NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The House version of the fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill, approved Tuesday, contains multiple requirements for new and detailed reporting on threats posed by China, from the large-scale nuclear buildup to financial and influence activities by Beijing.
The provisions, which still must be endorsed by the Senate in the coming weeks, also include reauthorizing the Pentagon’s annual report on the Chinese military and requiring the next study to be produced by Jan. 31.
For the first time since the report was done in the 1980s, the China military power report will be required to contain a detailed summary of the People’s Liberation Army order of battle, including “anti-access and area denial” weapons and systems; ballistic and cruise missile stocks; cyberwarfare and electronic warfare arms; space and counter-space weapons; nuclear warheads numbers and delivery systems; and command-and-control systems.
The Pentagon also will now be required to detail the PLA presence overseas. The requirement follows reports of new overseas Chinese military bases being sought in Equatorial Guinea and the United Arab Emirates.
The report also will require a new focus on the links between the PLA and Chinese investment abroad; China’s extensive exports of weaponry; and the military’s role in China as an arm of repression for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as well as Chinese espionage involving military technology theft.
On Taiwan, the defense bill contains a “sense of Congress” provision calling Chinese military coercion of the island state a “grave concern” to the United States. The language criticizes China’s “increasingly coercive and aggressive behavior” toward Taiwan and reaffirms the need for U.S. arms and defense support for Taipei.
China’s military in recent months has stepped up aggressive activities toward the island located 100 miles off the mainland.
The legislation states that American support for Taiwan should include weapons sales and cooperation aimed at developing asymmetric warfare capabilities, including anti-ship, coastal defense, anti-armor, air defense, undersea warfare, advanced command and control, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
Timely responses to Taiwan requests for weapons, which were often in the past slow-rolled by pro-China policymakers, also are outlined in the bill, along with the need for stepped-up training and military exercises to increase interoperability between the two militaries. The House version of the bill also specifically calls for inviting Taiwan’s naval forces to join the giant, multinational “Rim of the Pacific” military exercise next year.
Other provisions of the bill call for the Pentagon to study China’s maritime militia forces in the South China Sea, forces that U.S. officials say are being used as surrogates for the Chinese navy to secure control over the waterway.
Another new program in the legislation is a requirement to set up a joint Pentagon-State Department “China Watcher Program” that would seek to monitor and combat China’s malign influence operations “across military, economic and political sectors” in foreign nations. The program would produce an annual report on the nefarious Chinese activities.
The defense bill also includes a provision requiring a special assessment of whether China has abided by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The State Department in January notified Congress that China does not appear to be in compliance with its NPT obligation to engage in arms-reduction talks.
The House bill also calls on the commander of the Strategic Command to inform Congress if China’s inventory of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads exceeds U.S. levels. The provision is based on China’s large-scale expansion of ground-based ICBMs in its western regions, where silos for up to 350 new 10-warheads DF-41 missiles will be based.
Another provision would block Chinese or Russian officials from visiting certain U.S. missile defense sites, an indication that foreign officials in the past may have been granted access to the sites. The restrictions include banning foreigners from the combat information systems aboard Aegis-equipped warships, and at ground-based Aegis missile interceptor sites; and from sites for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense batteries, or ground-based mid-course missile defense interceptor sites.
Legislative provisions also call on the federal government to study financial threats posed by China, including recommendations for limiting the dangers within the International Monetary Fund and the Financial Stability Board from growing Beijing influence.
China linked to Facebook disinformation op
Facebook recently published a study revealing that Chinese state actors took part in a public relations campaign designed to convince publics around the world that the COVID-19 pandemic did not begin in Wuhan, China. The operation was outlined in a November report by Meta, Facebook’s new parent company, on “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
As a result, a network of fake Chinese Facebook accounts was removed from the social media platform. Other fake accounts were found linked to similar operations by Palestinians, Poles and Belarusians.
A total of 737 fraudulent Facebook accounts were killed, along with 115 fake Instagram accounts and 99 false Facebook pages and 26 fake Facebook groups.
Facebook said the Chinese influence operation involved 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages and four groups. All were removed.
The operation was detailed in a section of the report called “The Swiss biologist that never was,” produced by Meta threat intelligence analyst Ben Nimmo. Mr. Nimmo did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the report, the Chinese operation began on July 24 when someone posing as a Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards claimed on Facebook and Twitter that the U.S. government was pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to blame China for the virus outbreak behind the pandemic.
Two days after the posts, hundreds of social media accounts emerged around the world echoing the false persona, followed within a week by headlines claiming U.S. “intimidation” of the WHO in Chinese state media, including the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times and Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
The Meta report described the influence operation as a “hall of mirrors” exhaustively reflecting and amplifying the comments of one fake persona on the platform.
“Our investigation uncovered that almost the entire initial spread of the ‘Wilson Edwards’ story on our platform was inauthentic — the work of a multipronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation that originated in China,” the report said.
“The operation brought together the original fake account, several hundred additional inauthentic accounts and a cluster of authentic accounts, including those that belonged to employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies across four continents. Outside these clusters, only a handful of real people engaged with the operation’s content.”
The Chinese operators behind the campaign sought to mask their identities but Facebook online sleuths found links to government-linked entities, including employees of the Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co, Ltd, a Chinese information security company. Chinese individuals linked to state infrastructure companies also took part.
“This is the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” the report said.
The campaign has been echoed by government propaganda seeking to obscure the origins of the pandemic as emanating from China. Chinese state media have engaged in extensive disinformation operations, citing official Foreign Ministry spokesmen who falsely asserted the virus originated in a U.S. Army laboratory.
Biden official: Taiwan is a model of democracy
The Biden administration this week is hosting an online conference aimed at promoting democracy and has included representatives from Taiwan in the program. A senior administration official who briefed reporters on the program defended the inclusion of the island nation in the participants.
“We see Taiwan as a leading democracy and it has a robust experience in advancing a more transparent, expansive and vibrant democracy,” the official said. “It is a powerful example. We also see it as a global leader in developing best practices for safeguarding against disinformation and the use of emerging technology to make governance more transparent and responsive.”
Asked about Chinese government objections to including Taiwan, the official said the interactions with the Taiwanese would be conducted under the U.S. One-China policy, the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, and other diplomatic notes on China.
“We think Taiwan can make meaningful commitments toward the summit’s objectives of countering authoritarianism, fighting against corruption and advancing human rights at home and abroad,” the official said.
For those reasons, Taiwan has been included in the three-day meeting this week that brought together government leaders and non-government democracy advocates.
The official side-stepped a reporter’s question about recent Chinese state-media reports claiming Beijing’s communist system is a form of democracy.
“We see the summit’s goals as being about much more than one government,” the official said.
The Chinese Communist Party outlet People’s Daily reported on Wednesday that “democracy is a common value of humanity and an ideal that has always been cherished by the Communist Party of China.” That was the conclusion of a government white paper published Dec. 4.
China’s ruling Communist Party has stated in earlier publications that China will never be governed by a Western-style democratic system and that the party believes democracy must be limited to the 93 million members of the CCP and its collective dictatorship under the central committee and seven-member standing committee of the Politburo.
President Biden is scheduled to address Taiwan and the other summit participants Thursday morning.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.