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Islamic Terrorists or Chinese Dissidents? The U.S. Grapples with Uyghur Dilemma

Islamic Terrorists or Chinese Dissidents? U.S. Grapples with Uyghur Dilemma

Islamic Terrorists or Chinese Dissidents? U.S. Grapples with Uyghur Dilemma

President Joe Biden and his administration are grappling with a new foreign policy dilemma: how to deal with Uyghur separatists seeking to take on the People’s Republic of China and establish an independent Islamic state in the northwestern Xinjiang region at a time when Washington is also increasing pressure on Beijing.

 
 

The U.S. stance for the last two decades since the “war on terror” was declared after 9/11 has been to view groups such as Uyghurs factions as enemy actors, due to their reported links to Al-Qaeda. One such organization, a Uyghur separatist group known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), was added to the Terrorist Exclusion List, a Patriot Act measure designed to disallow suspected militant group members from entering the United States.

Over the course of the past 20 years, however, Washington’s foreign policy priorities have shifted dramatically, a change marked most notably by Biden’s military exit from Afghanistan. That exit was set in motion by Donald Trump, whose focus throughout his tenure in office was on another national foe, China.

In addition to confronting Beijing on trade, political unrest in Hong Kong and tensions over Taiwan, the Trump administration endorsed allegations that China was conducting a “genocide” in Xinjiang, the northwestern province that is home to the Uyghurs. The offenses were said to have occurred as part of China’s extensive counterterrorism measures in the region that included sprawling detainment camps, known officially as vocational education and training centers, in which more than one million people are believed by international critics to have been detained.

Chinese officials have strongly rejected these allegations, arguing that the facilities are a crucial part of the Communist nation’s national security strategy, Beijing’s own “war on terror.” Xinjiang was the site of a deadly Uyghur insurgency that began in the 1990s in the form of bombings, stabbings and vehicle rammings that killed scores of authorities and civilians alike.

The widening U.S.-China divergence on the narrative took a dramatic turn just days after the U.S. presidential election last November, when the Trump administration removed ETIM from the Terrorist Exclusion List, citing a lack of activity, even as Uyghur fighters set up camp in Afghanistan and Syria.

The Biden administration continues to support that stance.

“ETIM was removed from the list because, for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist as the same organization that was conducting terrorist attacks in Syria at the time of their designation,” a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek.

As recently as February 2018, however, the Pentagon was conducting airstrikes against targets said to be linked to ETIM in Afghanistan.

But the State Department now sees it as a separate group altogether, one which is behind the active Uyghur insurgency in two conflict-ridden countries.

“Uyghur terrorists fighting in Syria and Afghanistan are members of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP),” the State Department spokesperson said, “a separate organization that China and others have incorrectly identified as ETIM.”

Yet the spokesperson noted that the two groups have nearly identical goals.

“TIP is an organization allied with the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qa’ida elements operating in Syria, and the group seeks to establish an independent Uyghur state, East Turkistan, in the area of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwestern China,” the State Department spokesperson said.

Asked by Newsweek whether the Biden administration planned to brand the still-active Turkistan Islamic Party as a candidate for the Terrorist Exclusion List or the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, the spokesperson declined to comment as a matter of protocol.

“The United States does not comment on deliberations related to our terrorist designation process,” the State Department spokesperson said.

Uyghur, Turkestan, Islamic, Party, training, video, Syria
A member of the Turkestan Islamic Party’s Syria-based Levant affiliate fires a truck-based rocket launcher during a promotional video published January 7. “Uyghur terrorists fighting in Syria and Afghanistan are members of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP),” a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek, noting that “the group seeks to establish an independent Uyghur state, East Turkistan, in the area of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwestern China.”TURKESTAN ISLAMIC PARTY VOICE OF ISLAM MEDIA CENTER

One Man’s Terrorist, Another Man’s Freedom Fighter

The Turkestan Islamic Party itself has spurned the “terrorist” label that officials in Washington, Beijing and other governments have ascribed to it.

“We, on the part of the group, have not posed any threat to any person, group, state or people,” a spokesperson for the Turkestan Islamic Party’s political office told Newsweek, “and even the Chinese people only see good from us, because we do not oppress the people like the Chinese government.”

The spokesperson said that the group’s activities were limited to the Chinese state itself due to its controversial policies in Xinjiang.

“Even in the future, we do not have any idea for the likes of targeting, kidnapping, threatening or [doing] anything bad against an innocent person or country,” the Turkestan Islamic Party spokesperson said, “and we do not have a problem with any person or country other than the unjust Chinese government.”

The spokesperson argued that any other illicit activities may be carried out by Chinese spy agencies in order to blame the Turkestan Islamic Party.

“Anything that happened or happens, this is not from our side, but will be from the unjust Chinese intelligence,” the Turkestan Islamic Party spokesperson added, “because we are not terrorists who target innocent people like the Chinese government [does].”

At the same time, the group does not rule out waging armed struggle as a means to achieve its political aims.

“The Chinese government should leave the land of East Turkestan by the peaceful path,” the spokesperson said. “If they choose the path of war without leaving peacefully, then we have the right to choose all kinds of paths in order to restore our homeland.”

The region known to Uyghur separatist proponents as East Turkestan comprises around 25 million people living across a span of some 700,000 miles of China’s Xinjiang and parts of neighboring Gansu and Qinghai provinces — roughly the size of France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ireland combined.

The area came under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party with the rest of the mainland as Mao Zedong’s victorious People’s Liberation Army drove the nationalist Republic of China forces to exile in Taiwan in 1949.

At the time, the Soviet Union, the world’s top communist power, backed the East Turkestan separatists as a check against Chinese power.

The People’s Republic of China today recognizes some 56 ethnic communities, including the majority Han population, the world’s largest ethnic group, which has increasingly expanded throughout the nation.

This migration is rooted in economic motives as China rapidly developed in recent decades, but those supportive of the separatist East Turkestan cause saw a state-sponsored plot to actively suppress Uyghur culture.

“East Turkestan is the land of the Uyghurs,” the Turkestan Islamic Party spokesperson said. “After the Chinese government occupied our homeland by force, they forced us to leave our homeland because of their oppression against us. The whole world knows that East Turkestan has always been the land of the Uyghurs.”

Blowback Now and Then

In many ways, the Uyghur uprising that first gripped Xinjiang in the 1990s took inspiration from the successful mujahideen resistance that repelled the Soviet Union’s attempt to back a communist government in Afghanistan throughout the previous decade. The U.S. was among the top supporters of the Cold War-era rebel effort, and China also aided the cause as it saw a threat of Soviet encirclement.

The conflict would prove consequential for the intersection of Islam and politics across Asia. The same year the Soviet intervention began, 1979, also marked the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Grand Mosque Seizure in Saudi Arabia, two other events that left lasting impressions in the region.

The anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan gave birth to Al-Qaeda, and its violent aftermath produced the Taliban, which would go on to take over much of the country in an ensuing civil war. After Al-Qaeda orchestrated the 9/11 attacks in 2001, a U.S.-led military campaign dismantled the Islamic Emirate that the Taliban had established across most of Afghanistan.

But as of last month, the Islamic Emirate has officially returned. A resurgent Taliban swiftly retook Afghanistan as the U.S. military withdrew from its longest-ever war.

The Taliban today vows not to repeat its past behavior in allowing transnational militant groups to operate on Afghan soil. This commitment was encoded in the Doha peace accord signed by the group and the Trump administration in February 2020.

“As we signed up to in the agreement, we commit to our promise that the territory of Afghanistan will not be used against anyone, not against China, not against Russia, not against America, not against any country,” Qari Saeed Khosty, who handles social media responsibilities for the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, told Newsweek.

“On the other hand,” he said, “we also request that the territories of other countries are not used against Afghanistan.”

The U.S. is not alone in calling for the Taliban to rout out any organizations that may pose a threat abroad. Many nearby nations including Russia, India and Afghanistan’s six neighbors, China, Iran, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have all issued similar requests to the newly reformed Islamic Emirate.

A joint statement by the nations bordering Afghanistan, delivered during a historic meeting last month, directly named Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), the separatist Baloch Liberation Army and Jondollah, the Pakistani Taliban, commonly referred to as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and ETIM, which most countries in the region consider directly tied to the Turkestan Islamic Party.

Although the U.S. has dropped ETIM from its Terrorist Exclusion List, the group remains designated a terrorist organization by China, the European Union, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. The United Nations Security Council has also subjected ETIM to sanctions since 2002 due to its suspected association with Al-Qaeda.

For China, any presence of ETIM or its affiliates is considered a top priority threat.

“Some terrorist groups have gathered and developed in Afghanistan over the past two decades, posing a serious threat to international and regional peace and security,” Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington, told Newsweek. “In particular, as an international terrorist organization listed by the UN Security Council, the ETIM poses an immediate threat to the security of China and its people.”

Beijing has sought specific assurances from the Taliban that ETIM would be crushed or expelled from the self-styled Islamic Emirate. Chinese officials say such a promise was given by Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban’s political bureau and now acting deputy prime minister of Afghanistan, during the group’s visit to Tianjin in July.

“The head of the Afghan Taliban made it clear to the Chinese side that the Afghan Taliban will never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts that hurt China,” Liu said. “The Afghan Taliban should earnestly honor its commitment, make a clean break with all terrorist organizations, resolutely fight against the ETIM and clear the way for regional security, stability, development and cooperation.”

He said China “following closely” events in Afghanistan as the Taliban formed an acting government and said Beijing hoped for a positive outcome.

“China sincerely hopes all parties of Afghanistan can echo the eager aspiration of the Afghan people and common expectation of the international community, build an open and inclusive political structure, adopt moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies, make a clear break with terrorist organizations in all forms and live in good terms with all countries, especially neighboring countries,” Liu said.

China, Peoples, Liberation, Army, Xinjiang, Military, Region
People’s Liberation Army personnel of the Xinjiang Military Region pose during a high-altitude training session in this photo published September 17. “In particular, as an international terrorist organization listed by the UN Security Council, the ETIM poses an immediate threat to the security of China and its people,” Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told Newsweek.CHINESE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY

A Threat and a Promise

The Taliban has not officially acknowledged the presence of ETIM or the Turkestan Islamic Party on Afghan territory.

The Taliban’s Khosty issued a specific denial to Newsweek.

“These people are not present in Afghanistan,” Khosty said. “We do not need to say anything about them because they are not present on our territory.”

During an interview earlier this month with Global Times, an official publication of the Chinese Communist Party, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen also said ETIM had mostly left Afghanistan. He reiterated his group’s stated obligations per the Doha deal struck with the U.S. to prevent such activity.

“First, we will not allow any training on our territory,” Shaheen said. “Second, we will not allow any fundraising for those who intend to carry out a foreign agenda. Third, we will not allow the establishment of any recruitment center in Afghanistan. These are the main things.”

But the Global Times staff questioned this resolve in a follow-up editorial last week that pressed for answers on the current state of ETIM, which the paper considered an alternative name for the Turkestan Islamic Party. It claimed that ETIM was believed to still be active in Afghanistan, and cited a U.N. Security Council report released in May that referred to the Turkestan Islamic Party as “a widely accepted alias of ETIM.”

“Many Member States assess that it seeks to establish a Uighur state in Xinjiang, China, and towards that goal, facilitates the movement of fighters from Afghanistan to China,” the U.N. report said.

And while the group’s headquarters are currently believed to be in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, the U.N. report voiced another unspecified member state’s concerns that the group was capable of moving fighters between two countries at war.

“Another Member State reported that the group has also established corridors for moving fighters between the Syrian Arab Republic, where the group exists in far larger numbers, and Afghanistan, to reinforce its combat strength,” the report said.

But the State Department continues to insist that China mislabels the groups.

Around the same time this U.N. report was released, a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek that U.S. officials “assess that ETIM is now a broad label China uses to inaccurately paint a variety of Uighur actors, including non-violent activists and advocates for human rights, as terrorist threats.”

“China often labels individuals and groups as terrorists on the basis of their political and religious beliefs, even if they do not advocate violence,” the spokesperson added.

But last week’s Global Times commentary also cited a number of Chinese experts attesting to the lasting strength of Uyghur fighters in Afghanistan, and warned that any ongoing ETIM presence would complicate relations between the Taliban and China, which has already begun to provide desperately needed aid to its neighbor.

What’s In a Name?

The Biden administration has also cast hopes on the Taliban to crack down on outlawed groups, with a focus on ISIS and its so-called Khorasan affiliate, nicknamed ISIS-K. The word Khorasan refers to a historic region that encompasses Afghanistan along with its periphery, and the term is also embraced by ETIM and the Turkestan Islamic Party.

The U.S. has been more opaque on the continued threat of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In Syria, however, the Pentagon on Monday conducted a drone strike said to have taken out a senior leader of the group.

The strike occurred in Idlib, a crowded space shared by Al-Qaeda, the Turkestan Islamic Party, a slew of other rebel and jihadi factions, Turkish troops and millions of Syrian civilians fleeing a decade-long civil war. In this conflict, Syria is allied with Iran and Russia against a broad insurgency once backed by the U.S. and partnered nations.

Chinese officials have long expressed concerns that the U.S. may once again reinstitute its playbook tactic mobilizing disruptive non-state actors to undermine Beijing’s hold on Xinjiang, the hub of the country’s natural energy reserves. No evidence has yet emerged of such a move, but sanctions against officials in Xinjiang and ETIM’s removal from the Terrorist Exclusion List have only fueled China’s paranoia.

The state of U.S.-China relations have deteriorated to the point that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned Monday that the two leading nations must avoid repeating the Cold War. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his officials have consistently issued similar appeals and Biden too addressed the issue during his U.N. General Assembly remarks on Tuesday, without mentioning China directly.

Though he did mention Xinjiang by name as a region in which he said the U.S. stood with racial, ethnic, and religious minorities facing oppression.

And the Turkestan Islamic Party, still free from any U.S.-specific sanctions, has expressed enthusiasm for further action from Washington against Beijing.

“The United States is a strong country, it has its own strategy, and we see the withdrawal of the American government today from this war in Afghanistan, which is incurring huge economic losses, as a means of confronting China, who are the enemy of all humanity and religions on the face of the Earth,” the Turkestan Islamic Party spokesperson told Newsweek.

“We believe that the opposition of the United States to China will not only benefit the Turkestan Islamic Party and the people of Turkestan,” the spokesperson added, “but also all mankind.”

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Xinjiang: Relatives of Refugees Who Speak Abroad Manipulated, Jailed, Tortured

Xinjiang: Relatives of Refugees Who Speak Abroad Manipulated, Jailed, Tortured

Xinjiang: Relatives of Refugees Who Speak Abroad Manipulated, Jailed, Tortured

Those who managed to escape tell the truth about the horror of the camps. The CCP compels their relatives to denounce them, those who don’t end up in jail.

by Ruth Ingram

Khalmat Rozakhon addressing the Uyghur Tribunal concerning his imprisoned brother.
Khalmat Rozakhon addressing the Uyghur Tribunal concerning his imprisoned brother.

A catalogue of sadistic brutality is reserved for the families of victims of the CCP’s internment regime who dare to speak out. Elaborate games of cat and mouse, humiliation and mental cruelty have characterized life for the families and dear ones of those taken from them at dead of night or simply vanished after being called in for questioning by police.

Witnesses giving evidence in June at the first session of the Uyghur Tribunal, were mercilessly humiliated and attacked by CCP-orchestrated panels of Xinjiang-based relatives and colleagues on national television, coerced into speaking against them.

The three who testified on behalf of their relatives during the second session, represent the many Uyghurs and Kazakhs among the diaspora who have found it impossible to get to the truth about the fate of their loved ones, and dared to come forward.

A young bride hears that her husband of barely a year will not be coming back for twenty-five years. He begs her to wait for him. A brother studying in Japan is broken during a forced video call seeing the swollen neck and weakened body of an elder brother forced to denounce his so-called anti-China activities. The message was clear, spy for China and inform on his Uyghur colleagues in Japan, or be prepared never to see his brother again. A son, heartbroken by the disappearance of his father, a prominent Uyghur intellectual, silent for four years, is campaigning for the release of hundreds of other Uyghur academics who have also vanished over the past four years. He is crushed by the trickle of news that has confirmed the deaths of 43 of them, either in captivity or shortly after their release. Many of them were in their seventies or eighties.

Exiles who live in the democratic world, live a half life of waiting and hoping. There might be an occasional glimmer of light during a staged telephone call, only to be snatched away and darkness descend once more. They are threatened by the CCP, ridiculed and character-assassinated by loved ones who are forced to parade on state media to discredit their evidence, and live with the daily torture of guilt, self recrimination and doubt wondering how best to help. Very few of them ever manage to move on.

Bahram Sintash’s father was everything the state could have wanted from a Uyghur citizen. He was a fluent Mandarin speaking, prominent Uyghur intellectual, and former editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-controlled Uighur journal “Xinjiang Civilization.” A CCP member, he was known for selecting works by the region’s most influential writers on Uyghur culture, history, politics, and social development for publication. All his work was approved and passed Party censorship with flying colors.

Bahram Sintash being questioned on his witness statements concerning destructions of mosques and the fate of Uyghur intellectuals, including his own father whom he has not heard from for four years.
Bahram Sintash being questioned on his witness statements concerning destructions of mosques and the fate of Uyghur intellectuals, including his own father whom he has not heard from for four years.

“As a retired 71-year-old who spent decades building a professional career, he is not in need of further ‘vocational training,’” said Sintash, stressing the fact that he had always worked under strict government scrutiny. “To publish important works on Uyghur culture and Uyghur society in the magazine, he always had to know the red line in the eyes of the government at that time. He had to work very close to the red line to publish those important works and sensitive topics from Uyghur authors.” He labored without incident for twenty-five years before retiring in 2011.

Six years later in 2017 the “red line” suddenly moved, and violators were retrospectively sanctioned. Sintash now has no idea whether his father is alive or dead. A constant reminder of the danger his father is daily are the stories of deaths of his colleagues and close friends coming out of the camps.

Bahram Sintash’s presentation to the tribunal of intellectuals who have died or been sentenced to death by the CCP in Xinjiang.
Bahram Sintash’s presentation to the tribunal of intellectuals who have died or been sentenced to death by the CCP in Xinjiang.

Mehray Mezensof’s mother found the perfect match for her daughter, whom she gave birth to and raised in Australia. Through a matchmaking site she found Mirzat Taher, three years her senior, living in Urumqi. They met in Turkey where he went to study in 2014, married in Urumqi in 2017, and planned a future together in Australia. Two days before they were about to fly out, he was taken away by police, tortured, and interrogated for six months. A series of false alarms, hope raising telephone and video calls proved to be part of the psychological tactics to break detainees, and they did not see each other again for two years.

Mehray Mezensof, Australian-born Uyghur, appealing on behalf of her husband whose twenty five year prison sentence for
Mehray Mezensof, Australian-born Uyghur, appealing on behalf of her husband whose twenty five year prison sentence for “separatism” she heard about this year.

Endless memorization of Communist ideology, national songs, and self criticisms, combined with meagre rations, unhygienic and humiliating sanitary arrangements filled his days. “Detainees were told they would never go home, they would never see their loved ones again, and the only way they would get out was in a body bag,” she said. Meals which were passed through a small opening in the door were only given after detainees knelt on the ground and sang a song. “Anyone who couldn’t or wouldn’t sing the song was left to starve.”

Hooded and bent double in shackles, prisoners were transferred between facilities, medical examinations were carried out on arrival, and nights were spent listening to the screams of those undergoing torture in neighboring cells.

Daily reporting to the police characterized his eventual release, combined with harassing phone calls and random summons to their headquarters. When Mehray’s six month visa came to an end, she was forced to return to Australia but in May 2020 their correspondence came to an abrupt end. She later heard he had been released for a month, but taken again by police who had travelled 600 kms especially to arrest him. Since September 2020 there has been complete silence.

Through contacts in Urumqi, she heard this April that he had been sentenced to 25 years. His crime, involvement in separatist activities while in Turkey, which he denies.

Khalmat Rozakhon decided to stay on in Japan after completing a university degree in 2019. In May 2020, he had a surprise call from his brother in Xinjiang. There were obvious sign of his having been beaten on his face and neck, and security officials were lurking in the background. His brother vehemently denied torture and urged Rozakhon not to speak against the CCP. “Don’t go to protest,” he had urged his brother, “the policy of Xi Jinping is good, China’s policy is good.”

Khalmat Rozakhon showing his brother’s swollen face while answering panel legal counsel, Aarif Abraham’s, questions.
Khalmat Rozakhon showing his brother’s swollen face while answering panel legal counsel, Aarif Abraham’s, questions.

One of the officials made it clear that in exchange for information about the activities of the Uyghur Association in Tokyo, his brother’s safety would be secured. He also promised to help expedite his Japanese residency through high level contacts in the embassy. “‘We want to be your friend,’ the official had said, but his tone was intimidating,” said Rozakhon. “The last 30 minutes of that call made me feel like being burned in hell fire,” he said.

He pretended to go along with the police and set up a further interview, but determined to expose the activities and duplicity of the CCP, he arranged for Japanese media to record the video call and broadcast it to the country. He was well aware of the dangers to his family of going public, but he felt he was left with no alternative. “I have no intention to become a hero. The only way of saving my brother is to let the whole word know the truth,” he said. “They are taking my brother hostage and making me do things against my will.”

“The world is realizing the evil nature of China,” he said, quoting the case of Mehray Erkin who returned from Japan at the request of her family and died in detention. “I trust the only way to safeguard the safety of our families in East Turkestan is through letting the world know the real situation.”

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Biden meets with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres

Biden meets with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres

Biden meets with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres

 
·3 min read
 
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President Biden is meeting with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in New York Tuesday evening, after Guterres urged the U.S. and China to repair their relationship. 

Guterres said earlier that the focus of the summit would be the U.S.’ “cold war” with China. Mr. Biden has been critical of China’s cooperation over COVID-19 and other issues. 

But in a brief statement at the beginning of the meeting with Guterres, Mr. Biden spoke only in general terms. “The secretary-general and I share a strong commitment to the principles of human freedom and human dignity on which the U.N. was founded,” he said.

 

“I’m looking forward to speaking to the assembly tomorrow — what a great honor that will be,” Mr. Biden said.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. “relationship with China is not one with conflict but competition” and disputed Guterres’ characterization of the relationship. 

“We need to avoid at all cost a Cold War that would be different from the past one, and probably more dangerous and more difficult to manage,” Guterres told The Associated Press in an interview.  

“The president’s going to lay out the case for why the next decade will determine our future, not just for the United States but for the global community,” Psaki said Monday. “And he will talk, and this will be a central part of his remarks, about the importance of re-establishing our alliances after the last several years.”  

Biden calls Chinese President Xi Jinping about U.S.-China relationship

The Biden-Guterres meeting also comes as the U.S. faces the fallout from France over a submarine deal the U.S. made with Australia and the United Kingdom, and as the U.S. faces international criticism over the handling of its exit from Afghanistan. 

France recalled its ambassador to the U.S. after Australia said in a joint announcement with the U.S. and U.K. that it would replace its aging submarines with nuclear-powered submarines developed by the U.S. and U.K., thereby terminating its previous agreement to buy French diesel electric submarines. Mr. Biden is expected to hold a call with French President Emmanuel Macron in the days ahead. 

Macron is not attending the U.N. General Assembly in person, but French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves LeDrian is in New York. Asked about the the submarine deal, LeDrian, speaking through a translator, said at a news conference Monday, “We thought that page of unilateralism, unpredictability, brutality of the announcement, of the lack of respect for a partner — we thought these belonged to the past,” which seemed to be a comparison with the Trump administration. 

“Why was all of that hidden and made public without telling us ahead of time,” LeDrian said of the fact that the French had no hint that they were losing the contract until just before it was announced by the U.S., Australia and U.K.

He referred to the incident as a “crisis of trust beyond the fact that the contract is being broken” and referred to the planning of the new contract as an “unexpected, hidden, brutal initiative.”   

The French foreign minister said he has no plans to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, though they might encounter one another in the hallway.

Democrats plan to include debt limit suspension in stopgap funding bill

U.S. begins mass deportations of migrants in South Texas

Biden to deliver first address to the United Nations General Assembly

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USTR says Tai, UK trade chief to continue efforts to curb China’s non-market practices

USTR says Tai, UK trade chief to continue efforts to curb China's non-market practices

USTR says Tai, UK trade chief to continue efforts to curb China’s non-market practices

 
 
·1 min read
 
 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and her new British counterpart agreed to continue U.S.-UK discussions aimed at addressing the market-distorting practices of China and other non-market economies, Tai’s office said on Monday.

Tai, meeting virtually with UK Trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, “emphasized her commitment to deepening bilateral trade and investment ties” between the allied countries, USTR said.

She discussed USTR’s ongoing review of past U.S.-UK trade agreement talks, but the statement gave no indication of a path forward.

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What Is China Doing to the Uighurs in Xinjiang?

EXPLAINER SEPT. 15, 2021 What Is China Doing to the Uighurs in Xinjiang? By Jonah Shepp

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has hogged the international spotlight for the past few months. For China, the bad press the Biden administration got for effectively allowing the Taliban to retake power has been a welcome distraction from another grim situation in the remote northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.

In the past few weeks, however, allegations that China is committing massive human-rights abuses and even genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang have begun to reclaim international attention. On Monday, the U.N. human-rights chief announced that her office has been unable to obtain access to the region but is assembling a report on the allegations based on information obtained through other means. Last week, a coalition of human-rights groups issued a joint letter to major international broadcasters, including NBC, urging them not to cover the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing to protest China’s abuses against the Uighurs and other minorities. And meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has stepped up efforts to intercept imported goods made using forced labor, specifically targeting Chinese cotton that is widely suspected to be grown in Xinjiang by Uighurs in forced-labor camps.

Despite the growing attention to the alleged atrocities in Xinjiang, the situation there remains largely opaque to the American public. That’s partly because China has kept a tight grip on the flow of information and muddied the waters with its own propaganda but also because it’s a complex conflict with a lot of history in a little-known part of the world. Here’s what you need to know.

Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs are the predominant ethnic group in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China. Over 12 million Uighurs live in China, mostly in Xinjiang, with smaller communities in Kazakhstan, Turkey, and other countries. Uighurs primarily practice Sunni Islam.

The history of the Uighurs in Xinjiang is contested between Uighur and Chinese scholars. The Uighurs have lived in the Tarim Basin on the edges of the Taklamakan Desert for over a millennium. Some Uighur historians and activists claim they have been present there for thousands of years and are descended from the ancient inhabitants of the region, whereas Chinese historians contend that the people now known as Uighurs migrated there only in the ninth century. The Uighur Khaganate ruled over a vast swath of modern-day Xinjiang, Mongolia, Manchuria, and the surrounding areas in the eighth and ninth centuries; the region was later conquered by the Mongol Empire, and the Uighurs were gradually converted to Islam over the centuries that followed.

China first gained control over the Tarim Basin during the Han dynasty in the second century B.C., and again during the Tang dynasty in the early Middle Ages. Modern China considers this to be evidence that the region has belonged to China since before the Uighurs were present there. China finally conquered the present-day Xinjiang region during the Qing dynasty in the mid-18th century. Since then, the Uighurs and other non-Chinese peoples of the country’s western frontier have continually pressed for independence and founded a series of short-lived breakaway republics in the late-19th and early-to-mid-20th centuries.

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Graphic: Intelligencer

What is the Xinjiang conflict?

The Xinjiang conflict has its roots in China’s efforts to consolidate control over the region throughout the 20th century. During the Mao era, China restricted the religious and cultural freedoms of the Uigurs while encouraging the mass migration of Han Chinese into what was known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region from the 1950s through the 1970s. According to China’s 2020 census, Han Chinese make up 42 percent of Xinjiang’s population and Uighurs nearly 45 percent. In the past decade, nearly 2 million Han Chinese have migrated into the region. Beijing claims it is no longer deliberately altering the demographic makeup of Xinjiang, but the recent migrations are still suspected to be part of a policy of Sinicization to dilute the ethnic and religious character of the region and stifle separatism.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union supported Uighur separatists in Xinjiang as part of its hegemonic rivalry with China in Central Asia. In the post–Cold War era, Uighur separatism took on an increasingly Islamist tenor. The Turkistan Islamic Party is an Islamic extremist group formed in 1989 that seeks to overthrow Chinese rule in Xinjiang and replace it with the independent Islamic state of East Turkestan. The TIP came to prominence amid the Baren Township conflict in April 1990, in which militants clashed with Chinese police and soldiers. This event is often described as the spark that set off the ongoing Xinjiang conflict. Since the 1990s, Uighur separatists have continually carried out bus bombings, knife attacks, and other terrorist acts in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China.

After Xi Jinping became president of China in 2013, Beijing began cracking down more aggressively on separatism among Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the country. Xi’s heavy-handed campaign against separatism, part of his broader totalitarian ambitions, has culminated in the actions China is taking today against the Uighurs.

A Uighur woman in Xinjiang arranges her stall in September 2016, while the billboard behind her shows the late Communist Party leader Mao Zedong. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

What is China doing to the Uighurs in Xinjiang now?

In 2018, a U.N. human-rights panel reported that China had detained over 1 million Uighurs, along with other Muslim minorities, in hundreds of internment camps in Xinjiang since 2017. Satellite evidence has shown that the network of camps has grown continuously since then. In the camps, survivors have reported, detainees are indoctrinated with Communist political propaganda and forced to chant slogans praising Xi. They are subjected to torture, including via such methods as waterboarding, as well as sexual abuse. They are forced to renounce Islam, eat pork, and drink alcohol, and they are surveilled around the clock to ensure that they do not pray. The detainees often have not been charged with any crime and have no recourse to contest their detention. They are not allowed contact with their families, and many detainees simply disappear. China has also pressured other nations to deport Uighurs who have fled the country and sought refuge abroad; they often disappear immediately after returning to China.

Locations of suspected detention facilities. Graphic: Intelligencer; Data from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Meanwhile, cultural and religious sites throughout Xinjiang are being destroyed at a prolific rate. A report last year from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a key source of data on China’s persecution of the Uighurs, found that fewer than 15,000 mosques remained standing in the region, compared with the government’s official count of 24,000, while more than half of those remaining have been damaged. In addition, about half of the region’s cultural-heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, including ancient pilgrimage sites.

China is also reportedly using forced labor in Xinjiang, compelling Uighurs inside and outside the camps to pick cotton and manufacture textiles and other products for little or no pay. Beijing has given subsidies to Chinese companies to move to Xinjiang or employ Muslim minority workers in other parts of the country: More than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work at factories throughout China between 2017 and 2019, many of them from internment camps. These workers toil under inhumane conditions and live in segregated dormitories where they are subjected to continued political indoctrination and forced to learn Mandarin. They are not allowed to leave. These forced-labor factories have fed into the supply chains of major multinational corporations, including Amazon, Apple, and a variety of apparel and automobile brands.

Meanwhile, China has expanded the reach of its technological surveillance state to a truly Orwellian extent in Xinjiang. Uighur citizens’ activities are monitored by a vast infrastructure of checkpoints and cameras, and police even use a mobile platform to keep track of everything from residents’ social interactions to their use of electricity and gasoline. Chinese tech companies have tested facial-recognition software that can detect people’s ethnicity and send “Uighur alerts” to authorities.

Another disturbing revelation to emerge last year was that China has been using forced birth control, abortion, and sterilization to cut birth rates among Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Women are subjected to regular pregnancy checks, forced to have intrauterine devices inserted, and threatened with huge fines or detention if they have too many children. As a result of these policies, birth rates in the Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar fell by more than 60 percent between 2015 and 2018.

Chinese flags are displayed on a road leading to a facility believed to be a reeducation camp for mostly Muslim ethnic minorities on the outskirts of Hotan in May 2019. Photo: GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

How has China responded to the allegations?

Beijing denies violating Uighurs’ human rights and claims its policies in Xinjiang are reasonable and humane measures to combat Islamic extremism and separatist violence. Every report of abuses is dismissed as fabrication, slander, or “fake news” — the new favorite term of autocrats everywhere thanks to a certain former U.S. president. Initially, the Chinese government denied the existence of the internment camps, but when satellite evidence emerged of new and expanding detention centers, it changed its tune and claimed they were counter-extremist “reeducation” camps or “vocational education” centers. In the official narrative, Chinese authorities are merely trying to combat Islamic fundamentalism and improve the economic mobility of the impoverished Uighurs.

China defends itself against the allegations with false equivalencies and whataboutism. For instance, the government claims its population-control policy in Xinjiang is simply intended to equalize the rights of Han Chinese and ethnic minorities, who were subjected to less-stringent rules under the country’s now-defunct “one child” policy. Xi has rolled back many of the entitlements once enjoyed by China’s recognized ethnic minorities while expanding certain rights for Han Chinese. On paper, the current policy may look equitable, but in practice, observers see it as a means of shrinking the Uighur population to make it easier to control. Similarly, Beijing defends its surveillance practices by arguing that they are not discriminatory and that China uses surveillance technology to uphold public safety in the same way the U.S. and European countries do.

China also justifies its actions against the Uighurs by framing them as part of the war on terrorism. Salafism, a fundamentalist strain of Islam that underpins many Islamic extremist groups, has made inroads in China’s Muslim communities over the past decade, and, like western governments, China often conflates this extreme ideology with Islam in general. Islamist Uighur organizations such as the TIP set up camp in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s and formed ties to Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups; “East Turkestan” has become one of the fronts in the global jihadist movement. This jihadist connection has enabled China to depict any desire for autonomy on the part of the Uighurs as a terrorist threat akin to that posed by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. One of the reasons China is stepping in to provide aid and investment in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal is to enlist the Taliban’s cooperation in preventing the TIP and other Xinjiang-focused extremist groups from establishing new bases there.

For the most part, however, China’s strategy has been to deny and obfuscate all the allegations while making it extremely difficult for independent journalists or investigators to report from inside Xinjiang. By controlling the flow of information, Beijing can muddy the waters enough for a measure of plausible deniability. Looking at all the evidence, a neutral observer would likely conclude that China is violating international human-rights law and committing serious crimes, possibly including genocide. But, of course, in the geopolitical realm, there are no neutral observers: China (and other countries with their own reasons to take its side) can always cast doubt on any evidence and claim the accusations are political — because, in some sense, they always are.

How has the international community responded?

Taken together, these allegations suggest that China’s actions against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are violations of international human-rights law, potentially rising to the level of crimes against humanity and even genocide. The U.N. Human Rights Council, individual countries, and international organizations have been putting pressure on China over Xinjiang since 2019 and calling on Beijing to allow U.N. inspectors into the region to investigate.

In October 2020, Germany issued a joint statement on behalf of 39 U.N. member states condemning the “increasing number of reports of gross human-rights violations” in Xinjiang, including “severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association, and expression as well as on Uighur culture.” The U.S. signed on to this statement, along with the U.K., France, Japan, and other large democracies.

At the same time, Cuba issued an opposing statement on behalf of 45 countries “supporting China’s counterterrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang.” However, the balance of world opinion has appeared to be shifting against China, with 16 countries signing on to the statement of condemnation that had declined to sign a similar statement in 2019 and six fewer signing the statement of support.

So far, the world has been reluctant to go much further than condemning China’s actions. A group of Uighur activists lodged a complaint against China at the International Criminal Court last year, but in December the court declined to prosecute; China (like the U.S.) is not a signatory to the ICC’s establishing treaty, so the court has no jurisdiction over actions that occur within the country’s borders. The plaintiffs had hoped to build a case on alleged crimes against Uighurs living in the ICC member states of Tajikistan and Cambodia. The court said it would keep the file open and could pursue a case pending more evidence.

In April 2021, Human Rights Watch issued an extensive report on the situation in Xinjiang, making the case that China was committing crimes against humanity.

A young Uighur activist at a demonstration in September 2020 outside the Foreign Office in Berlin. Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

What is the U.S. government doing?

The U.S. has been more willing than most other countries to put the “genocide” label on China’s persecution of the Uighurs. The Trump administration imposed economic and visa sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the repression and considered labeling it a “genocide” last year in response to pressure from activists and members of Congress but held off. On his last day in office in January, former secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that, in his determination, China was committing genocide and crimes against humanity. His successor, Antony Blinken, was quick to agree, confirming in his first remarks as secretary of State that he believed China’s actions constitute genocide.

A number of other countries’ legislatures have passed resolutions calling the Uighur persecution a genocide, including those of the NetherlandsCanada, and the U.K., but governments have hesitated to adopt these motions: In May, for instance, New Zealand’s government blocked a parliamentary resolution applying the genocide label. New Zealand is especially vulnerable to the threat of trade retaliation from China, but other governments are being cautious too. A designation of genocide is difficult to justify or prove: The State Department’s legal office actually concluded earlier this year that China’s actions in Xinjiang amounted to crimes against humanity but not genocide.

Governments are also reluctant to use inflammatory language that might spur Chinese retaliation or commit them to a course of action they aren’t prepared to take. After all, if you’re willing to call out something as heinous as genocide, why aren’t you doing anything to stop it? Labeling China’s behavior as genocide is ultimately a political decision, and a risky one at that, though it may well be the right call.

As it happens, the U.S. and its allies are doing something, though it is not yet having much effect. The Biden administration issued additional sanctions on Chinese officials in March in a coordinated effort with the U.K., the E.U., and Canada. There are other things the administration could do, such as prioritizing Uighurs for asylum and resettlement in the U.S. But forcing China to change, if that is even possible, will require a massive, concerted campaign of diplomatic pressure and sanctions that includes China’s largest trading partners.

Why are businesses facing calls to take action?

The State Department has warned that companies with even indirect investments or supply-chain connections in Xinjiang are at high risk for violating U.S. law. This legal risk, along with rising consumer awareness, is putting pressure on major apparel brands to eliminate Xinjiang cotton from their supply chains. This is no easy task, as China produces 20 percent of the global cotton supply, and 85 percent of that is grown in Xinjiang, including some of the highest-quality cotton in the world. The campaign by Customs and Border Protection to crack down on imports made with forced labor is beginning to have an impact, but its enforcement capabilities remain limited, and plenty of other countries are still buying Xinjiang cotton — though the E.U., Australia, and some other major importers are considering U.S.-style laws authorizing the seizure of goods produced using forced labor.

Multinational companies also don’t want to talk too loudly about Chinese human-rights abuses since many depend on China as not only a supplier but a consumer. One or two companies, even big ones, won’t make a big enough difference — and companies won’t act alone if that means their competitors will have access to the Chinese market while they don’t. Until a critical mass of the world’s largest businesses can credibly threaten to pull out of China, we’re unlikely to see the kind of economic pressure that would influence its behavior.

Amazon says it’s permanently banned 600 Chinese brands for review fraud

Amazon says it’s permanently banned 600 Chinese brands for review fraud

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Remember when gadget vendors Aukey, MpowRavPowerVava, TaoTronics and Choetech started mysteriously disappearing from Amazon’s online storefront, and it turned out Amazon had intentionally yanked them while vaguely gesturing to the sanctity of its user reviews? Turns out they were just the tip of the iceberg. Amazon has now permanently banned over 600 Chinese brands across 3,000 different seller accounts, the company confirms to The Verge.

Amazon says that’s the grand tally after five months of its global crackdown, and it’s no longer being shy about why: a spokesperson tells us these 600 brands were banned for knowingly, repeatedly and significantly violating Amazon’s policies, especially the ones around review abuse.

The South China Morning Post reported the numbers earlier, citing an interview with an Amazon Asia VP on state-owned television.

Amazon’s crackdown began amidst reporting by The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Ngyuen about how companies like RavPower offered gift cards in exchange for reviews.

I’ve been collecting cards like this as well. Amazon banned the practice of incentivized reviews in 2016, but it’s a tricky business: some of these offers are disguised as a VIP testing program or an extended warranty. Other companies only offer incentives after you’ve left a bad review — they’ll give you a free product or offer a “refund” of free money, no return required, as long as you’ll delete your negative review.

It’s not clear which other Chinese brands might be included in Amazon’s latest crackdown — and it’s quite possible some of their products will escape Amazon’s net. Even though Aukey was one of the first high-profile companies to get banned in May, the company was still selling earbuds under a sub-brand as of July, and you can still buy a pair of them on Amazon even today. I also found a Choetech wireless charging pad, and a RavPower battery. We’ve asked Amazon to explain its policies around ban dodging, and we’ll let you know what we hear.

In early July, the parent company of Shenzhen Youkeshu Technology (more commonly known as YKS) reported that Amazon had closed 340 of YKS’s online stores and frozen over $20 million worth of its assets, according to the South China Morning Post. The publication described YKS as one of the platform’s largest Chinese retailers.

Here’s Amazon’s full statement:

Amazon works hard to build a great experience in our store so that customers can shop with confidence and sellers have the opportunity to grow their business amid healthy competition. Customers rely on the accuracy and authenticity of product reviews to make informed purchasing decisions and we have clear policies for both reviewers and selling partners that prohibit abuse of our community features. We suspend, ban, and take legal action against those who violate these policies, wherever they are in the world.

We will continue to improve abuse detection and take enforcement action against bad actors, including those that knowingly engage in multiple and repeated policy violations, including review abuse. We are confident that the steps we take are in the best interests of our customers as well as the honest businesses that make up the vast majority of our global selling community.

Probe finds World Bank changed data to boost China ranking

Probe finds World Bank changed data to boost China ranking

Probe finds World Bank changed data to boost China ranking

Investigators found that World Bank staff changed data to boost China’s ranking in the 2018 and 2020 ‘Doing Business’ report which gauges business conditions around the world.

The changes in the World Bank's 2018 'Doing Business' report followed lobbying by China for a better ranking and came ahead of a campaign by the World Bank to raise capital in which Beijing was expected to play a 'key role', investigators found [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]
The changes in the World Bank’s 2018 ‘Doing Business’ report followed lobbying by China for a better ranking and came ahead of a campaign by the World Bank to raise capital in which Beijing was expected to play a ‘key role’, investigators found [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

The World Bank is cancelling a prominent report on business conditions around the world after investigators found staff members were pressured by the bank’s leaders to alter data about China and some other governments.

The bank said on Thursday it would discontinue “Doing Business” following an investigation prompted by internal reports of “data irregularities” in its 2018 and 2020 editions and possible “ethical matters” involving bank staff.

Staff members changed data on China to improve its ranking under pressure from the office of then-World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and from then-Chief Executive Kristalina Georgieva and one of her advisers, an investigation conducted by Washington law firm WilmerHale for the bank concluded.

Georgieva, now director of the International Monetary Fund, said she disagreed with the findings.

“I disagree fundamentally with the findings and interpretations of the Investigation of Data Irregularities as it relates to my role in the World Bank’s Doing Business report of 2018,” Georgieva said in a statement.

Staff members changed data on China to improve its ranking under pressure from the office of then-World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and from then-Chief Executive Kristalina Georgieva (pictured) and one of her advisers, an investigation conducted by Washington law firm WilmerHale for the bank concluded [File: Remo Casilli/Reuters]

The World Bank, headquartered in Washington, is one of the world’s biggest sources of development funding. Doing Business, which looks at taxes, red tape, regulation and other business conditions, is cited by some governments in trying to attract investment. It ranks countries on factors such as how straightforward or burdensome it is to register a business, legally enforce a contract, resolve a bankruptcy, get an electrical connection or obtain construction permits.

Timothy Ash, senior emerging market sovereign strategy strategist at fixed income manager BlueBay Asset Management, said he “cannot overestimate” the importance of the Doing Business report for banks and businesses trying to assess risk in a particular country.

“Any quantitative model of country risk has built this in to ratings,” he said. “Money and investments are allocated on the back of this series.”

 

He added that if an analyst at a bank or rating agency had done what is alleged, “I wager they would be fired and would be subject to regulatory investigation.”

China has tried over the past two decades to increase its influence over international institutions including the IMF, World Health Organization and their policies.

The changes in the 2018 report followed lobbying by China for a better ranking and came ahead of a campaign by the World Bank to raise capital in which Beijing was expected to play a “key role,” the report said. China is the bank’s third-largest shareholder after the United States and Japan.

Changes by analysts who prepared the 2018 report raised China’s ranking by seven places to No 78, according to the report. Other changes affected rankings of Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

A World Bank senior director acknowledged the Doing Business leadership made changes to “push the data in a certain direction to accommodate geopolitical considerations,” the report said. It said Georgieva thanked him for doing his “bit for multilateralism”. The senior director interpreted that to mean “not angering China” during the capital increase negotiations, the report said.

The World Bank researchers knew the changes “were inappropriate,” but they “expressed a fear of retaliation” by Georgieva’s aide, Simeon Djankov, according to the report.

The Chinese foreign ministry expressed hope the World Bank would “conduct a comprehensive investigation” to “better maintain the professionalism and credibility” of Doing Business.

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to optimising the business environment,” said a ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian.

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Houston has a problem: Chinese backdoor threatens next Texas blackout

Houston has a problem: Chinese backdoor threatens next Texas blackout

Houston has a problem: Chinese backdoor threatens next Texas blackout

 
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American security experts have long worried about the threat of hackers targeting the U.S. critical infrastructure. American citizens have increasingly begun to see the real world results, such as the Colonial Pipeline cyber-attack, which forced Americans to stand in massive lines for dwindling fuel for days.

But what if foreign adversaries didn’t even need to use hackers to breach our network defenses to cause havoc?  What if they were the ones who built the most critical parts of our infrastructure in the first place?

That’s the warning recently raised by a Texas resident, in a complaint lodged with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the nation’s federal agency that regulates the “bulk power system.”

According to the documents provided in the complaint, 300 large power transformers, the backbone of the electric grid, were imported into the United States from a Chinese company named JiangSu HuaPeng Transformer Co., Ltd. (JSHP).  Copies of bills of lading indicate that at least 20 of these transformers passed through the Port of Houston, Texas on the way to destinations all over the country. At least one of them, according to the manufacturer, remains in Houston.

Why is this a problem? At least two transformers from JSHP have already been discovered to contain hardware backdoors that could enable Chinese agents to maliciously remote-access and manipulate them. In the summer of 2018 the U.S. government seized a JSHP transformer in the Port of Houston and transported it to Sandia National Laboratories for a comprehensive examination.

“They found hardware that was put into that that had the ability for somebody in China to switch it off,” said Latham Saddler, the former Director of Intelligence Programs at the National Security Council in the last administration.

Yet, despite some efforts of the Federal Government to address these supply chain vulnerabilities, U.S. utilities just keep importing Chinese transformers. JSHP’s website boasts that that their transformers handle 20% of the electrical load for Las Vegas and 10% of the load for New York City.

But it’s not just JSHP and its transformers.  The recent complaint also revealed that U.S. utilities are purchasing a whole host of grid “protection” and “monitoring” products from companies with direct links and even ownership ties to the Chinese Communist government. Chinese law obligates all Chinese corporations to provide assistance whenever the Communist regime’s intelligence agencies demand.

If the Federal Government isn’t working fast enough to address these vulnerabilities, maybe the Texas government can. On June 18, 2021 Governor Abbott signed into law the “Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act,” co-authored by Texas state Senator Donna Campbell and state Representative Tan Parker. In a statement about the bill Representative Parker said that the legislation “sends a clear message that we will not allow hostile foreign actors to access these vital elements of our great state.”

The legislation appears to be forward looking and prevents investments and contracts occurring after June 18, 2021, that might entangle the Texas grid with a foreign adversary.  It specifically states:

“A business entity may not enter into an agreement relating to critical infrastructure in this state with a company:

  1. if, under the agreement, the company would be granted direct or remote access to or control of critical infrastructure in this state, excluding access specifically allowed by the business entity for product warranty and support purposes; and
  2. if the business entity knows that the company is:

(A) owned by or the majority of stock or other ownership interest of the company is held or controlled by:

    • individuals who are citizens of China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, or a designated country; or
    • a company or other entity, including a governmental entity, that is owned or controlled by citizens of or is directly controlled by the government of China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, or a designated country; or

(B) headquartered in China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, or a designated country.”

Based on the evidence brought forth in the recent complaint, it seems that future purchases of JSHP transformers by Texas-based utilities would be a violation of this Texas law.

But what if the Texas utilities choose to remain “unaware” that their vendors are a front for the Chinese government or its intelligence agencies?  And what about the existing Chinese grid components already in Texas grid? It is unclear whether the Lone Star Protection Act could be a vehicle to remove Chinese-made transformers from the Texas grid or discipline the corporations that import them without performing due diligence.

What has become clear is that governments and corporations must thoroughly investigate the existing Chinese transformers and grid components and the companies selling them.

Experts recommend FERC schedule a technical conference and employ a special task force to find and vet these transformers and grid components, with an emphasis on determining whether these transformers supply electricity to nuclear power stations.

This emphasis on nuclear power stations is important because a loss of offsite power to a nuclear plant requires that it rely upon emergency diesel generators to power the systems that keep the reactor and its spent nuclear fuel safe. Those same experts point to a history of issues with these diesel generators and have stressed the need to prevent nuclear plants from losing offsite power in the first place.

However, the Federal Government has shown little interest in moving quickly to resolve the potential threat posed by the Chinese made transformers and grid components that could be used to take down the grid.

It will be up to the state of Texas to take initiative on their own. State government agencies should immediately begin their own investigations, ideally starting with identifying potentially compromised components supporting offsite power to Texas’ two nuclear power plants.

The state should also put other critical infrastructure owners on notice about the threat of Chinese-made equipment. Joseph Weiss, an international authority on cybersecurity and control systems, recently warned that the same equipment identified in the grid transformers “can be used in many other critical infrastructures such as water/wastewater, pipelines, oil/gas, and manufacturing.”

Failure to act could leave the Lone Star state vulnerable to an even more disastrous blackout than the one suffered this winter: a blackout where the ability to turn the power back on no longer rests in the hands of Texans.

Finally, other states should follow Texas’ lead and pass similar infrastructure protection legislation.

Protecting the national electric grid from malicious manipulation by foreign actors is ultimately the responsibility of the federal government. While states other than Texas do not have the advantage of their own independently regulated electric grid, state governments should not be afraid to take prudent steps to secure their citizens from this foreseeable threat. And, they don’t have to wait for legislators to mandate it.

State public service commissioners, law enforcement, and national guard personnel can and should investigate whether their state is host to any of these Chinese transformers now.

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Evergrande Crisis Escalates as Protests Break Out in China

Evergrande Crisis Escalates as Protests Break Out in China

Evergrande Crisis Escalates as Protests Break Out in China

 
Evergrande Crisis Escalates as Protests Break Out in China
 
·5 min read
 
 

(Bloomberg) — China Evergrande Group is facing mounting protests by homebuyers, retail investors and even its own employees, raising the stakes for authorities in Beijing as they try to prevent the property giant’s debt crisis from sparking social unrest.

Police descended on Evergrande’s Shenzhen headquarters late Monday after dozens of people gathered to demand repayments on overdue wealth management products. Protesters numbered in the hundreds on Sunday, Caixin reported.

Evergrande told employees at its office in Shenyang, near the border with North Korea, to work from home after staffers who bought the company’s WMPs staged a protest over the weekend, a person familiar with the matter said. In Guangzhou, angry homebuyers surrounded a local housing bureau last week to demand Evergrande restart stalled construction.

 

Unconfirmed videos of protests against the developer in other parts of China were being shared widely on Weibo, the country’s popular microblogging platform. There’s no indication that any of them have turned violent.

In a statement late Monday, Evergrande said rumors that it will go bankrupt are not true. While the developer is facing unprecedented difficulties, it is firmly fulfilling its responsibilities and is doing everything possible to restore normal operations and protect the legitimate rights and interests of customers, according to the statement on its website. The company didn’t comment on the protests.

The latest uproar follows Evergrande’s proposal late last week to impose lengthy repayment delays on holders of WMPs, the lightly regulated investment vehicles that have become a key source of funding for the developer. While Evergrande tweaked its plan on Monday in an attempt to mitigate the backlash, retail and institutional investors will still face delays unless they accept repayment in the form of Evergrande-developed properties.

Small-scale protests over troubled investment products aren’t unheard of in China, but they’re rare enough to attract attention from authorities who put a premium on social stability and have little tolerance for unsanctioned gatherings.

Whether they prompt Xi Jinping’s government to change tack on Evergrande remains to be seen. China’s top financial regulator signed off on the developer’s plan to renegotiate payment deadlines with banks and other creditors in August, a person familiar with the matter said last week. It’s unclear if officials had given explicit guidance on WMPs.

With more than $300 billion in liabilities, the developer has become one of the most systemically important companies in China. On top of its obligations to WMP investors and bondholders, it owes about $147 billion in trade and other payables to suppliers and received down payments on yet-to-be-completed properties from more than 1.5 million home buyers as of December.

Evergrande’s bonds are pricing in a near-certain likelihood of default, with its dollar note due 2022 falling by about 2 cents to 31 cents on Monday.

The developer has said it’s exploring the sale of interests in its listed electric vehicle and property services units, as well as other assets, and seeking to bring in new investors and renew borrowings. It’s also discounting properties aggressively to boost sales, with mixed success. Contracted sales, including those to suppliers and contractors to offset payments, tumbled 26% last month from a year ago.

Evergrande said in August it was forced to suspend work on some projects due to overdue payables. The company’s billionaire founder, Hui Ka Yan, pledged to complete projects this month, issuing what he called a “military order” to ensure property construction and delivery.

Evergrande proposed three repayment options for WMPs on Monday, according to two investors who were informed by their product managers and asked not to be identified. They included repayment through cash installments, properties or investors’ payables on residential units they have already purchased, the people said.

Retail investors can choose to be repaid 10% of their principal and interest every quarter, starting the final working day of the month due.

The new proposal treats all investors equally, in contrast to an interim plan released late last week that prioritized smaller investors, according to people familiar with the matter.

When Evergrande stopped repaying some investors last Thursday, those holding less than 100,000 yuan ($15,488) were to be paid in full and those with exactly 100,000 yuan were to get half back, according to two investors briefed earlier. Those holding more than 100,000 yuan were to see payments extended by two to four years and amortized.

Apart from the cash option, the new plan allows investors to purchase Evergrande’s residential units, offices, stores and parking units at deeper discounts to offset wealth products due. If investors have bought Evergrande’s residential units by Sept. 12, they can also request to use the money they’re owed to offset payments. Details are still pending for the second and third option.

Evergrande doesn’t disclose details of its WMP issuance, making it difficult to gauge the size of its outstanding products.

A local TV station in Anhui province reported that thousands of people in the province hold overdue Evergrande WMPs that total between 1.3 billion and 1.8 billion yuan, citing a wealth management consultant at Evergrande named Liu Yuntin. The consultant said 70% to 80% of Evergrande’s own employees in Anhui purchased such products and that’s likely to be the situation for branches nationwide.

Evergrande repeatedly told staff that it would be responsible for interest and principal and that Hui Ka Yan himself would guarantee payments, Liu said.

(Adds company comment in fifth paragraph)

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Experts see ‘explosion of activity’ by pro-China group to mobilise protests and exploit divisions in US

Experts see ‘explosion of activity’ by pro-China group to mobilise protests and exploit divisions in US

Experts see ‘explosion of activity’ by pro-China group to mobilise protests and exploit divisions in US

·2 min read
File. Security personnel holding the Communist Party and Chinese national flags prepare to enter the venue for the China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing on China on 2 September 2021   (Associated Press)
 
File. Security personnel holding the Communist Party and Chinese national flags prepare to enter the venue for the China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing on China on 2 September 2021 (Associated Press)

Experts are seeing an ‘explosion of activity’ by a pro-China group to mobilise physical protests in the US and spread disinformation, according to a report.

A misinformation campaign on social media “in support of Chinese government interests” and exploiting divisions over Covid-19 has expanded to new languages and platforms, according to the report by cybersecurity firm Mandiant and experts at Google.

The report said the operation was identified in 2019 as running hundreds of accounts in English and Chinese. They were aimed at discrediting the Hong Kong pro-democracy mass protests.

The campaign has now reportedly expanded its mission and spread from Twitter, Facebook and Google to “thousands of handles on dozens of sites around the world.”

John Hultquist, vice president of the Mandiant Threat Intelligence told CNN that experts have observed an “explosion of activity across the world” and the move to mobilise physical protests in the US “demonstrates they are a very serious threat.”

The report says: “This direct call for physical mobilisation is a significant development compared to prior activity, potentially indicative of an emerging intent to motivate real-world activity outside of China’s territories.” It added: “While this attempt did not appear to achieve any success, we believe it is critical that observers continue to monitor for such attempts in case greater degrees of organic engagement are later realised by the network.”

However, researchers have said that the accounts on the main US platforms and major networks elsewhere such as the Russia-based VKontakte “have gained little interaction with authentic users.”

Mr Hultquist said: “A lot of it is tweeting into the void.”

In April for example, experts saw thousands of fake accounts calling on Asian Americans to protest racial injustice in the US and disinformation about the virus origins.”

Experts have found no evidence to indicate that these posts were successful, the report says that “it does provide early warning that the actors behind the activity may be starting to explore, in however limited a fashion, more direct means of influencing the domestic affairs of the US.”

Shane Huntley, Director of Google’s Threat Analysis Group said: “Over the past two years, we have seen this threat actor evolve, from the types of content they publish to the tactics they use to amplify it. However, the most significant features of this network remain its scale and persistence, in spite of low engagement levels. That is why we’ve taken an aggressive approach to identifying and removing disinformation from this network.”

He added: “We anticipate they will continue to experiment to drive higher engagement and encourage others in the community to continue tracking this actor, shedding light on their operations and taking action against them.”

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