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Sept. 23, 2021
Notes from the Pentagon

Biden goes easy on China at U.N.

By Bill Gertz
President Biden this week signaled he is backing off the hardline U.S. policies of the Trump administration in dealing with China and reverting to the more accommodationist approach of earlier administrations.

At the United Nations on Tuesday, Mr. Biden made clear in his speech to the General Assembly that strategic competition with China will take a back seat to the administration’s more important priorities: addressing the pandemic and climate change. Mr. Biden also made no mention of China and its role in the pandemic, and gave no indication he plans to hold Beijing accountable for its role in the start and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past, we are fixing our eyes on devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future: ending this pandemic; addressing the climate crisis; managing the shifts in global power dynamics; shaping the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber, and emerging technologies; and facing the threat of terrorism as it stands today,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden suggested his policy for the Indo-Pacific region is reverting to a version of former President Barack Obama’s “leading from behind” approach that sought to diminish U.S. leadership in favor of allowing allies and partners to take the lead in confronting problems.

Ignoring the current reality of a coercive China seeking to replace the United States as the dominant power in the world, Mr. Biden insisted that he is not seeking a “new Cold War” under a world divided into hostile blocs. Mr. Biden pointedly made no reference to the world’s most significant states promoting authoritarianism — Communist China or Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Instead he noted the problem in Belarus, Cuba, Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela.

Two recent actions also are signs of renewed appeasement-oriented policies toward China: Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the U.S. Justice Department is in talks with China to resolve the extradition case of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou. China has been aggressively pushed to have all U.S. charges dropped and for the “princeling” executive to be allowed to leave detention in Canada and return to China.

Additionally, the Biden State Department has rolled back the Trump administration policy of allowing greater official and military contacts with Taiwan.

Republican Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin recently filed an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill now working its way through Congress that would exempt members of the military and Pentagon civilians from the new Biden administration restrictions on contacts with Taiwan. The draft amendment states that a June 29 State Department memorandum rescinded the eased contact limits and restricted official travel and communications for the island-state that China regards as a breakaway province.

The new restrictions require Pentagon and military officials to get special permission from the State Department before traveling to Taiwan and must use tourist passports, not official passports. The Pentagon also is banned from calling Taiwan a country, displaying the Taiwan flag, or playing of the country’s national anthem at U.S. government facilities.

Officials also have been banned from attending events at Twin Oaks, the Taiwan government representative residence in the District of Columbia and Taiwan’s de facto embassy.

Asked by a reporter on the flight from New York to Washington why Mr. Biden failed to mention China once during the U.N. speech, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president wants to “work together” with China and other states on issues of common interest such as climate change, terrorism and cyberthreats.

U.S. policy is “not directed at any one country but directed at any country that doesn’t meet the bar, that we will hold the standard of democracy high, hold standards of human rights high,” she said. “And, you know, that’s a message that should be heard by anyone who is listening.”

FBI raids Chinese crane delivery ship
FBI counterintelligence agents recently conducted a search of the Chinese merchant ship Zhen Hua 24 that delivered four gigantic shipping container cranes to Baltimore harbor last week. The agents were said by informed sources to have uncovered intelligence-gathering equipment on the ship during the search on Sept. 15.

No details of the types of equipment found could be learned.

The Zhen Hua 24 sailed from Shanghai — home of the Shanghai State Security Bureau, the Ministry of State Security office that conducts aggressive intelligence-gathering operations against the United States. The ship first dropped anchor near Annapolis and reconfigured the cranes to be able to clear two bridges.

The huge cranes carried aboard the ship cleared the Chesapeake Bay and Key Bridges by about 10 feet as they sailed to the Port of Baltimore. The transit stopped on the spans on Thursday, The Associated Press reported.

Each of the four cranes are some 450 feet high, about 25 feet taller than current port cranes used to move containers from piers to merchant ships.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Coast Guard had no immediate comment.

The Coast Guard announced in a federal register notice that it was setting up a temporary safety zone in waters in the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco River for the Zhen Hua’s transit.

The zone restricts any vessels from coming within 500 feet of the Zhen Hua and the notice said enforcement of the safety zone would be assisted by federal, state and local agencies.

“This action is necessary to provide for the safety of life on these navigable waters during the movement of the M/V Zhen Hua 24 while it is transporting four new Super-Post Panamax container cranes to the Port of Baltimore,” the notice said. “This rulemaking will prohibit persons and vessels from being in the safety zone unless authorized by the captain of the Port Maryland-National Capital Region or a designated representative.”

China could launch nukes from space
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall disclosed this week that China could build a Soviet-era nuclear attack system from space called “fractional orbital bombardment.”

Mr. Kendall, in a speech to the Air Force Association conference, said there is a danger the system could be revived by China, which is engaged in a massive expansion of its nuclear arsenal.

“There is a potential for weapons to be launched into space, then go through this old concept from the Cold War called the fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS), which is a system that basically goes into orbit and then de-orbits to a target,” Mr. Kendall said.

“If you use that kind of approach, you don’t have to use a traditional ICBM trajectory,” he said. “It’s a way to avoid defense systems and missile warning systems.”

U.S. officials recently disclosed China is building three massive ICBM fields in western China for silos expected to contain as many as 350 DF-41, 10-warhead ICBMs. China also is deploying a number of space warfare weapons including ground-launched anti-satellite missiles and orbiting robot satellite killers.

“There’s no question about the technical feasibility or technology to do these types of things,” Mr. Kendall said, noting China’s satellite with a robotic arm capable of crushing satellites.

Moscow between the 1960s and 1980s deployed a small arsenal of fractional orbital missiles that were designed to counter Western missile defense systems. China also considered building a fractional orbital missile system in the 1960s but gave up the program, according to experts.

Such missile systems also could be used to launch electromagnetic pulse strikes. EMP attacks use the gamma rays created in a high-altitude nuclear blast to disrupt all electronics over wide areas, a way to attack an enemy without causing the kinetic destruction of an above-ground explosion.

Rick Fisher, a China expert with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said China’s military has built a fractional orbital missile system.

“Today China has multiple ICBM and [space launch vehicle] platforms to accomplish this mission, such as the massive CASIC KZ-21 —now in development — that could loft 80 to 100 warheads into orbit,” Mr. Fisher said.

“It is a means of defeating early-warning systems and countering ABM systems,” he added. “So as the [People’s Liberation Army] marches toward nuclear superiority it is prepared to counter any U.S. move to increase missile defense.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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