’s commitment to Moscow following its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
At the same time, however, the domestic narrative continues to be extremely supportive and sympathetic of the Russian viewpoint and critical of the United States. For instance, check out these two threads below.
Also The Economist’s David Rennie has an excellent piece talking about China’s talking points on the war. He says: “China’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping, has given instructions that Russia is to be defended and America held responsible for Ukraine’s woes, leaving underlings to ‘backfill a foreign policy’ around that decision, a foreign diplomat based in Beijing explains.”
In addition, check out this thread:
Along with all this, do also note this excellent piece by Kathrin Hille for the Financial Times on the diversity of voices and debate within China about the war in Ukraine. She writes:
China’s government has leaned towards Russia by backing Moscow’s complaints about Nato expansion and refusing to call its actions an invasion. But while Beijing’s censors are working hard to suppress any criticism of that position, the conflict has ignited heated controversy both among Chinese policy experts and the public. Analysts say the debate shows the strains caused by a clash between alignment with Russia and long-avowed Chinese diplomatic principles as Beijing struggles to assess how the war will affect its interests. “The discussions are pretty intense. There are a lot of different points of view on this, the debate is extremely diverse,” said Zhao Tong, senior fellow at Carnegie Tsinghua Center in Beijing. The fiercest arguments are raging about basic beliefs. “It is about right and wrong,” said Yun Sun, a China foreign policy expert at the Stimson Center in Washington. “I am struck by how intense the debate is, not just among policy folks, but also among ordinary people.” Zhang Guihong, an international relations professor at Fudan University, said China needed to better balance its values and its interests. “We have been leaning towards Russia. But there is a bottom line which we need to insist upon,” he said, citing respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, two principles China says guides its foreign policy. “In international relations, there are two legal options to use force: one is a mandate from the UN Security Council, the other is self-defence,” Zhang added. “Although Russia felt threatened, for example by Nato expansion, that is a future threat, not a direct one that would justify self-defence.”
Finally, one big reason for Beijing to be concerned about all of this is the shift in the flow of money. Bloomberg reports:
China has seen investors pull money out of the country on an “unprecedented” scale since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, marking a “very unusual” shift in global capital flows in emerging markets, according to the Institute of International Finance. High-frequency data detected large portfolio outflows from Chinese stocks and bonds, even as flows to other emerging markets held up, the IIF wrote in a report Thursday.
III. Region Watch
by Shibani Mehta
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi toured South Asia this week, with unannounced stops in India, Afghanistan and Nepal. The first stop on Monday was Pakistan, China’s top ally and Wang’s “second home”. The Minister was invited as a special guest to the 48th session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Council of Foreign Ministers (OIC-CFM). Beijing used this opportunity to steer its narrative on the treatment of Muslim minorities claiming immense respect China has for its shared history with the Islamic world. He said China would support Islamic countries in “exploring a developing path suitable to their own needs” and would stand with the region to defend national integrity, territorial sovereignty and autonomy. China has also presented itself as a party eager to solve and mediate the “Afghanistan problem” and Wang repeated this in his meeting with Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
The Chinese foreign ministry made a statement following a meeting on Monday in Pakistan to announce,
‘... concerns about the spill-over effects of unilateral sanctions,’ against Russia.
Pakistan's foreign ministry also issued a statement on the talks in Islamabad, echoing Beijing’s call for a ceasefire, but it did not mention concern about sanctions. The two sides also signed five agreements to deepen their bilateral cooperation.
Wang’s unannounced trip to Kabul on Thursday was China’s highest-level visit to the country since the Taliban took over in August 2021 following the retreat of the United States’ 20-year military operation. It is reported that Wang was personally received by the Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
Nepal, Wang’s last stop on a swing through the region, to make headway on initiating at least two BRI projects. However, it is reported that none of the agreements signed with the Himalayan nation was related to the BRI.
Observers said the unannounced nature of the trip was highly unusual and motivated in part by Beijing’s fears of diplomatic isolation.
‘...South Asian countries are important for stabilising China’s external environment ahead of the Communist Party’s national congress and China has to make efforts to try to sway their opinions, which is the key message of Wang’s tour,’
Gu Su, a political analyst at Nanjing University told SCMP.
Despite challenges, Beijing’s diplomatic efforts continue to be consistent.
‘Efforts should be made to improve political relations, strengthen economic ties, deepen security cooperation, and foster closer humanitarian ties with neighbouring areas.’President Xi Jingping said in a speech at the 2013 symposium on peripheral diplomacy.
A strategic departure from Jiang Zemin’s emphasis on great powers, by returning focus on China’s neighbours, President Xi has prioritised Asian countries more than his counterparts in the US and UK, who most frequently travelled to Europe. This has reshaped the way that Chinese diplomats at all levels engage with the world, and have increasingly engaged social media to assert China’s stances on political issues. However, overseas visits by top officials provide unique insights into foreign policy priorities and the conduct of diplomacy.
IV. US Cyber-activities in China
by Megha Pardhi
During the March 24th press conference, Wang Wenbin, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China responded to a question on a report released by Chinese security company Qihoo 360 about US National Security Agency's (NSA) cyber-activities in China in addition to other countries. (Global Times Article)
Here is a full response :
Question by CCTV: Previously, the Chinese cybersecurity company named 360 released the report on indiscriminate cyberattacks across the world launched by the APT-C-40 group of the US National Security Agency (NSA) over the past decade or so. The company recently disclosed in full the technical features of “Quantum”, the most powerful cyberweapon used by the NSA to attack targets in China mentioned in the report. Do you have any further comment?
Response by Wang Wenbin:
Wang Wenbin: I noted relevant reports. The latest revelation shows that “Quantum” is an advanced cyber hijacking tool that the NSA has specially designed for attacking state-level Internet. The US can use this technology to attack all Internet users browsing US websites such as Twitter, YouTube, Amazon as well as Chinese social media applications. This means no matter who you are and where you are, Big Brother is probably watching you whenever you log on to a social media platform.
In recent years, the US has proposed to build the so-called “Clean Network”, has been brewing the so-called “Alliance for the Future of the Internet”, and has used cyber capacity building as a pretext to strengthen cybersecurity cooperation with many countries. However, as the report reveals, many countries the US works with are also targets of its cyberattacks. As we can see from exposed operations such as “Dirtbox”, “PRISM”, “Irritant Horn” and “Telescreen”, the US doesn’t even spare its allies and partners in its global cyber surveillance and attacks. In this sense, the so-called “Clean Network” is nothing but a mirage to camouflage US surveillance and cyber theft across the globe and an “invisibility cloak” to conceal its true face as the “empire of hacking”.
We once again urge the US to act responsibly in cyberspace and stop cyber theft and attacks on China and the rest of the world. The US should implement the framework that it insists all other states abide by.
In the span of just a few months, two Chinese cybersecurity and tech companies have released a detailed report of US cyber activities in China. One by Pangu Lab and another by Qihoo 360. Moreover, this is the second time in this month that Qihoo 360 has alleged cyberattacks in China by US agencies. Qihoo 360 had made similar allegations back in 2020 too. The biggest cybersecurity company in China had alleged that the CIA had targeted Chinese companies.
The latest report by Qihoo 360 alleges that NSA has used quantum technology to attack all users who platform like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, along with Chinese social media platforms like QQ. As Global Times reported, "the weapon can monitor and hijack users' social media accounts, emails and communication information."
My thoughts: These reports are the beginning of a strong counternarrative effort by Beijing in response to similar moves by Washington.
Over the years, various institutes and state-affiliated bodies in the US have exposed China's cyber espionage activities in the US and in other countries. The US also holds publicly broadcasted testimony sessions exploring China's cyber activities and threats. These reports and testimonies have taken discourse on China's cyber activities to a global audience, making everyone aware of possible threats arising out of China.
Chinese companies, security experts, and leaders believe that allegations of Chinese cyberattacks are attempts to malign China. Global Times article talks about the views expressed by Chinese companies and experts about Us attempts to malign China. An article published by the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) in 2020 also called out US' "hypocrisy in cybersecurity" after the 2020 Qihoo 360 report. MoFA too had renounced the US as "Hacker Empire" in 2020.
A section in China's intelligentsia had expressed their discontent over the lack of similar reports in China exposing the US' cyber activities.
For example, just a few days before Pangu Lab released its report on US cyber espionage, Hu Xijin, former Global Times editor had expressed discontent over the lack of Chinese reports over US cyber espionage activities.
By leveraging such reports Beijing wants to highlight that the US will space even its partners and allies when it comes to cyberattacks. One, The Pangu Lab report was available in both Mandarin and English, listing all the other countries NSA has allegedly penetrated. This list included targets from India, the UK, Australia, Japan, and many other countries. (See China Tech Dispatch, Issue 20). Two, Wang Wenbin's statement is clearly calling out the US. Notice the statement where he emphasized, "we can see from exposed operations such as “Dirtbox”, “PRISM”, “Irritant Horn” and “Telescreen”, the US doesn’t even spare its allies and partners in its global cyber surveillance and attacks."
V. DJI Caught in Ukraine-Russia War
by Megha Pardhi
I regularly emphasize the utility of dual-use technologies in military applications. Any technology that can be used to gain leverage during a time of crisis will absolutely be used. And that makes it necessary to keep an eye on civilian technologies. The most evident example of this is Chinese technology company DJI's civilian drones being allegedly used by Ukraine and Russia in the ongoing war.
On 16th March, Ukraine's Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, Mykhailo Fedorov, posted on Twitter that Russian troops were using DJI troops to target Ukrainians.
It is notable that the AeroScope functionality which is being allegedly used to target drone users is a civilian tech and was not meant for military use. DJI itself has expressed that the intended functionality of AeroScope was to track rogue drones. DJI had reportedly developed this technology to preempt possible regulations from governments. The Verge quoted a Bloomberg report that this was done on the direction of the Chinese government.
Before we delve into this issue further, it is important to note that DJI is a Chinese drone maker company. It is a leading drone maker company producing a range of drones for civilian and military use. Before the US sanctioned DJI, it was one of the leading suppliers to the US military.
In Dec 2021, the US Department of Treasury has named DJI as one of the eight Chinese tech firms as a part of the Chinese Military-Industrial Complex and placed it under-investment blocklist for enabling human rights abuse by providing surveillance technologies in the Xinjiang region. DJI is also on the US Department of Commerce's Entity List.
DJI's stance on Russia: So far, DJI has refused to stop sales in Russia or pull out of Russia.
How Ukrainians are using drones?
Using aerial cameras to track Russian convoys and send geotagged images to Ukrainian troops.
Using drones to reportedly drop Molotov cocktails
Using military-grade Turkish drones to drop laser-guided bombs
Switchblade kamikaze drones provided by US
VI. China-Solomon Islands Security Pact
by Swayamsiddha Samal
The Solomon Islands has confirmed that it is working on a security agreement with China. Anthony Veke, the Solomon Islands' minister of police, said in a statement on Thursday that he had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on policing collaborations with Wang Xiaohong, executive vice minister of China's Ministry of Public Security, in a virtual meeting on March 18. According to a draft copy of a security memorandum of understanding shared on social media, it would cover Chinese police, armed police, and the military assisting Solomon Islands on social order, disaster response, and safeguarding Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands.
According to a statement issued by the Solomon Islands government on Friday, Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, is in the process of “broadening the country's security partnerships, including with China.” “The Government is working to sign off and implement a number of development toolkits with China in order to further generate a secure and safe atmosphere for local and foreign investments,” said the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The move has alarmed Australia and other Western allies in the Indo-Pacific region. Marise Payne, Australia's Foreign Minister, said “she respected the Pacific islands’ right to make sovereign decisions, but any actions that jeopardize the stability and security of our region, including the establishment of a permanent presence, such as a military base, would be of particular concern to us.” New Zealand also expressed concern as the plan threatened to “destabilize the current institutions and arrangements that have long underpinned the security of the Pacific region.”
The Solomon Islands had established diplomatic ties with Beijing, with the government recognizing mainland China over Taiwan in 2019. The event had sparked distrust with the citizens, resulting in protests. At the request of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Australia had then provided security assistance to the Solomon Islands and led a policing mission to restore order following the riots. The country has also signed a bilateral security agreement with Solomon Islands in 2018 that covers the deployment of police and armed forces.
However, Chinese news website Guancha chastised the Australian media for promoting radical remarks. Australian news outlets called this "Australia's Cuban Missile Crisis'', claiming that the Solomon Islands military base "must become a red line that China must not cross." The media also urged the government to "get ready to invade the Solomon Islands'' and "overthrow the Solomon government".
On March 25th, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded to relevant questions by saying, “We hope that relevant parties will take an objective and calm view and not over-interpret the situation.”
VII. The Long & Short of It…
by Manoj Kewalramani
I thought I’d quickly compile a couple of key domestic news stories from China in this final section.
a. MU5735 Crash: This was a terrible tragedy, as the plane nosedived killing all 132 people on board. China Daily has a good tracker with the latest developments listed out. Also, do read this SCMP story, which informs that the families of the victims of the China Eastern Airlines plane crash have been the focus of official support and close monitoring in the aftermath of the crash. Officials said on Friday that special “task forces” of at least three people had been assigned to each family. The teams comprise an airline representative from or near the family’s city, a support worker in the deceased’s hometown, and a counsellor. The airline has sent more than 300 staff to help the families of the 123 passengers feared dead in the crash.
b. Political Inspections: There was a conference on national disciplinary inspection work in Beijing this week. This also kick-started the 9th inspection round of the 19th CPC Central Committee. Zhao Leji spoke at the meeting highlighting the importance of political standards. The meeting called “for the need to consolidate and deepen political inspections under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and give full play to the important role of inspection in the Party’s quest for self-revolution, constantly improve the ability to identify and solve the Party’s problems, and take concrete actions to greet the 20th Party Congress.” All the key leading central organs are being inspected in this round. You can find the details here.
“Stressing the extreme importance of national energy security, Han said the country should promote the clean and efficient utilization of coal and bolster the fundamental role of coal in energy and power supply. The clean and efficient use of coal is a vital path to achieving the country's carbon peak and carbon neutrality goals, he said, calling for moves to advance a green transition of energy in a scientific and orderly manner. China should focus on key fields and sectors and advance energy conservation and carbon reduction retrofits in coal-intensive industries like power, he said. The vice premier also called for efforts to popularize advanced energy conservation technologies and achieve breakthroughs in core technologies in this field. The country should scale up financial support for clean coal, with measures to anchor market expectation and encourage the participation of social capital.”