Security Issues

US, Japan hail stronger ties, including 2 new defense deals

US, Japan hail stronger ties, including 2 new defense deals

US, Japan hail stronger ties, including 2 new defense deals

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to deepen their defense cooperation, the United States and Japan will soon sign a new five-year agreement on sharing the cost of the American military presence in Japan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.

Speaking at the outset of a virtual conference between the U.S. and Japanese foreign and defense ministers, Blinken said Tokyo and Washington also will sign a deal on collaborating more closely in research and development of defense-related technologies, including ways to counter threats from hypersonic weapons.

The agreement on a new formula for sharing the cost of the American military presence in Japan ends a Trump-era dispute that had been a significant irritant in U.S.-Japan relations. Blinken said the new deal will enable greater investment in the readiness of both countries’ forces and improve their ability to operate together.


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who participated virtually from his home because he is recovering from a COVID-19 infection, said the U.S.-Japan alliance is increasingly important.

“We’re meeting against a backdrop of increased tensions and challenges to the free, stable and secure Indo-Pacific region that we both seek — challenges posed by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and by the coercive and aggressive behavior of the People’s Republic of China,” Austin said.

“We remain grateful for the support that Japan continues to provide U.S. forces deployed there and for an extraordinary level of mutual cooperation across the full spectrum of military capabilities,” he added.

Concerns about China’s growing military might were manifested in the signing of a defense agreement earlier Thursday between Japan and Australia, the first such pact Japan has sealed with any country other than the United States.

Thursday’s talks could be complicated by the surge in coronavirus cases. Japan asked the U.S before the talks began to lock down American military bases on its soil due to the spread of COVID-19.

That request was made to Blinken by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in a one-on-one phone call before they joined Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi for the virtual conference. None of the four officials mentioned it directly in their introductory statements.

Speaking prior to the four-way conference, Hayashi said Blinken had promised the U.S. would take utmost efforts to ensure people’s health, but it was not immediately clear if a base curfew would be imposed. U.S. Forces in Japan would not comment on the request, but said a team was carefully monitoring cases and trends.

The U.S. military has vowed to take more stringent measures, including requiring all personnel, even those vaccinated, to wear masks on base until a third negative coronavirus test.

American forces have been criticized after a spike in coronavirus cases in areas where they are based in large numbers, including Okinawa and Iwakuni, both in southern Japan. COVID-19 cases among U.S. Forces in Japan now total 1,784, about a third of them on Okinawa, according to USFJ. Iwakuni has reported 529 cases.

Yet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government clearly sees a benefit to the American military presence and shortly before Christmas agreed to a new cost-sharing pact with the United States that is expected to be formally signed on Friday in Tokyo.

Former President Donald Trump had railed about the costs of deployments of U.S. forces abroad and had demanded that host countries, including Japan, pay significantly more for their upkeep than many were prepared to offer, badly straining relations with allies in Asia and Europe.

President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to smooth those disagreements and last April resolved an impasse with South Korea over the costs of keeping U.S. troops there. The Dec. 21 consensus with Japan on a new four-year “Special Measures Agreement” is another tangible result of that policy.

Under the terms of the hosting deal, which will run to 2026, Japan will spend approximately $1.82 billion annually to support the U.S. military presence. The United States has about 55,000 troops in Japan, including a naval contingent, which makes it the largest forward-deployed U.S. force in the world, according to the GAO.

Apart from cementing those terms, the U.S. and Japan are hoping to increase cooperation and coordination on combatting China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region as well as explore ways to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. and Japan are increasingly worried about threats from North Korea, which on Wednesday fired a ballistic missile into the sea in its first weapons launch in about two months.

The test of what the North says was a “hypersonic missile” was widely seen as a signal that Pyongyang isn’t interested in rejoining denuclearization talks anytime soon and would rather focus on boosting its weapons arsenal.

Despite repeated entreaties from the Biden administration the North has declined to rejoin even preliminary discussions on the nuclear issue. State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the North to refrain from further tests, which he said were a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and urged it to respond to offers to restart the talks.

Five countries on the U.N. Security Council — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Ireland and Albania — asked the U.N.’s most powerful body to hold consultations Monday on North Korea’s launch of the hypersonic missile, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement.

Attackers in China using open-source Log4j flaw

Attackers in China using open-source Log4j flaw

Attackers in China using open-source Log4j flaw

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·1 min read

A group of Chinese attackers has been using the massive vulnerability in Log4j, a common piece of open-source code, to target a large academic institution, Crowdstrike says.

Why it matters: Experts say hundreds of millions of systems are vulnerable and that attacks based on the flaw are continuing.

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The latest: CrowdStrike said its software observed an attack that exploited the Log4j flaw in software from VMware.

  • The attack came from a China-based group dubbed Aquatic Panda that has been conducting intelligence gathering and industrial espionage, CrowdStrike said.

The big picture: Some security experts, including Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) head Jen Easterly, have called the flaw among the worst they have ever seen.

  • Experts have told Axios the Log4j flaw is especially pernicious because the open source software is widely used within business software and networking gear — often without companies even knowing it is being used. On top of that, the flaw is easily exploited and can provide extensive access.

Be smart: CISA is maintaining a list of known affected products here.

Go deeper:

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Can America meet its next Sputnik moment?

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Can America meet its next Sputnik moment?

·5 min read

The TechCrunch Global Affairs Project examines the increasingly intertwined relationship between the tech sector and global politics.

The Soviet Union kicked off the Space Age when it propelled the world’s first satellite into space from a desert steppe in Kazakhstan on October 4, 1957. The launch of Sputnik I — a small aluminum orb, no bigger than a beach ball — proved a transformative moment for the United States. It triggered the U.S.-Soviet space race, served as the impetus for new government institutions, and precipitated substantial increases in federal R&D spending and funding for STEM education.

Sputnik was a galvanizing force, providing the shock and momentum needed to revolutionize the country’s science and technology base. In recent years, governmentofficials and lawmakers have called for a new “Sputnik moment” as they reckon with how to successfully compete economically and technologically with China. While a singular, transformative “Sputnik moment” has yet to occur, there is growing consensus in Washington that the U.S. has fallen or is at risk of falling behind China.

Read more from the TechCrunch Global Affairs Project
Read more from the TechCrunch Global Affairs Project

The U.S.-China competition is novel in many ways, but that doesn’t mean America’s way of competing has to be. To reclaim its inimitable role as a driver of American innovation, the U.S. government must muster the kind of energy it did in the aftermath of Sputnik — mobilizing the country’s remarkable talent, institutions and R&D resources — to successfully compete with China.

First, it’s important to revisit what happened 60 some years ago. In the months following Sputnik’s launch, the U.S. government created two new institutions. Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in July 1958, creating NASA and placing the country’s space program under civilian control. NASA’s primary objective was to land a man on the moon, and it was given a lot of money to do it. Its budget increased almost 500% from 1961 to 1964, accounting for nearly 4.5% of federal spending at its peak. NASA took Americans to the moon and contributed to the development of major technologies with wide commercial application.

The federal government also established the Advanced Research Projects Agency (now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA) with the mission to prevent future technology surprises. Its research and work contributed to a variety of technologies that remain critical to America’s economic competitiveness, including GPS, voice recognition, and most notably, the foundational elements for the internet.

The Sputnik launch also motivated the passage of the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958. The NDEA devoted federal funding for STEM and foreign language education and established the country’s first federal student loan program. The NDEA explicitly linked the promotion of education to addressing America’s defense needs, recognizing it as an integral component of U.S. national security.

Sputnik spurred massive growth in federal R&D spending, which was instrumental in creating today’s robust tech and startup community. The federal government was funding close to 70% of total U.S. R&D by the 1960s — more than the rest of the world combined. Government R&D investment has declined in the decades since, however. As the Cold War ended and the private sector started spending more on R&D, federal R&D spending as a percentage of GDP fell from about 1.2% in 1972 to approximately 0.7% in 2018.

As policymakers deliberate on how the U.S. should compete technologically, economically and militarily against China, they should heed the lessons learned in the Sputnik moment.

First, while Sputnik provided the political capital to create new institutions and increase spending on R&D and education, the groundwork for many of these efforts was already in place. NASA built off the work of its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and the preparations for many of the provisions in the NDEA were in motion for some time. Sputnik provided shock and urgency, but the momentum and much of the legwork was already underway. Today, the U.S. government should commit to sustained investment in its science and technology base — ensuring a strong foundation for American innovation no matter what challenge the country faces in the future.

Second, the federal government should establish clear national objectives to direct technology investment and motivate the public to contribute to those priorities. President Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon was unambiguous, inspiring and provided direction for R&D investment. Policymakers should identify specific goals with measurable metrics for critical technology sectors, explaining how these goals will bolster American national security and economic growth.

Finally, while the government’s R&D investments helped spawn remarkable technological advancements, its approach for allocating and overseeing that spending was equally important. As Margaret O’Mara explains in her book, “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America,” federal funding flowed “indirectly” and “competitively,” giving the tech community “remarkable freedom to define what the future might look like” and “push the boundaries of the technologically possible.” The U.S. government must again take care that its investments fuel technological competitiveness without morphing into what could be conceived of as broad-based, inefficient industrial policy.

The phrase “Sputnik moment” is often invoked in an attempt to spur government action and public involvement. And indeed, actions taken in Sputnik’s aftermath are illustrative of what the U.S. government can accomplish when its approach is unified and driven by clear objectives. Rarely, however, has America achieved comparable improvements to the country’s innovation base. That doesn’t have to be the case. After Sputnik, the U.S. government reinvigorated its science and technology base by investing in the people, infrastructure and resources that would ultimately establish American technological hegemony. A new Sputnik spirit today can power American technological competitiveness into the future. Time is of the essence.

Harvard professor convicted by U.S. jury of lying about China ties

Harvard professor convicted by U.S. jury of lying about China ties

Harvard professor convicted by U.S. jury of lying about China ties

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FILE PHOTO: Lieber leaves federal court after being charged in Boston

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) -A Harvard University professor was convicted on Tuesday of U.S. charges that he lied about his ties to a China-run recruitment program in a closely-watched case stemming from a crackdown on Chinese influence within U.S. research.

A federal jury in Boston found Charles Lieber, a renowned nanoscientist and the former chairman of Harvard’s chemistry department, guilty of making false statements to authorities, filing false tax returns and failing to report a Chinese bank account.


Prosecutors alleged that Lieber, in his quest for a Nobel Prize, in 2011 agreed to become a “strategic scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology in China and through it participated in a Chinese recruitment drive called the Thousand Talents Program.

Prosecutors say China uses that program to recruit foreign researchers to share their knowledge with the country. Participation is not a crime, but prosecutors contend Lieber, 62, lied to authorities inquiring about his involvement.

Defense lawyer Marc Mukasey had countered that prosecutors had “mangled” evidence, lacked key documents to support their claims and relied too heavily on a “confused” FBI interview with the scientist after his arrest.

Lieber, who is battling cancer, sat emotionless the verdict was announced following nearly three hours of jury deliberations and a six-day trial.

“We respect the verdict and will keep up the fight,” Mukasey said.

Lieber was charged in January 2020 as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s “China Initiative,” which launched during former President Donald Trump’s administration to counter suspected Chinese economic espionage and research theft.

President Joe Biden’s administration has continued the initiative, though the Justice Department has said it is reviewing its approach.

Critics contend the initiative harms academic research, racially profiles Chinese researchers and terrorized some scientists. A Tennessee professor was acquitted by a judge this year following a mistrial, and prosecutors dropped charges against six other researchers.

Prosecutors said Lieber lied about his role in the Thousand Talents Program in response to inquiries from the U.S. Defense Department and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which had awarded him $15 million in research grants.

During an interview with FBI agents following his arrest, Lieber said he was “younger and stupid” when he linked up with the Wuhan university and believed his collaboration would help boost his recognition.

That school agreed to pay him up to $50,000 per month plus $158,000 in living expenses, and he was paid in cash and deposits to a Chinese bank account, prosecutors said.

Lieber told the FBI he was paid between $50,000 and $100,000 in cash and that the bank account at one time contained $200,000.

But prosecutors said Lieber failed to report his salary on his 2013 and 2014 income tax returns and for two years failed to report the bank account.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in BostonEditing by Bill Berkrot, David Bario, Aurora Ellis and Sonya Hepinstall)

As US and China Warily Eye Each Other, Taiwan Could Be the Flashpoint

As US and China Warily Eye Each Other, Taiwan Could Be the Flashpoint

As US and China Warily Eye Each Other, Taiwan Could Be the Flashpoint

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SIMI VALLEY, California — The United States and China are squaring off in a global competition with a scale unseen since the Cold War, as the two nuclear powers race for military dominance and new weaponry that ranges across the seas, space, cyberspace and beyond.

It’s a rivalry that includes everything from what U.S. officials say are near-daily low-level attacks on satellites such as blinding them with lasers, to U.S. Navy operations challenging China’s claims in the South China Sea, to a race fielding hypersonic missiles that can evade air defenses.

Stuck in the middle is Taiwan, one of the most valuable pieces on the geopolitical chess board — and one many worry could be the flashpoint for war between the United States and China.

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A war with China over Taiwan would be larger than anything the U.S. military has faced in recent decades, when it has been focused on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency rather than preparing to fight against a peer adversary.

China has been stepping up military drills around the island in what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently said appear to be “rehearsals” for an invasion.

Defense officials and analysts worry Taiwan is not well enough defended, as lawmakers and commentators debate whether the U.S. military should intervene if China tries to take Taiwan by force.

“Nobody wants to see this develop into a conflict in this region,” Austin said Dec. 4 at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum. “So we’re going to do everything in our power to help prevent conflict and dial down the temperature whenever possible.”

The status of Taiwan, an island that’s a little bigger than the size of Maryland and home to roughly 23 million people, has been in limbo for more than half a century.

While Taiwan lacks assets that countries traditionally fight over, such as natural resources, it has taken on an outsize importance in U.S.-China competition as both countries see it as symbolic of their larger goal for regional dominance. The island’s location off the coast of China and between southeast and northeast Asia would also make it a strategic asset during any global conflict.

U.S.-China tensions have been flaring over a raft of issues, from the COVID-19 pandemic to trade disputes to China’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims, which the United States has declared a genocide.

Beijing’s rapid military rise especially has caused alarm. U.S. officials point to its leaps forward on hypersonic weapons, an expanding nuclear arsenal and anti-satellite capabilities.

But even as the concerns stack up, it’s Taiwan that is the focus of increasing tension, and the risk of escalation between China and the U.S.

Austin had a broader message for the national security elite gathered at the annual Reagan forum in Simi Valley, California, earlier this month: Don’t panic.

The Taiwan Conundrum

Under decades-old policy, the U.S. maintains what’s called “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan, remaining purposefully vague about whether it would come to the island’s defense if China invades.

The policy is meant to deter China from attacking and discourage Taiwan from formally declaring independence — a move opposed by Beijing — by keeping them both guessing.

After the Chinese Revolution brought the Communist party to power in 1949, the previous government fled to Taiwan and established what they called the new, true capital of China in Taipei.

Since then, Beijing has considered Taiwan a breakaway province, and current Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to pursue “reunification.”

The United States sees Taiwan as a democratic bulwark against authoritarian China’s expanist ambitions. However, as part of normalizing relations with China in the 1970s, the United States does not officially recognize Taiwan as an independent country.

But stepped-up Chinese war games around the island in recent months have made the thought of an invasion seem more realistic and reignited questions about how the U.S. would respond.

During October drills, China flew a record 56 military flights around Taiwan in one day, part of a total 149 flights over four days.

Earlier this year, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino testified during a congressional hearing that the possibility of China trying to invade is “closer to us than most think,” though he declined to endorse a specific timeline. His predecessor, Adm. Philip Davidson, told lawmakers weeks earlier that he thought China could try to invade within six years.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of the Reagan forum, Aquilino suggested there are elements of psychological warfare in China’s near-constant drilling around Taiwan.

“It has a coercive nature. … It’s a form of a pressure campaign,” he told reporters.

While there’s Chinese activity near Taiwan almost daily, Aquilino also said the spikes that make headlines are “a bit of a tit-for-tat” response to U.S. activities. For example, the October Chinese drills came after the United States and five of its allies conducted a massive naval exercise in the Philippine Sea that included two U.S. aircraft carriers, a British carrier and 15 other warships.

Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund think tank, said she does not believe war is imminent, despite the ramped-up military presence.

“The Chinese are training in a very realistic way,” she told in a phone interview. “A rehearsal doesn’t mean that they have the intention to invade.”

Glaser pointed specifically to congressional testimony from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who told the Senate Appropriations Committee in June that China has “little intent right now or motivation” to take Taiwan “militarily.”

But some lawmakers want deeper assurances that the U.S. is prepared.

The bipartisan annual defense policy bill that is on track to become law includes a similar statement of support for Taiwan. The National Defense Authorization Act would make it U.S. policy to “maintain the capacity of the United States to resist a fait accompli that would jeopardize the security of the people on Taiwan,” while also specifying the policy should be consistent with the U.S. law that sets the basis for strategic ambiguity.

That does not go as far as some other lawmakers in both parties have proposed: preemptive authorization for U.S. military action to defend Taiwan.

How War Might Play Out

Should war over Taiwan come, it could include everything from clandestine skirmishes to all-encompassing combat.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., predicted that China could start with tactics that fall below the traditional threshold of war, known as grey zone warfare, such as certain types of cyber operations.

“Looking at the issue of Taiwan in particular, I don’t think it would be the traditional D-Day because that would take months to organize your landing forces, and we would know that, and we would have time to either take action or to negotiate,” he said during a panel at Reagan.

Rather, Reed compared a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea in Ukraine, saying it could entail “cyber operations, infiltrating, getting people in there quickly via air.”

Ukraine serves as an easy stand-in for Taiwan, with the invasion of Crimea a warning that countries caught between great powers are serving as proxy battlefields. Despite Russia’s claiming of Ukrainian territory, and international condemnation over the annexation, an equilibrium had been reached until earlier this year, when tens of thousands of Russian troops began amassing near the Ukrainian border, leaving western officials scrambling to head off a possible Russian invasion. Recent news reports said U.S. intelligence has found Russia is planning a military offensive for early 2022 that could include as many as 175,000 troops.

Much like when he spoke about Taiwan, Austin expressed hope at the Reagan forum for avoiding conflict, despite the escalation.

“There’s a lot of space here for diplomacy and leadership to work,” Austin said. “We’re going to remain engaged with our allies in the region, our partners in the region, and we’re going to continue to do everything we can to help provide Ukraine the capability to protect its sovereign territory.”

Taiwan’s ambiguous status in U.S. policy has made defense officials reluctant to go into detail about how the American military might step in during an invasion, and whether a clear military response would even be triggered.

About 375,000 U.S. sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and civilian personnel are focused on the Pacific, with hundreds of ships and more than a thousand aircraft spread across the region and U.S. military bases in Hawaii, Guam, South Korea and Japan.

In October, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed in an interview with CNN that a small number of U.S. troops are on the island training Taiwanese forces.

But Austin sidestepped a question at the Reagan forum about making those troops more visible. Instead, he spoke in general terms about how the U.S. is going to “look for ways to do more” to help Taiwan.

How many U.S. troops would be needed to defend Taiwan depends on an exact invasion scenario, Glaser said. For example, trying to remove Chinese forces after they land in Taiwan would mean an enormous commitment of military forces, compared to countering a Chinese blockade.

The United States does not have enough military resources in the region to defend Taiwan from a full-scale invasion.

“We don’t have enough force in place, and the forces we have are very vulnerable to Chinese attack,” Glaser said.

Taiwan’s own defenses also need to be hardened, officials said, particularly through arms sales.

The island government has traditionally been attracted to buying “shiny objects,” such as fighter jets, rather than addressing a more urgent need to make the island “much less easy to swallow” by Chinese forces, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told the audience at the Reagan forum this month.

“We need Taiwan to be investing in things like sea mines, in anti-ship missiles and coastal defense, and really working on the readiness of their forces,” Wormuth said.

The Great Global Competition

Taiwan is only one of a dizzying number of facets of the competition between the U.S. and China.

Over the summer, China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that was launched into space, circumnavigated the globe and hit a target. U.S. officials were at first reluctant to confirm details they said were classified, but have since been referring more and more to the test as they argue the United States is at risk of falling behind.

“Hypersonic weapons, especially at intercontinental ranges, greatly complicate the strategic warning problem,” Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations for the Space Force, said at the Reagan forum. “The ability to maneuver means you no longer know with confidence where it’s going and cannot be prepared to deal with it unless you keep track of it throughout its flight, throughout its trajectory.”

Thompson said he is confident the U.S. could “absolutely” catch up to China on hypersonic weapons.

Officials are increasingly discussing hypersonic weapons and space capabilities — including the ability to sabotage satellites integral to both the military and civilians, such as the Global Positioning System, or GPS — in terms of an arms race with China.

“The fact, that in essence, on average, they are building and fielding and updating their space capabilities at twice the rate we are means that very soon, if we don’t start accelerating our development and delivery capabilities, they will exceed us,” Thompson said.

He added that 2030 is “not an unreasonable estimate” for when China could overtake the U.S. in space.

The heated competition extends into cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Austin called on businesses and industry leaders to “work with us and help keep our country strong,” promising to make it easier for those who are making advances to work with the Defense Department.

China has also been using less high-tech solutions to extend its power base. The country is building military bases and airstrips on islands in the South China Sea that are disputed territory, prompting the U.S. military to sail ships and fly aircraft around the islands in so-called freedom of navigation operations.

And China is leaning on diplomacy to help expand its military influence beyond the Pacific.

China’s primary means of gaining an international foothold is its so-called Belt and Road initiative of investing in infrastructure, which U.S. officials say is really a trap to leave countries indebted to Beijing.

China has lent African countries hundreds of billions of dollars as part of the initiative, and one of those countries, Djibouti, is home to China’s first overseas military base. China is also reportedly now eyeing a base along the Atlantic Ocean in Equatorial Guinea, according to The Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Southern Command chief Gen. Laura Richardson warned that a similar situation is unfolding in South America that could lead to Chinese military bases and Chinese-owned enterprises in the western hemisphere.

“China’s playbook for Africa is taking place in Latin America now,” she said on a panel at Reagan. “If we’re not careful, what’s happening in Latin America will in five or 10 years have the same impacts.”

To critics, the military’s focus on China offers a useful boogeyman to justify ever-increasing defense budgets. The defense budget, including both Pentagon and non-Pentagon funding such as Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs, is expected to jump from $740 billion in 2021 to $768 billion in 2022.

Both China and the United States say they don’t want war, and it’s unclear whether the U.S. would have the appetite to get into a massive conflict, particularly as the public remains weary following two decades of war in the Middle East.

But U.S. defense officials also continue to beat the drum about why the United States must win the competition with China.

“I don’t want to see them eroding the current international order, which I think has kind of helped raise everybody’s boats,” Wormuth said. “Making it clear to China that they can’t violate the laws of territorial sovereignty is why Taiwan matters, because we want the Indo-Pacific to remain stable and free.”

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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U.S. Space Force general warns of China’s growing military space potential

U.S. Space Force general warns of China's growing military space potential

U.S. Space Force general warns of China’s growing military space potential

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·1 min read

The U.S. Space Force’s vice chief of operations warned on Sunday that China is on a rapid pace in space development, adding to mounting concerns that it could outpace the U.S. in space and gain military advantage.

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether China could take out U.S. sensors and have first strike capability in space, Gen. David Thompson said “there’s a potential,” adding, “that’s one of the reasons that the Space Force was created” during the Trump administration.

China and the U.S. have largely competed for the advantage in space in recent years. And while Thompson said the U.S. is currently the leader there, China has made rapid advancements in recent years.


“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion they will be the leader in space at the end of the decade, but they are on an incredible pace,” Thompson said, adding that the U.S. needs to adapt its approach or risk being outpaced by the competing power.

Thompson’s comments come on the heels of other growing warnings about China’s space advancement. Last month, China launched a missile that circled the globe and struck a target. And Russia launched a hypersonic missile from a warship in the Arctic, raising fears that Moscow and Beijing are closing in on hypersonic missile technology far more quickly than the U.S.

The Space Force general also addressed concerns about Russia’s recent anti-satellite missile shot, which caused a debris field in space. He echoed recent messaging that it was irresponsible and dangerous, adding that the debris could in the future threaten satellites including the International Space Station that carries some Russian cosmonauts.

Twitter shuts propaganda accounts in six countries

Twitter shuts propaganda accounts in six countries

Twitter shuts propaganda accounts in six countries

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Twitter has announced it shut down nearly 3,500 accounts that were posting pro-government propaganda in six countries (AFP/Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV)
·2 min read

Twitter on Thursday said it had shut down nearly 3,500 accounts that were posting pro-government propaganda in six countries, including China and Russia.

The vast majority of the accounts were part of a network that “amplified Chinese Communist Party narratives related to the treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang,” Twitter said in a statement.

China faces accusations of grave human rights violations against the ethnic minority in the northwestern province, where experts have estimated that more than one million people are incarcerated in camps.


Aside from 2,048 accounts linked to the pro-Beijing campaign, Twitter also shut down 112 accounts connected to a company named Changyu Culture, linked to Xinjiang’s regional government.

The move came a day after Facebook’s parent company Meta said it had shut down more than 500 accounts that were part of a China-linked influence campaign relating to Covid-19.

The accounts promoted claims from a fictitious Swiss biologist, Wilson Edwards, that the United States was interfering in efforts to identify the origins of the coronavirus.

Chinese state media had widely quoted “Edwards” in July, although several newspapers deleted references to him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing said there was no trace of him.

Both Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, but Beijing frequently uses both US social networks to promote its positions on the international stage.

Beyond China, Twitter also shuttered 16 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company labeled a “troll farm” by critics, which runs pro-government online influence campaigns.

“The operation relied on a mix of inauthentic and real accounts to introduce a pro-Russia viewpoint into Central African political discourse,” Twitter said.

Russia has wielded increasing influence in the Central African Republic since 2018 when it sent a large contingent of “instructors” to train the army.

“We also removed a network of 50 accounts that attacked the civilian Libyan government and actors that support it, while voicing significant support for Russia’s geopolitical position in Libya and Syria,” Twitter added.

The banned accounts also include 276 that shared pro-government content in Mexico, and “277 Venezuelan accounts that amplified accounts, hashtags and topics in support of the government and its official narratives.”

In Africa, 268 accounts were shut down for targeting civil rights group FichuaTanzania, along with 418 that “engaged in coordinated inauthentic activity” in Uganda to promote President Yoweri Museveni.

“In most instances, accounts were suspended for various violations of our platform manipulation and spam policies,” Twitter said.

Like other social media giants, Twitter has faced criticism over failures to tackle misinformation on its platform as well as racist, sexist and homophobic posts, among other forms of hate speech.

It also announced Thursday that it will launch a Twitter Moderation Research Consortium early next year, bringing together “experts from across academia, civil society, NGOs and journalism” to study possible improvements.

Twitter said it would not seek to influence the consortium’s findings.


Facebook cracks down on ‘Swiss biologist’ Covid conspiracy theory that originated in China

Facebook cracks down on ‘Swiss biologist’ Covid conspiracy theory that originated in China

Facebook cracks down on ‘Swiss biologist’ Covid conspiracy theory that originated in China

·3 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Facebook has cracked down on a Chinese influence operation that promoted fake claims made by a fictitious “Swiss biologist” that the US was interfering in the search for Covid-19 origins, parent company Meta said on Thursday.

The company said it has removed a network of 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages, four groups and 86 accounts on Instagram in China, including those belonging to employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies across four continents.

As part of the operation, a social media user posing as a Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards claimed on Facebook and Twitter that the US was putting pressure on World Health Organisation scientists studying the origins of Covid-19 in an attempt to blame the virus on China.


This fake account posted that “WHO sources and a number of fellow researchers” had complained of “enormous pressure and even intimidation” from the US over the WHO’s plan for a renewed Covid origins probe.

The account posted the same text three more times over the next hour, and then stopped posting.

“Within 48 hours, hundreds of social media accounts around the world had picked up on the story. Within a week, Chinese state media including the Global Times and People’s Daily were running headlines about the alleged US ‘intimidation’,” Meta’s Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour Report for November 2021 noted.

Some of these authentic profiles that shared the post had similar behaviour patterns in which they would share distinctive pairs of URLs as text strings without further comment.

Posts made from Indonesia (left) and Kenya (right) sharing the same links in the same order. Note that the text is limited to the URLs themselves, with no commentary. (Meta)
Posts made from Indonesia (left) and Kenya (right) sharing the same links in the same order. Note that the text is limited to the URLs themselves, with no commentary. (Meta)

“They did this for months. A few slipped up and posted instructions on how to share and report back,” Ben Nimmo, the Global IO Threat Intel lead at Meta, tweeted.

“Interestingly, once you strip out the operation’s amplifiers, the fake persona got nearly zero real engagement. But, it was picked up by Chinese state media in less than a week,” he added.

The network peddling this conspiracy theory originated mainly in China, targeting global English-speaking audiences in the US, UK, and also Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet, Meta noted in a statement.

While network analysis experts at Facebook found that there was a single fake account at the center of this operation, the Swiss Embassy in Beijing announced that there was no record of any Swiss citizen by that name.

The researchers found that the fake account was created less than 12 hours before it started posting about the coronavirus pandemic.

Further investigation revealed that the initial spread of the “Wilson Edwards” story on Facebook was the work of a “multi-pronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation that originated in China”.

“In essence, this campaign was a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting a single fake persona,” they wrote in the report.

Although most people behind this conspiracy-peddling network tried to conceal their identities and coordination, the researchers found links to individuals in mainland China.

They said accounts linked to employees of information security firm Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co Ltd were also involved, as well as individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies located around the world.

“This is the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” Meta noted.

In the coming months, the company said it hoped to collaborate with researchers around the world to understand and educate people on how to spot similar deceptive campaigns which show signs of coordination and inauthenticity.

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Russia and China are attacking US satellites with lasers and jammers ‘every day’ says top general

Russia and China are attacking US satellites with lasers and jammers ‘every day’ says top general

Russia and China are attacking US satellites with lasers and jammers ‘every day’ says top general

·2 min read
New satellites will detect carbon dioxide and methane emissions ‘with unprecedented accuracy’, says the EU’s Copernicus programme (Getty )
New satellites will detect carbon dioxide and methane emissions ‘with unprecedented accuracy’, says the EU’s Copernicus programme (Getty )

United States’ satellites are constantly under attack, and China may become the dominant space power by the end of the decade, according to a Space Force general.

“The threats are really growing and expanding every single day. And it’s really an evolution of activity that’s been happening for a long time,” General David Thompson, the Space Force’s first vice chief of space operations, told the Washington Post.

“We’re really at a point now where there’s a whole host of ways that our space systems can be threatened.”

The United States must deal with “reversible attacks” on satellites – those which do not permanently damage the craft – “every single day” via non-kinetic tools such as lasers, radio frequency jammers, and cyber attacks, the general said.

Experts from across the world have argued against the use of kinetic weapons against satellites, which could worsen the amount of space debris around the planet and trap humanity on Earth in the worst-case scenario.

China is building its own version of GPS, and a “couple of hundred” intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance satellites. The number of launches is twice that of the United States.

“The Chinese are actually well ahead [of Russia],” Thompson said. “They’re fielding operational systems at an incredible rate.”

He continued: “We are still the best in the world, clearly in terms of capability [but] they’re catching up quickly,” and that the United States “should be concerned by the end of this decade if we don’t adapt.”

The Biden administration is reportedly reaching out to the Chinese Communist Party to establish international norms for cyberspace and space, but Beijing is apparently unresponsive to negotiation.

Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration did not respond to requests for comment from The Independent before time of publication.

Russia “conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon” in July 2020, according to United States Space Command, and again in December that year.

China is also progressing with the development of missiles and electronic weapons that could target high- and low-orbiting satellites, according to a Pentagon report.

The United States is reportedly planning to unveil its own space weapon that could apparently degrade or destroy a target satellite or spacecraft.

America must prepare for war with China over Taiwan

America must prepare for war with China over Taiwan

America must prepare for war with China over Taiwan

Read the original article

·5 min read

China’s massive investment in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may show China is preparing to fundamentally change the status quo and preparing for possible war with the United States over Taiwan. To deter China, the United States must rapidly build up its forces in the Pacific, continue to strengthen military alliances in the region to ensure access to bases in time of conflict, and accelerate deliveries of purchased military equipment to Taiwan.

Taiwan is of vital geopolitical importance to the United States. Its thriving democracy is one of the freest societies on the planet. As World War II U.S. Navy Adm. Ernest King said, Taiwan is the “cork in the bottle” for Japan. Whoever controls Taiwan will control Japan and the Republic of Korea’s shipping lifelines. Chinese control of Taiwan will give it enormous influence over both Japan and Korea, fundamentally altering the strategic calculus in East Asia and give China its long sought-after opportunity to Finlandize both countries.


Perhaps most importantly, Taiwan is the center for advanced semiconductor production; the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) boasts that it has the most advanced foundry in the world. Chinese control of TSMC would provide it enormous economic benefit and would result in the world being dependent on an authoritarian regime for advanced semiconductors – and all that would mean for the integrity of supply chains. Advanced semiconductors are the petroleum of the digital age. America must not let an authoritarian regime bent on supplanting the United States seize these vital production facilities.

Time is not on our side. Taiwan Minister of Defense Chiu Kuo-Cheng testified before his Congress on Oct. 6 that, “By 2025, China will bring the cost attrition to its lowest. It has the capacity now, but it will not start a war easily, having to take many other things into consideration.” As Chiu states, China probably already considers it has the capability to seize Taiwan.

China’s calculus about using force against Taiwan is a complex one, involving – but not limited to – internal stability, Taiwan developments and military dynamics. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has created a popular nationalist narrative that the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people will be achieved through unification with Taiwan. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been focused on annexing Taiwan. He likely will achieve an unprecedented third five-year term as president during the fall 2022 Party Congress, allowing him the internal political freedom to use force to achieve his unification goal.

Xi will strive to ease tensions in Sino-American relations to ensure a successful Winter Olympics in Beijing in early 2022 and through his selection again as the head of the party in fall 2022. Once his position is secured, Xi will ratchet up pressure on Taiwan in advance of the Taiwan presidential election in early 2024, leaving 2023 as a potentially dangerous year.

Beijing does not want Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to be succeeded in early 2024 by her vice president, Lai Qing-te. Lai is a popular politician who is deeply committed to human rights and Taiwan sovereignty and nationhood. The prospect of his succeeding Tsai undoubtedly would cause Beijing to accelerate its efforts to take Taiwan.

Taiwan has been trying to transform itself into a “prickly porcupine” with indigenous production of asymmetric weapons, as well as purchases of new U.S.-made systems. Based on announced weapon sales agreements, many of these new U.S. made systems will not be active in the Taiwan services until the mid- to late-2020s, giving Beijing a window to try to take Taiwan in 2023 or 2024. Speeding up delivery of key asymmetric systems may help change Beijing’s calculus.

Taiwan needs to prepare its people for conflict, ensuring it has enough emergency supplies to survive a Chinese onslaught. Increasing Taiwan Security Services resources to gather intelligence on China, as well as to investigate and disrupt China’s efforts to further develop and use fifth-column forces in Taiwan, is also urgently needed.

Senior U.S. military officers have been shocked by the PLA’s rapid transformation. The U.S. armed forces are trying to change to better fight the PLA in the Pacific but face difficult logistics and force projection issues in a Taiwan scenario. The sheer size of the Pacific Ocean makes it vitally important the U.S. has allied commitments to use bases in the region in a time of conflict. Mending relations with the Philippines in the post-Duterte era to get access to Clark Airbase and Subic Bay might be beneficial. Ensuring the use of U.S. bases in Japan in time of conflict is essential.

Nevertheless, geographic space and logistical issues will make a timely U.S. military response difficult; it may take several weeks for the U.S. to have sufficient forces in the region to challenge the PLA in the battle space around Taiwan. Having more forces stationed in the Pacific may help speed a U.S. response.

If China were to attack Taiwan, they likely would use a massive cyber and electronic warfare attack to paralyze the island. They would combine this with missile strikes against key military and government centers to decapitate Taiwan’s leadership. The PLA also would use special forces assaults and airborne and sea landings to attempt to rapidly defeat Taiwan. Prolonging effective Taiwan resistance until U.S. forces arrive should be a key goal of U.S. security policy.

President Biden on at least three occasions has said the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China. His administration needs to articulate to the American people why Taiwan’s defense is critical to the United States and deploy the resources needed to deter China from attacking Taiwan.

Accordingly, the United States needs to reinforce our military forces in the region, work with Taiwan to quickly transform it into a real prickly porcupine that is resilient so it can hold out for an extended period of time, and ensure we have ironclad allied commitments permitting the U.S. to use bases on allied countries’ territory. Time is not on our side. We must act now.

David Sauer is a retired senior CIA officer who served as chief of station and deputy chief of station in multiple overseas command positions in East Asia and South Asia.