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April 8, 2021
Notes from the Pentagon

Silicon Valley urged to grasp China threat

By Bill Gertz
Major technology leaders in Silicon Valley need a better understanding of the challenges posed by China, according to Peter Thiel, the high-technology venture capitalist and entrepreneur.

“I do think that seeing China in an adversarial way would be a helpful start, and Silicon Valley has not been that good on this,” Mr. Thiel said during a conference at the Nixon Library in California on Tuesday.

Mr. Thiel said China under President Xi Jinping has created an unprecedented mass surveillance state, one he described as “omni-malevolent.”

“On some level, it is really an extraordinary sociological political experiment with no real 20th-century precedent,” Mr. Thiel said. “There are ways that probably Stalin was still worse than Xi and killed more people. But the degree of hooks that you have into people is just extraordinary. It’s sort of like the government is in your innermost core and it’s completely out.”

China‘s government uses American-origin high technology to monitor communications and travel and recently announced plans for a cryptocurrency that will track ordinary financial transactions.

Mr. Thiel said Mr. Xi has created a Chinese Communist Party version of St. Augustine’s theology of God: “Totally outside you, totally inside you and knows everything about you.”

Mr. Thiel said that in some ways the American tech industry is “structurally better” in dealing with Beijing, at least compared with Wall Street, Hollywood and American universities, which he said have been bending a knee to the authoritarian Chinese system for years. The reason: Big Tech does not get much benefit from China, with the exception of Apple, which relies on Beijing for producing the popular iPhone.

“If you look at the [other] Big Five tech companies — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft — [they have] virtually very, very little presence in China,” he said. “So they aren’t naturally [a] pro-China constituency.”

Another problem for Silicon Valley companies is “woke politics,” Mr. Thiel argued.

“The way they think of themselves as not really American companies, and it’s somehow very, very difficult for them to have a sharp anti-China edge of any sort whatsoever.”

Facebook, for example, faced an internal battle a year ago between pro-democracy Chinese employees from Hong Kong who squared off against Chinese expatriates sympathetic to the Communist Party leadership in Beijing.

“The employees from Hong Kong were all in favor of the protests and free speech,” Mr. Thiel said. “But there were more employees at Facebook who were born in China than who were born in Hong Kong. And the Chinese nationals actually said that it was just Western arrogance and [Facebook] shouldn’t be taking Hong Kong’s side.”

Most other Facebook employees stayed away from the controversy, “but the internal debate felt like people were actually more anti-Hong Kong than pro-Hong Kong,” said Mr. Thiel, who is a board member of the company.

A controversy erupted this week when some Facebook employees reportedly raised concerns that the platform is being used for Chinese state propaganda on Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang.

Mr. Thiel is a billionaire libertarian and founder of PayPal and Palantir Technologies, a software company involved in big data analytics. He was among the early investors in Facebook.

The entrepreneur also said he confronted Google about its work for the Chinese government and the company’s refusal to apply its technologies on behalf of the U.S. military.

Mr. Thiel said he asked Google leaders whether the company’s DeepMind artificial intelligence project was being used to run internment camps housing imprisoned ethnic Uyghurs in western China. He was told the company did not know and that it did not ask the Chinese government about it.

Google adopted what he termed “magical thinking” — pretending that working with the Chinese government is fine and simply part of engagement.

“It’s some combination of wishful thinking. It’s useful idiots; it’s [Communist Party] ‘fifth columnist’ collaborators [or] some superposition of all these things,” he said. “But I think if you think of it ideologically or in terms of human rights or something like that, I’m tempted to say it’s just profoundly racist. It’s like saying that because they look different they’re not White people, they don’t have the same rights. It’s something super wrong, but I don’t quite know how you unlock that.”

The aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt is conducting operations in the South China Sea this week amid rising tensions between Beijing and U.S. ally the Philippines.

China has amassed more than 200 maritime vessels near a contested reef claimed by Manila in the Spratly Islands, prompting the Philippine air force to dispatch daily warplane patrols over the reef.

The Navy said Wednesday that the Roosevelt strike group carried out joint operations with the Malaysian navy — part of increased American efforts to bolster alliances in the region to counter Chinese military encroachment.

China has built up some 3,200 acres of islands in the sea and in 2018 began deploying anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles on some of the new artificial outposts.

The Navy said the carrier joined with the Royal Malaysian Air Force in the first bilateral military exercises between the militaries.

“While we would have loved to meet face-to-face, I am excited that we can meet in the air to help deepen security cooperation between our two nations,” said Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of Carrier Strike Group 9. “Our continued pursuit of interoperability is essential to maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.”

The exercises involved air combat training that would be useful in any conflict with China. The carrier operations began Sunday and included simulated airstrikes, according to a Navy statement.

The deployment of the warship along with a guided-missile cruiser and destroyer is the second time this year that the strike group sailed in the sea.

“Over the course of the strike group’s deployment, we have demonstrated our commitment to the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region by operating with our friends from Australia, India, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea,” said Adm. Verissimo.

In addition to practicing maritime strikes, the strike group also is conducting anti-submarine operations.

Meanwhile, China is conducting its own carrier operations farther north around Taiwan, according to China‘s state media.

The Liaoning carrier was sailing east of Taiwan on Monday as part of what U.S. officials have said are provocative military operations aimed at coercing the island democracy.

The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times reported that the carrier operations showed that the Chinese military is capable of surrounding the island, isolating its troops and “leaving them nowhere to run.”

The Navy countered the carrier operations Wednesday by sending the guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain through the tense Taiwan Strait, close to where Chinese warplanes have been conducting daily forays into Taiwan’s air defense zone.

Navy Lt. Mark Langford, a 7th Fleet spokesman, said the McCain sailed through the Strait “in accordance with international law.”

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. “The United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

According to the Taiwanese Defense Ministry, Chinese warplanes have been flying into the southern air defense zone nearly every day for the past month. The most recent flights included eight J-10 fighters, four J-16 fighters, two KJ-500 airborne warning and control aircraft and a Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

All the flights took place near the southwestern area of the island, and the Y-8 flew halfway around Taiwan before returning to the mainland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently disclosed secrets about one of Moscow’s vaunted superweapons: the new hypersonic missile called Avangard.

The missile travels so fast near the edge of the atmosphere that its warhead temperature reaches 3,632 degrees Fahrenheit while remaining under controlled flight, Mr. Putin revealed.

“The temperature on the surface of the Sun is about 6,000 degrees [Celsius]. And the temperature of the tip of our latest Avangard missile system reaches nearly 2,000 [degrees Celsius]. I am now talking about material science. The missile flies and melts in flight like ice cream. And yet it keeps receiving commands and remains controllable,” the Russian leader said March 26, according to state-run Interfax.

A U.S. Air Force flight test of a hypersonic missile booster failed Monday in what the service said was a setback for the program. The Pentagon is rapidly building hypersonic missiles as part of an effort to catch up to similar programs in China and Russia.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced in December that the first missile regiment with Avangard missiles will be placed on combat duty near Orenburg. The strategic weapon is a nuclear-armed hypersonic glide vehicle that is boosted near space on a ballistic missile and is capable of reaching speeds of Mach 27, according to Russian officials.

The glider will be deployed on SS-18 missiles and eventually the coming SS-X-29 heavy ICBM that Moscow calls the Sarmat.

The Russian military regards Avangard as a response to the deployment of U.S. missile defenses.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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