Today's D Brief: Shutdown latest; Blinken, Lavrov in Stockholm; Army's 5 Pacific tasks; China's influence machine; And a bit more.
Shutdown averted—or just shortened? U.S. lawmakers are expected to reach a deal to fund the government through Feb. 18, with the House poised for a vote possibly today, which could be followed by swift action in the Senate ahead of the Saturday 12:01 a.m. ET deadline. It’s called the “Further Extending Government Funding Act,” according to House Appropriators, who announced the stopgap plan Thursday morning. Some $7 billion to go toward resettling Afghan refugees is also part of the deal.
“While I wish the February 18 end date were earlier, this agreement allows the appropriations process to move forward toward a final funding agreement which addresses the needs of the American people,” Democratic Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro said in a statement. “Instead of short-term funding patches like this, working families, small businesses, veterans, and our military need the certainty that comes with passing an omnibus. Republicans must join us for bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to resolve our differences and keep government working for the people.”
But it’s still unclear how GOP stalwarts in the Senate will respond, including Mike Lee of Utah. And that would appear to mean at this point “a short-term shutdown would be likely into the weekend or early next week,” the Washington Post reports. Now “fast-tracking the spending patch requires the cooperation of every single senator, ramping up pressure on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his leadership team to stem the conservative rebellion,” Politico adds. Read more about the stopgap plan from House Appropriators here.
From Defense One
Army Would Have 5 ‘Core Tasks’ in a Pacific Conflict // Caitlin M. Kenney: Secretary Wormuth said the service is keenly watching U.S. talks with regional allies over access to bases, including for new weapons.
Thousands of Sailors, Marines Remain Unvaccinated After Deadline // Caitlin M. Kenney: Navy lowers its official vaccination rate after discovering data discrepancies.
Two Cheers for the Pentagon’s New Data and AI Initiative // Michael Horowitz and Lauren Kahn, Council on Foreign Relations: If the reorganization can overcome bureaucratic hurdles, it could preserve U.S. data and AI leadership.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1845, U.S. President James Polk used his first State of the Union address to propel the country’s westward advance under a self-righteous framework of expansion known as “Manifest Destiny.” Starting with Texas, the country would add seven new states over the next 15 years (it’d added just three during the 15 years prior) until the mounting cruelty of slavery finally cleaved the nation in two in April 1861.
The top diplomats from Russia and the U.S. met in Stockholm Thursday. There, State Secretary Antony Blinken warned of “serious consequences...if Russia decides to pursue confrontation” with its equipment buildup some 160 miles from Ukraine’s northern border.
From the Russian side, “any further NATO expansion eastward undoubtedly compromises our core security interests,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Thursday. “I want to make it crystal clear: turning our neighbors into a bridgehead for confrontation with Russia, the deployment of NATO forces in the regions strategically important for our security is categorically unacceptable,” Lavrov continued at the Stockholm ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Associated Press has more, here.
Related reading: “Russia orders some U.S. diplomatic staff to leave as embassy spat expands,” via Reuters, reporting Wednesday.
Facebook says it shut down more online COVID influence operations originating in China and boosted by accounts spanning more than 20 countries. This latest operation used the words of a fake Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards in what the company called “a multi-pronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation” that spread across both Facebook and Instagram.
“Our investigation found links to individuals in mainland China, including employees of Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co, Ltd, an information security firm, and individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies located around the world,” said Facebook—now legally referred to as Meta—in its statement Wednesday.
About this fake biologist named Wilson Edwards, he seems to have popped up in late July 2021 insisting U.S. officials pressured and intimidated the World Health Organization to blame China for COVID-19. In less than a week, his alleged account was all over Chinese state-run media, which trumpeted the claims to its English-speaking audiences. By August 10, the Swiss themselves declared that this Mr. Wilson Edwards, if he exists, is not a man from Switzerland. That’s when Facebook began to act, the company said in its statement.
Employees at Chinese state infrastructure firms joined in as well, using accounts from Algeria, Brazil, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Nepal, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Tanzania. “They represented sectors that included civil engineering, power generation, telecoms, and transport,” Meta said Wednesday.
“In essence, this campaign was a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting a single fake persona.” It was also “the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” it added in a longer report (PDF) purportedly designed to help open-source investigators.
And to be clear: There were more nefarious accounts and networks closed down as well, including ones believed to have originated in Belarus, Poland, Palestine, Italy, France, and Vietnam. The Washington Post has more here; Reuters also has this.
The World Tennis Association has suspended its matches from China and Hong Kong for at least the foreseeable future. The WTA’s decision is a response to Chinese leadership’s apparent silencing of 35-year-old Chinese tennis star and three-time Olympian Peng Shuai, who just one month ago accused a high-ranking Communist Party official—75-year-old former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli—of sexual assault in a social media post published Nov. 2. Shuai essentially disappeared immediately after the post became public (the original was deleted from the Weibo Chinese platform shortly afterward), which triggered the #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag trending on other platforms like Twitter.
“Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair, and transparent manner,” WTA’s CEO Steve Simon said in a statement Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” he added.
“None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable,” Simon said in his statement. “If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded—equality for women—would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.”
A note on likely impact: The U.S.-based WTA could lose “hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship revenue,” Reuters reported. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports that “Three years ago, Mr. Simon orchestrated a 10-year deal for the women’s tour that was due to put the WTA Finals in the southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen every year until 2028 and double the prize purse to $14 million.” But the WTA’s Simon was undeterred, noting near the end of his statement Wednesday, “I hope leaders around the world will continue to speak out so justice can be done for Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications.”
China’s reax: “We have always resolutely opposed the politicization of sports,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference Thursday in Beijing.
Airbnb could face U.S. legal pressure after it was found hosting China rentals “on land owned by a paramilitary group sanctioned by the U.S. for complicity in genocide,” Axios reported Tuesday. That group is known as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, or XPCC; and it appears to own 14 properties in Airbnb offerings.
Said an Airbnb spox to Axios: “We take our obligation to comply with U.S. Treasury rules incredibly seriously. [The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control] rules require Airbnb to screen the parties we are transacting with, not the underlying landowners.” Read on at Axios, here.
And Disney took a brief knock on the chin from critics on Monday after it launched its streaming services in Hong Kong—just without one particular “Simpsons” episode where the cartoon family visits China, and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Why it’s notable: “The missing episode adds to concerns that mainland-style censorship is becoming the norm in the international business hub, ensnaring global streaming giants and other major tech companies,” The Guardian explains.
And another from the influence beat: “Jamie Dimon Apologizes for Joke About JPMorgan Outlasting China’s Communist Party,” the Wall Street Journal reported last week.
And lastly: A World War II-era bomb exploded during construction in Munich, injuring four people, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday from Berlin. The munition was a 550-pound air-dropped one that was triggered during drilling around the Donnersbergerbruecke train station. “It wasn’t immediately clear why the bomb wasn’t discovered earlier, as building sites in Germany are usually checked in advance for unexploded ordnance,” the Journal reports, and notes that police don’t suspect foul play. Tiny bit more at CNN, here.