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Aug. 20, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Trump set to ban WeChat
The widely used Chinese language messaging app WeChat is facing a U.S. government ban for American users and possibly for corporations abroad, despite intense lobbying by tech companies.

President Trump announced Aug. 6 that WeChat, like the video app TikTok, is a Chinese-owned entity that threatens U.S. national security.

A Trump administration official said WeChat is more dangerous than TikTok because WeChat allows financial transactions that are widely used by Chinese and U.S. companies for doing business.

That has triggered an intense lobbying campaign by major companies that still hope to continue doing business in China despite what appears to be a new Cold War with Beijing.

“Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users,” Mr. Trump stated in an executive order Aug. 6. “This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”

WeChat is also used to gather personal and proprietary information from Chinese nationals visiting the United States, data that Chinese intelligence agencies can exploit. Both applications also censor content and can be used for disinformation campaigns by the government.

As a result, other nations, notably Australia and India, have already banned the use of WeChat.

“The United States must take aggressive action against the owner of WeChat to protect our national security,” Mr. Trump stated.

The ban will take effect Sept. 20 and gives Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. wide authority to block anyone under U.S. jurisdiction from doing business with Tencent Holdings Ltd., WeChat’s parent company.

Earlier this month, a dozen U.S. corporations raised their concerns about the WeChat ban in a call with White House officials, including representatives of Apple, Ford Motor Co., Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Walmart and Walt Disney Co., according to the administration official.

The U.S.-China Business Council is also opposing the WeChat ban, which is heavily used for all kinds of transactions inside China and has a dominant market position there.

“WeChat is central to doing business in China — companies use it to communicate with customers and employees, process payments, conduct e-commerce, and market products,” the Council said in a statement.

Both the White House National Security Council and State Department, however, are adamant that the ban will go into effect next month. The ban is part of the overall Trump administration approach of seeking fair and reciprocal trade and other relations with China.

TikTok is facing a similar ban and its owner, the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., is in talks to sell its U.S. operations under pressure from the Trump administration.

The Chinese Communist Party outlet Global Times reported recently that if Apple is ordered to remove WeChat from its App Store, iPhone sales globally will fall by 30%.

“Cooperation between Apple and WeChat’s parent company, Tencent Holdings Ltd., covers everything from online games to payments,” the news outlet stated. “While Apple is increasingly emphasizing its software services revenues, a divorce from Tencent would lead to profound aftershocks in its global business.”

Global Times warned that if the WeChat ban takes effect, Apple “investors may start to notice all the negative factors they had previously neglected, drastically intensifying the company’s downward trend.”

Apple this week for hit a new high of a $2 trillion valuation for the tech company, the first private company ever to reach that mark.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell said the WeChat ban needs to be implemented, telling Inside the Ring that the ban is “fundamentally about ensuring the international banking and financing system is safe from the predatory designs of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Additionally, text communications are extremely important for global business and help overcome spoken language barriers while providing a record trail that can be referenced.

China’s “systematic shutting down of foreign messaging apps has channeled nearly all foreign textual civil communications into WeChat, which is thoroughly controlled and monitored by the CCP,” Capt. Fanell said.

“The Trump administration’s ban on WeChat not only disrupts the PRC’s schemes to disrupt America’s financial markets — to include any move into digital currencies — but also significantly raises the possibility that other nations might follow suit, as India has previously done.”

Probe of soldiers in DNC roll call
The Army is investigating two soldiers who appeared during the virtual roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday in apparent violation of military rules barring troops from taking part in political events.

“The Army is investigating two soldiers from the 9th Mission Support Command who appeared in uniform during the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 18,” the service said in a statement. “Wearing a uniform to a partisan political event like this is prohibited.”

The statement went on, “The Army follows the Department of Defense’s longstanding and well-defined policy regarding political campaigns and elections to avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any political candidate, campaign or cause.”

Prohibited activities include campaigning for candidates, soliciting contributions, marching in a partisan parade or wearing a uniform to a partisan event.

The two junior enlisted soldiers appeared with two Democratic delegates from American Samoa during Tuesday’s virtual roll call vote that nominated former Vice President Joseph R. Biden for president.

Asked about the use of the military in the video, a Pentagon spokesman said: “All members of the armed forces, including active-duty members, members of the reserve component not on active duty, and retired members, are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign or election events.”

An official at the Democratic National Convention told ABC News that the soldiers’ appearance was a mistake. “The composition of that shot was an oversight,” the official said.

Guidance issued by the Pentagon last year states that military and civilian personnel are encouraged to vote, but highlights the guidance against overt political campaigning in uniform.

A Pentagon directive states that members of the armed forces on active duty can express their views on candidates, donate to campaign and sign petitions used to place candidates on ballots.

“Members on active duty may not participate in partisan activities such as soliciting or engaging in partisan fundraiser activities, serving as the sponsor of a partisan club, or speaking before a partisan gathering,” the statement said. “In addition, all military members, including National Guard and Reserve forces, are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign events.”

Army report on North Korea threat
An Army training report published last month identified several dangers posed by the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea, including a possible invasion of South Korea or the use of commandos in a paramilitary attack.

“North Korea maintains a range of capabilities and will apply them at selected times and locations in order to achieve desired effects,” the Army report, “North Korean Tactics,” stated.

North Korea’s military “uses functional offensive and defensive tactics or acts of crime and terrorism to counter an enemy,” said the report made public July 24.

Past actions by the regime are an indication of what Pyongyang may attempt in the future, either as direct military action or military provocations.

Potential actions include a conventional ground attack across the demilitarized zone separating the Koreas, as occurred in 1950, or the use of special operations forces in a direct mission, such as the January 1968 attack in Seoul on the presidential Blue House.

Other scenarios identified in the report include seizing ships in international waters, such as the capture of the Navy intelligence ship USS Pueblo in January 1968, or the hijacking or blowing up of commercial airliners, as took place in 1968 and 1969 respectively.

The Army also believes the North Korean could resume assassinations by hit squad, as happened in Burma in October 1983, and Malaysia in February 2017, or carry out commando spy missions, as took place in September 1996.

More recently, North Korea has launched unprovoked conventional artillery attacks on Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010, and a torpedo attack on the South Korean ship Choenan in March 2010. The North Koreans also could resort to ambushes on South Korean patrols, using landmines on the southern side of the DMZ and launching missiles.

“North Korea is constantly adapting and evolving its capabilities,” the report said.

In addition to military attacks, Pyongyang also is steeped in the use of psychological warfare.

“North Korea complements physical violence with methodical, long-term psychological warfare,” the report says.

Tactics in the information warfare program include propaganda highlighting abuse and accidents by foreign soldiers, pro-North Korean influence operations targeting South Koreans and marginalizing American influence.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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