Today's D Brief: What's next in US-China relations; Russia shoots down a satellite; Disinfo biz is booming; And a bit more.
Risk management, global affairs edition. The presidents of China and the United States spoke virtually for about three hours Monday evening, beginning around 8 p.m. ET. The White House said President Joe Biden flagged a number of sensitive issues in the video chat, including Beijing's "unfair trade and economic practices” and human rights concerns for the people living in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong; the “importance of freedom of navigation and safe overflight” as well as “a free and open Indo-Pacific”; Biden also stood by America’s long-standing “one China” policy regarding the island of Taiwan.
But perhaps most importantly, “President Biden also underscored the importance of managing strategic risks,” according to a statement released shortly afterward. And that echoes the preview from White House officials in a call with reporters Sunday emphasizing fairly low overall expectations for the leaders’ chat considering rising tensions between the two countries for the past several years.
“It seems to me we need to establish some commonsense guardrails,” Biden said early in the conversation, according to a preview transcript released by the White House. The two also need “to be clear and honest where we disagree, and work together where our interests intersect.”
For his part, China’s Xi Jinping seemed to agree. “A sound and steady China-U.S. relationship is required for advancing our two countries’ respective development and for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment, including finding effective responses to global challenges such as climate change, which you referenced, and the COVID pandemic,” Xi said in the U.S.-provided transcript. “China and the United States should respect each other, coexist in peace, and pursue win-win cooperation,” Xi added.
From China’s POV, “The most important event in international relations in the coming 50 years will be for China and the U.S. to find the right way to get along,” the Chinese Embassy said in its own lengthy readout afterward, and emphasized, “It is hoped that President Biden will demonstrate political leadership and steer America’s China policy back on the track of reason and pragmatism.”
Xi then laid out “three principles [that] must be followed” to bring the U.S. and China into greater harmony. And those include “mutual respect,” “peaceful coexistence,” and “win-win cooperation.” Xi also pointed to four policy areas he thinks the two countries need to focus on together, and those largely pertain to keeping the world from blowing up. Indeed, “The world is not tranquil,” the Embassy said in its readout. “China and the US need to work together with the rest of the international community to defend world peace, promote global development, and safeguard a fair and equitable international order.”
“Two giant ships sailing in the ocean” is how Xi described the two countries. Because of this, “It is important for the two sides to keep a steady hand on the tiller, so that the two giant ships will break waves and forge ahead together, without losing direction or speed, still less colliding with each other.”
FWIW: Afghanistan was also a point of emphasis in the presidents’ call; as was North Korea, Iran, and climate change.
On the “Taiwan question,” Xi said “there is but one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China.” And in case there seemed to be any ambiguity, Xi also directly linked a “new wave of tensions across the Taiwan Strait” to “repeated attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for U.S. support for their independence agenda as well as the intention of some Americans to use Taiwan to contain China.”
“Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire,” the Embassy said of those U.S. efforts, and added, “Whoever plays with fire will get burnt.”
- By the way: “Achieving China’s complete reunification is an aspiration shared by all sons and daughters of the Chinese nation,” Xi conveyed to Biden in the call. But Taiwanese on the whole may not be so enthusiastic about that, according to a survey published in June that showed just 1.6% want unification with China “as soon as possible.” On the other hand, 87% just want to maintain the status quo, as comedian John Oliver highlighted on his recent HBO new show about Taiwan in late October. (“Taiwan is not a plucky bulwark against the ‘Red Menace,’” Oliver joked late in the show, chiding U.S. hawks. “Nor is it some sort of island-sized Viagra to rejuvenate the Chinese nation,” he added, knocking official positions from Beijing.)
Read more: “What Will Drive China to War?” asked Michael Beckley and Hal Brands of AEI in a recent op-ed for The Atlantic.
And here’s one last U.S.-China item for your radar: The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin writes this morning that the U.S. is about to announce a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, held this year in Beijing and set to begin in February.
From Defense One
Russian Anti-Satellite Missile Launch Into Space ‘Dangerous And Irresponsible,’ State Says // Tara Copp: Russia gave the U.S. no warning of launch, Pentagon says. Now ISS is at risk of getting riddled with debris.
The Autocrats Are Winning // Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic: If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.
The Disinformation Business is Booming // K. Hazel Kwon, The Conversation: Other nations can learn from South Korea, which has been on the forefront of online disinfo.
A Dictator Is Exploiting These Human Beings // Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic: Belarus’s ruler has used asylum seekers to destabilize the EU. And he’s not the only one profiting politically from their misfortune.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1963, President John F. Kennedy watched as the Navy launched an extended-range Polaris A-2 missile from the USS Andrew Jackson submarine, not far from the coast of Florida. Just six days later, the country would have a new president, after Kennedy was shot dead by a former Marine while visiting Dallas, Texas.
Russia’s military invited a storm of criticism after it shot down one of its own satellites in low earth orbit on Monday. Officials from NASA, Space Command, the Pentagon, and the State Department all condemned the move by the Kremlin, Defense One’s Tara Copp reported Monday. NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg joined the criticism on Tuesday.
Why is space debris a concern? For one thing, the crew of the International Space Station were woken up by the test and told to shelter in return ships, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.
- For your eyes only: AFP’s graphics team put together this two-minute video to further explain the dangers of space debris—especially if you’ve never seen the film, “Gravity.”
FWIW: Russian defense officials downplayed others’ fears, emphasizing on Tuesday that China, India, and even the U.S. have conducted anti-satellite tests in the past. What’s more, “Russia’s Defence Ministry said the debris from the test had not posed a threat to the ISS, and that Washington knew this,” Reuters reports from Moscow.
In other news from Moscow, “Armenia asks Russia for help after border clash with Azerbaijan,” Reuters reported separately on Tuesday.
The military leaders of Norway and the U.S. are meeting today at the Pentagon. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin welcomes his counterpart, Defense Minister Odd Enoksen, to the building this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET.
The future of the Air Force is the focus of an event this afternoon hosted by the Center for a New America Security and featuring Air Force Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, who is the service’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements. Friend of our own podcast (here and here, e.g.) Becca Wasser of CNAS is moderating that one, which begins at 3 p.m. ET. Details and registration here.
Later this evening, the NSA and CyberCom's Army Gen. Paul Nakasone is slated to speak at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance Leadership Dinner this evening at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in northeastern Virginia. Details here.
Update: SecDef Austin just ordered a briefing on a 2019 Syria airstrike that may have killed more than 50 people, including women and children, during the final days of the war against ISIS inside Syria, the Times’ Eric Schmitt reported Monday evening in an follow-up to the initial report, published Saturday, which first shed light on the strikes and alleged military officials appear to have covered up evidence.
Surprise, surprise: The Pentagon just failed its fourth consecutive audit. More than 1,200 auditors conducted more than 275 site visits across the Defense Department's business activities during the previous fiscal year, ending Sept. 31. “Auditors requested approximately 34,000 documents and tested approximately 55,000 samples” during the audit, according to a summary statement from Comptroller Michael McCord.
“Make no mistake: none of us at the Department are content with the overall results of this audit,” said SecDef Austin in a separate statement on Monday. “But we are committed to learning from it and to doing better,” he continued, and added, “We must work harder to institute stronger internal controls and prove in every way that we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
In case you’re wondering, “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security took a decade to pass a comprehensive audit,” Reuters reports, “and Pentagon officials have said the DoD could take just as long, making 2027 the possible date for its first clean audit.” A bit more, here.
And lastly: After a nearly six-year vacancy, there may finally be a new inspector general of the Defense Department. The White House on Monday announced that Robert Phillip Storch has been nominated to formally succeed the Pentagon’s most recent IG, Jon Rymer, who resigned way back in January 2016.
Storch is currently the NSA’s IG, a position he’s held since January 2018. Before that he worked at the Department of Justice. Read a bit more about his background, via the NSA, here.