Today's D Brief: Biden-Xi VTC; CPP influence inside US?; Lukashenko wants Russian nukes; Russian perfume at Dubai; And a bit more.
Biden, Xi’s not-so-big VTC. The leaders of China and the United States are set to talk today for the first time since September. The goal from the outset for the U.S. is to “to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC, as well as ways to work together where our interests align,” according to the White House’s obligatory and terse preview. According to China’s even more terse preview, the two presidents plan “to exchange views on China-US relations and issues of mutual interest.”
BLUF: Curb your enthusiasm for anything earth-shaking out of this one since, according to White House officials, “No major announcements are expected and there’s no plan for the customary joint statement by the two countries at the end,” the Associated Press reports.
Meanwhile, the U.S. may have “a blueprint for breaking up Chinese espionage cells around the world,” according to The Daily Beast’s Shannon Vavra. She's writing about the case of Yanjun Xu, an alleged Chinese intelligence official (Vavra calls him a “Chinese spy boss”) who was trying to lure a General Electric employee into sharing aviation schematics during a meeting in Belgium three years ago. But that employee brought the FBI along, too. Now Xu is believed to be “the first Chinese intelligence official to be extradited to the United States for trial and convicted.”
Another reason this would seem to matter a great deal: “I don’t think that the Chinese intelligence services or the Chinese government will just sit idly by and let this happen,” said Jim Olson, the CIA’s former chief of counterintelligence. “This is a major blow to them to lose a staff [Ministry of State Security] officer and to have that person sitting in U.S. prison for what I anticipate is a lengthy sentence.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: That strange Mar-a-Lago visitor has now exited the country. “A Chinese businesswoman convicted of trespassing at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and lying to Secret Service agents was deported over the weekend...more than two years after serving her sentence,” the Associated Press reports from Palm Beach, Fla.
And BTW: “It’s unclear what [then 33-year-old Yujing] Zhang’s motives were, but the judge said it was clearly about more than getting a photo opportunity.” Story, here.
One last thing: Gain a better understanding of “the ways the Chinese Communist Party targets [U.S.] governors, mayors, and other state and local players with political influence activities,” according to a new report entitled “All Over the Map” from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington.
Why this matters: "In the immediate, state, and local governments can exert pressure on the federal government," FDD's Nathan Picarsic and Emily de La Bruyère warn. "In the longer term, Beijing views subnational officials as future national leaders to be co-opted." Full report, here.
From Defense One
Belarus Is Laying Tinder for a War. How Will NATO Respond? // Elisabeth Braw: The weaponization of migrants shows how gray-zone tactics flummox an alliance set up to deal with conventional or nuclear attacks.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Vax deadline, clarified; Microchip moves; GE to split up; And more...
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1969, a nuclear-powered Soviet K-19 submarine traveling about 200 feet below the surface collided with America's nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Gato, which was reportedly on a secret mission at the time in the Barents Sea. The K-19 is believed to have sustained enough damage that it was forced back to port; the USS Gato, on the other hand, continued on with its mission.
Belarus’s embattled leader says he wants Russian nuclear weapon systems to protect him on his southern and western borders, which would have those systems pointing toward Ukraine as well as Poland and Lithuania. “I need several divisions in the west and the south, let them stand,” autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko told the Russian National Defence magazine in an interview on Saturday.
Recall, of course, that “Belarus and Russia are formally part of a ‘union state’ and have been in talks for years to move closer together,” Reuters reminded readers upon hearing of the interview.
The next day, Sunday, Poland’s PM floated the possible need for alliance-wide talks at NATO about what to do next since “There is no doubt that things have gone too far,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said while standing beside his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts in Warsaw.
One big problem amid all these tensions over migrants: Alleged incidents between, e.g., migrants and security forces in either Belarus or Poland “are all but impossible to verify,” the Associated Press reports. That’s because “Independent journalists face limits in Belarus and a state of emergency in Poland’s border zone prevents media from entering the area.”
- “Belarus Is Laying Tinder for a War. How Will NATO Respond?” by Elisabeth Braw of AEI, writing in Defense One on Friday;
- “A Dictator Is Exploiting These Human Beings” by Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic, writing Sunday.
Russia showed off its new Sukhoi Su-75 Checkmate fighter jet at the annual UAE airshow. Reuters calls it Moscow’s fifth-generation fighter jet intended at least partly as a rival to the U.S.-made F-35 aircraft. However, “The Checkmate, due to take its maiden test flight in 2023 and to start production by 2026, has yet to seal an order,” Reuters reports. By contrast, the F-35s have been operational since 2015, and that aircraft is already on order from the airshow’s hosts in Dubai. More here.
- Related reading: “Russia starts missile supplies to India despite U.S. sanctions risk,” also via Reuters, reporting Sunday.
Another thing: Russian arms “behemoth” Rostec created a perfume to celebrate the Dubai appearance of the Checkmate fighter jet. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker flagged a promotional video for that product launch on Twitter, here.
The Taliban held a military parade with American-made M1117s, Toyota Hiluxes, and Russian helicopters flying overhead in Kabul on Sunday. A military spokesman said the parade celebrated the graduation of 250 new soldiers, according to Reuters, which has a tiny bit more, here.
Two people were wounded today when a roadside bomb detonated in the Kota-e Sangi district of western Kabul, AP reports. On Friday, another bomb detonated inside a bus in Kabul, killing one and wounding six others. ISIS claimed that attack, which it said targeted Shiites.
And lastly today: Did the U.S. military commit a war crime in Syria and try to cover it up? According to the New York Times, a U.S. military plane dropped two 2,000-pound bombs on a crowd of women and children in 2019, then buried the evidence.
The strike “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military,” write Times’ Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt, who added that military officials knew “almost immediately” that dozens of civilians had been killed, but top leaders were never told. And even though a legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime,” the Defense Department’s inspector general did not finish its inquiry into the strike and its report did not mention the incident at all, Philipps and Schmitt write. Continue reading, here.