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Sept. 12, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

Hong Kong activist headed for DC
A leading pro-democracy activist from Hong Kong is heading to the United States, and China’s government is furious at the American show of support.

Joshua Wong was initially set to come to Washington for meetings with senior Trump administration officials and even President Trump earlier this week. A Trump administration official said this week that senior White House officials are still deciding how to handle the Wong visit and who will meet with him.

But the U.S. visit was upstaged by Germany. German human rights activists persuaded Mr. Wong to stop first in Berlin, where he met Monday with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at a media-sponsored human rights event at the German parliament.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry criticized that meeting and is expected to lodge further protests for Mr. Wong’s U.S. trip.

“It is extremely wrong for German media and politicians to attempt to tap into the anti-China separatist wave,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in a Beijing news briefing Tuesday. “It is disrespectful of China’s sovereignty and an interference in China’s internal affairs.”

As disclosed in this space earlier, China is using hardball propaganda tactics designed to smear the Hong Kong protesters as “terrorists” and “separatists.”

Mr. Wong said on Twitter that China called in the German ambassador in Beijing to protest the meeting and blocked a German news reporter from attending a government press conference.

“Smear tactics, rumors, mobilization by #Beijing; but accusing me ‘separatist’ doesn’t stop our relentless fight for democracy,” he tweeted.

Mr. Wong has requested meetings with Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, who resigned on Tuesday. The activist also is expected to meet congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who in the past has been a vehement critic of Chinese human rights abuses.

In Berlin, Mr. Wong, 22, is urging the German government to pass legislation similar to the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act introduced in Congress on June 13. The bill, currently in committee, calls for supporting Hong Kong autonomy.

Mr. Wong also wants the German government to block the sale and export of weapons to the Hong Kong police, which have used tear gas, beatings and water canon against ongoing mass protests in the former British colony.

The activist was arrested and detained for 24 hours at Hong Kong’s airport Sunday for what authorities said were violations of his bail. He was then allowed to travel to Germany and the United States.

China promised to observe Hong Kong’s democratic system when it reverted to Beijing rule in 1997. Beijing, however, has been slowly squeezing the Hong Kong government, and the protests were triggered by a proposed law that would allow China to extradite Hong Kong residents to China, where courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

New Defense Secretary Mark Esper says China poses major economic and security threats to the United States and the world.

“Decades of robust economic growth — enabled by market reforms — have provided Beijing the financial resources to expand its influence well beyond the shores of the mainland,” Mr. Esper said in a speech in London on Friday.

“This alone is not a problem, however,” he added. “What is concerning is how China is using this newfound economic power.”

The defense secretary described Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative as a coercive, multitrillion-dollar infrastructure development program in the developing world. The program was visible during Mr. Esper’s recent visit to the Indo-Pacific region.

“What are initially presented as reasonable investments by [China] to build ports, facilities and other infrastructure end up coming with some significant strings attached,” he said. “The more dependent a country becomes on Chinese investment and trade, the more susceptible they are to coercion and retribution when they act outside of Beijing’s wishes.”

The initiative has given Beijing political and economic leverage that has begun eroding the sovereignty of many nations.

In the end, the Chinese strategy will lead nations “to make suboptimal defense decisions for fear of upsetting the Chinese Communist Party and being punished through economic measures or political backlash,” Mr. Esper said.

China also continues to steal technology to bolster its military, theft Mr. Esper called “staggering.”

“Indeed, every Chinese company has the potential to be an accomplice in Beijing’s state-sponsored theft of other nations’ military and civilian technology,” he said. “Those companies also pose a risk to the secure and resilient telecommunications infrastructure on which our allies and partners depend for interoperability, intelligence sharing and mobilization.”

China also has a cybersecurity law requiring its companies to provide technical support and assistance to public security and national security organs of government.

“Governments and businesses around the world should be concerned by Chinese influence that opens them to costly deals, future coercion, loss of technical advantage or other malicious activity,” Mr. Esper said.

The threat is not limited to Asia but is part of expanding Chinese influence and power around the world.

“For anyone who wonders what a world dominated by Beijing might look like, I would argue all you need to do is look at how they treat their own people, within their borders,” he said. “Over a million ethnic minority Uighurs are in reeducation camps in Xinjiang province. Basic civil liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press are routinely denied. And we all see what’s happening to those who continue to speak out against the party’s influence in Hong Kong.

“I was there for the handover in 1997 when the ‘one country, two systems’ designation was affirmed. I would ask you: Given what we see in Hong Kong today, has China kept those promises?”

An Air Force environmental impact statement on the deployment of a new Air National Guard F-35 jet reveals new details about the advanced fighter aircraft. The Guard plans to deploy F-35 squadrons of 18 jets each at two locations in the United States, with the preferred sites in Madison, Wisconsin, and Montgomery, Alabama.

The F-35 is the military’s newest fighter bomber and boasts supersonic speeds and radar-evading stealth features that allow it to fly through advanced air defenses. The 159-page report for the first time reveals that even with its low-observable design, the F-35 will employ additional defenses, including chaff and flares, designed to attract and defeat enemy electronic-guided missiles.

The F-35 “employs defense countermeasures such as chaff and flares although its stealth characteristics reduce the need for such measures,” the report said. “Design features and radar-absorbent composite materials make the F-35A harder to detect than conventional aircraft of similar size.”

The chaff defense consists of bundles of 5 million to 5.6 million fibers cut in ways that reflect radar signals. Released from a jet in flight, the chaff forms an “electronic ‘cloud’ that breaks the radar signal and temporarily hides the maneuvering aircraft from radar detection,” the report said.

The newest form of chaff is designated ARM-210 and is being tested for expected deployment next year.

High-technology infrared flares dropped by the F-35 are designed to divert homing and heat-seeking enemy surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. More widely used high-temperature flares are made of magnesium and burn for less than five seconds.

“The burn temperature is hotter than the F-35A exhaust, so the flare attracts and decoys heat-seeking weapons and sensors targeted on the aircraft,” the report said.

Electronic warfare gear on the F-35 also is used to defend the jet from threats. The ASQ-239 electronic warfare system uses a high-tech active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and the antennas located throughout the aircraft.

One of its key features is a towed electronic device that is dropped from beneath the aircraft. The electronic decoy puts out signals that mimic the radar signature of the F-35 and thus can draw an enemy missile to it instead of the aircraft.

The Air Force report on F-35 defenses was first reported this week by Aviation Week.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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