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Jan. 12, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

China’s outspoken Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian relegated to obscure government position

By Bill Gertz
The outspoken Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who falsely accused the U.S. military of originating the COVID-19 pandemic, will no longer be the mouthpiece for the Chinese government.

Mr. Zhao, who has also used his high-profile post at the Foreign Ministry to promote Russian disinformation, has been named to a new position as deputy director of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs, the Foreign Ministry stated on its website. The department is a relatively obscure post that will remove Mr. Zhao from conducting some of the daily press briefings with the Chinese and international press.

The reason for the move was not disclosed. The demotion, however, followed an incident involving his wife, Tang Tianru, who in December took to China’s social media platform Weibo to criticize the lack of medicine needed for COVID patients, saying she was “helpless” in treating the disease. Her posts were quickly removed by censors, but they were widely reported outside China.

Ms. Tang made the comments over a period of 20 days when Mr. Zhao was not seen in public, presumably as a result of contracting the virus.

Such criticism in China by a family member of a high-profile official like Mr. Zhao usually results in official punishment.

Bloomberg News, however, reported that the shift of Mr. Zhao out of the ministry may be part of a new detente emerging between the United States and China after President Biden’s meeting in Bali with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.

China appointed its ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, as foreign minister two weeks ago. The move was viewed by some analysts as an attempt by Beijing to soften its anti-U.S. policies and rhetoric.

The Biden administration is also seeking closer relations with Beijing, amid fears that the two nations are headed for conflict over regional hot spots such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Mr. Zhao has been a notorious practitioner of the “wolf warrior” diplomacy — aggressively promoting Chinese propaganda and disinformation — that has been a centerpiece of government policy under Mr. Xi.

In March 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, Mr. Zhao took to Twitter, which is banned in China, to spread anti-U.S. posts. Mr. Zhao questioned the timing of the first American patients infected and whether the COVID-19 virus may have originated in the U.S. “What are the names of the hospitals? It might be [the] U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” he wrote, without offering any evidence.

The spokesman then endorsed a report produced by a Canadian group called the Centre for Research on Globalization, which critics say is a known outlet for Russian government disinformation. The spokesman identified an article by the group under the headline “Further evidence that the virus originated in the U.S.”

In May, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center said Mr. Zhao was promoting Russian disinformation regarding charges of U.S.-funded research labs in Ukraine.

“On March 8, [Chinese Foreign Ministry] Spokesperson Zhao Lijian began amplifying Russia’s debunked disinformation alleging the United States sponsored biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine,” the report said. The report said Beijing‘s promotion of the bioweapons laboratory story was “one of the [China’s] largest disinformation campaigns since 2018.”

Mr. Zhao also drew protests from the Australian government after he posted online a doctored image of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child.

In November, Mr. Zhao appeared to lose his train of thought at a ministry press briefing when asked if China would continue its harsh COVID restrictions while protests against the policies erupted across the country. Mr. Zhao hesitated before telling reporters weakly that the protests did not reflect what was actually happening.

Mr. Zhao, 50, had been deputy spokesman at the ministry since February 2020, and grew in popularity with nearly 8 million followers on Weibo.

Asked about Mr. Zhao’s shift, Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu denied there was anything unusual about the move.

“As far as I know, it is a normal personnel change,” he said.

Rogers vows to stop Pentagon’s woke policies
New House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers is already vowing to take on what he calls woke policies at the Pentagon, a key target of congressional conservatives.

“The committee will also hold the Biden administration accountable for misguided policies that distract from the core mission of the Department of Defense,” the Alabama Republican said in a statement. “Initiatives that service a social agenda but don’t advance our national security will be scrutinized. Those in charge of these initiatives will come before the committee to explain how they will protect our national security.”

The new chairman vowed that the panel “will leave no stone unturned in holding the Biden administration accountable.”

Mr. Rogers, the first Alabamian to hold the position, said the committee will focus its efforts on major threats to U.S. national security.

“Our nation faces unprecedented threats from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran,” he said. “In order to deter these threats and remain the most feared force in the world — we must ensure that our military focuses on lethality and capability.”

The committee will seek to provide U.S. forces with the needed resources and weapons to deter and defeat any adversary.

A recent report by two congressional Republicans criticized Pentagon social, diversity and inclusion policies that they said were weakening the U.S. military.

“Our military’s singular purpose is to ‘provide for the common defense’ of our nation,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Rep. Chip Roy. “It cannot be turned into a left-wing social experiment. It cannot be used as a cudgel against America itself. And it cannot be paralyzed by fear of offending the sensibilities of Ivy League faculty lounges or progressive pundits.”

The report criticizes the Pentagon’s policy of promoting critical race theory, which argues that the United States is a systemically racist nation, in the military and at service academies, as well as policies to accommodate transgender recruits.

“People cannot even enlist with Invisalign or braces until they are removed,” the report states. “And yet, today’s woke military is now proudly promoting and celebrating sex reassignment procedures, which can have months-long recovery periods, with complete recovery taking ‘up to one year’ for some procedures.”

New PLA command system targets U.S.
In a bid to match U.S. joint war-fighting capabilities and defeat American forces in a future conflict, China’s military is developing a new high-technology command and control system for use in a potential future conflict with the U.S.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report on the Chinese military states that the People’s Liberation Army is working on a new system known as “multi-domain precision warfare.”

The news outlet reported earlier this month that U.S. officials believe the new Chinese system will be used to counter the Pentagon’s joint all-domain command and control initiative. The Chinese system, like the U.S. system, will rely on highly networked communications that can rapidly share intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in directing weapons and other combat systems.

The system will also seek to identify key U.S. military weaknesses during combat.

The Pentagon report said the Chinese military has been studying the multi-domain precision warfare system as a “core operational concept” since 2021.

The system is “intended to leverage a C4ISR network, which the PLA calls the ‘network information system-of-systems that incorporates advances in big data and artificial intelligence to rapidly identify key vulnerabilities in the U.S. operational system and then combine joint forces across domains to launch precision strikes against those vulnerabilities,’” the report said.

Joint war-fighting — the use of multiple military services in an integrated manner — is seen as a key strategic military advantage for the Pentagon. China’s military, while modernizing rapidly with new weapons and capabilities, is untested in actual warfare and is known to lack effective joint war-fighting skills.

Chinese military writings, however, have indicated that developing joint war-fighting capabilities is a high priority for the People’s Liberation Army. A key indicator is China’s launch of a large number of military satellites, which have doubled in the past 10 years.

The Pentagon said China has “continued to develop its constellation of military reconnaissance satellites that could support monitoring, tracking and targeting of U.S. and allied forces.”

Beijing is also investing in reconnaissance, surveillance, command, control, and communications systems at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels to provide high-fidelity [over-the-horizon] targeting information for its strike platforms,” the report said.

A senior U.S. defense official told reporters in November that “this new concept is intended to help identify key vulnerabilities in an adversary’s operational system and then to launch precision strikes against those vulnerabilities, which could be kinetic or non-kinetic. Basically, it’s a way that they’re thinking about looking across domains to identify vulnerabilities in an adversary’s operational system and then to exploit those to cause its collapse.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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