Today's D Brief: China's Xi blames US; Beijing warns of conflict with US; Ukraine digs in at Bakhmut; Border security changes loom; And a bit more.

China’s autocratic leader accused the United States of “containment and suppression” of China’s potential, and vowed to fight back in a speech delivered Monday to Communist Party delegates and business leaders in Beijing. “After carefully listening to everyone's speeches, Xi Jinping delivered an important speech,” state run media proudly and dutifully announced Monday. 

Over the last five years, “Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-round containment,” that is, “containment and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to my country's development,” Xi said, and referenced “increasing downward pressure on the economy.” (The New York Times used the word “encirclement” instead of “containment.”) 

Following months of lockdowns and “zero Covid” pandemic policies, Xi advised his business-centric audience to stay calm in the months ahead. “In the coming period, the risks and challenges we face will only increase and become more severe,” the Chinese leader predicted. “Only when all the people think in one place, work hard in one place, help each other in the same boat, unite as one, dare to fight, and be good at fighting, can they continue to win new and greater victories,” said Xi. 

New today: Xi’s foreign minister warned conflict with the U.S. could be just around the corner if Washington doesn’t change its attitude. It was Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s first press conference in his new posting, which he assumed in December. 

“Containment and suppression will not make America great, [and] it will not stop the rejuvenation of China,” Qin said Tuesday in Beijing. “The United States' perception and views of China are seriously distorted,” he noted, and warned, “If the United States does not hit the brakes but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation.” 

“Such competition is a reckless gamble, with the stakes being the fundamental interests of the two peoples and even the future of humanity,” said Qin. 

Qin also claimed China’s relationship with Russia is a model for other nations. “China and Russia have found a path of major country relations featuring strategic trust and good neighborliness, setting a good example for international relations,” he said. And somewhat conspiratorially, he claimed an “invisible hand” was pushing for an escalation of Russia’s Ukraine invasion because that would “serve certain geopolitical agendas,” he said, without elaborating. 

He also avoided any mention of democracy as he conflated Ukraine’s defense against Russia with Taiwan’s desire to maintain its independence. “Why does the U.S. ask China not to provide weapons to Russia, while it keeps selling arms to Taiwan?” he asked. “The U.S. has unshirkable responsibility for causing the Taiwan question” and for “disrespecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Qin. He also shared more disinformation on alleged U.S. efforts to destabilize Taiwan, asking his audience rhetorically, “Why does the U.S. keep on professing the maintenance of regional peace and stability, while covertly formulating a ‘plan for the destruction of Taiwan?’”

“If the United States truly expects a peaceful Taiwan Strait, it should stop containing China by exploiting the Taiwan question,” he said. And the U.S. should “return to the fundamental of the one-China principle, honor its political commitment to China, and unequivocally oppose and forestall Taiwan independence,” said Qin.  

Wider context: The Tuesday “news conference came two days after the opening of the yearly meeting of the National People’s Congress, a mostly ceremonial body assembled to approve government reports and, this year, a new slate of top-level appointments,” the Associated Press reports from Beijing. “That is expected to include a norm-breaking third five-year term as president for Xi, who has eliminated all term limits to allow him to rule indefinitely.”

A note on Taiwan: President Tsai Ing-wen will fly to California next month to speak with House Speaker and Republican Kevin McCarthy, the Financial Times reported Monday. The meeting will take place stateside so as to not irritate officials in Beijing. Tsai will also deliver a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley during his visit.

China seems to be increasingly copying Russian propaganda aimed at the wider West, even though much of the effort seems to be quite “amateurish,” U.S. intelligence officials told the Associated Press on Tuesday. Some of the apparent tactics include “generating false news reports with artificial intelligence and posting large volumes of denigrating social media posts,” according to U.S. officials. Audiences across Africa, Asia, and Latin America are of particular concern to Washington, which hasn’t had much success over the past year selling the importance of democracy in the wake of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. 

This week’s notable #LongRead: Chinese industrial espionage was a much bigger effort than many victims initially realized, the New York Times Magazine reported Tuesday. 

Developing: Germany is on the verge of banning China’s Huawei and ZTE telecoms, Reuters reported Tuesday from Berlin. However, it may not be that easy, according to one researcher, who said, “The German 5G network is deeply dependent on Chinese suppliers. It will take many years to unwind this.”

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Air Force Slashes ‘Bridge Tanker’ Buy, Sets Deadline for Clean-Sheet Aerial Refueler // Marcus Weisgerber: Stealthy new tanker jet should arrive in the 2030s, service’s top weapons buyer says.

The Reaper UAV Is Getting Its Own Drone Swarm // Patrick Tucker: Air Force special operators are rigging the venerable uncrewed aircraft with an ISR swarm that may take just one person to control.

Marines See Early Successes in Retention Push—and Ways to Do Better // Caitlin M. Kenney: Meanwhile, the commandant wants to bring skilled people into the Corps at advanced ranks.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Biden moves to boost hypersonic weapons industrial base; Air Force orders new radar planes; Raytheon to build new missile warning satellites; and more.

'Major Technical Challenges' Hinder Path to Responsible AI, NIST Official Says // Alexandra Kelley: Effective AI governance starts with developing metrics for trust—and that itself is fiendishly difficult.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, Alabama state police and their local thug friends attacked and beat nonviolent civil rights protesters marching from Selma to the capital of Montgomery. The goal of the marchers was to secure voting rights for Black Americans in the south. The goal of the police and their posse was to keep Blacks disenfranchised for as long as possible, sustaining the deeply unfair power structure kept in place over nearly 100 years of segregationist policies across the southern states. The police at Selma, with several riding atop horses, charged and severely beat many of the more than 500 protesters, whose images were broadcast on national news, and helped further galvanize the American civil rights movement. 

Ukraine’s defense of the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut will continue for now, President Volodymir Zelenskyy promised in his evening address Monday. He said he asked his top two generals if they recommend a tactical withdrawal from Bakhmut or to stay and defend the city; “Both generals replied: do not withdraw and reinforce; and this opinion was unanimously backed by the [military command] staff.” And so Zelenskyy said he ordered reinforcements sent to the city.
“We are defending and will continue to defend every part of Ukraine,” the president said. “When the time comes, we will liberate every city and village of our country, and we will hold the occupier accountable for every shot against Ukraine, for every meanness against Ukrainians,” he promised.
One Czech firm is experiencing a boom in the sales of its inflatable weapon decoys, which include the HIMARS long-range artillery systems and Abrams tanks, Agence France-Presse reported Monday from the margins of the conflict.
In NATO-related news, Turkish President Recep Erdogan finally has a challenger for the upcoming elections, which are slated for May. The challenger’s name is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, and the BBC describes him as a “quiet-spoken center-leftist.” The last leading threat to Erdogan’s two-decade rule was given a prison sentence in December for allegedly insulting public officials. 

North Korea warned the U.S. that shooting down its test missiles is akin to a declaration of war. “The Pacific Ocean does not belong to the dominium of the U.S. or Japan,” the sister of Pyongyang’s dictator said Tuesday. “We keep our eye on the restless military moves by the U.S. forces and the South Korean puppet military and are always on standby to take appropriate, quick and overwhelming action at any time according to our judgment,” she said in a statement. Reuters has more, here; AP has this; and South Korea’s Yonhap news agency has this.
From the region: Rocket science is legit hard. For the second time in a month, Japan has experienced a rocket failure as it tries to develop a launch vehicle that can compete with SpaceX. This time around, second-stage engines failed to ignite—which would have potentially made the rocket something of an unguided missile, so Japanese authorities decided to initiate a self-destruct sequence, sending debris into the Pacific Ocean. The BBC has more, here.

Back stateside, the U.S. just opened its first nuclear power plant in seven years. It’s known as Vogtle No. 3, and it’s located in Georgia, southeast of Augusta. It should be producing power for the nearby region in about two or three months’ time officials said Monday, according to Bloomberg. The Associated Press has a bit more, here

Four Americans were kidnapped in broad daylight just inside the Mexico border while at least one of them was trying to get a tummy tuck, relatives of the abducted told the Associated Press. Two of those Americans were found dead, and one of the survivors is severely injured, CNN reported. A Mexican woman was also killed during the initial confrontation, which occurred Friday in the city of Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn visited a border region near McAllen on Monday Friday. He and his staff spoke with law enforcement officials there about “the far-reaching security impact of this broken border. The fentanyl that comes across the border doesn’t stay in border communities. It moves to cities and towns across the country,” he said in a sternly worded statement afterward, adding that the “current state of affairs is unsustainable.” 

  • Trendwatching: Border crossings have been dropping sharply since December, the Associated Press reported separately on Tuesday. 

Developing: The White House is considering restarting the Trump-era policy of detaining migrant families as they attempt to enter through the southern border with Mexico, U.S. officials told reporters this week. Officials are also considering bringing back arrests of migrant families inside the U.S. who have been ordered deported, Reuters reported Tuesday. “It’s all on the table,” one of the officials told Reuters.
Such a decision would be “a stark reversal for President Biden,” the New York Times pointed out Tuesday, noting that Biden “came into office promising to adopt a more compassionate approach to the border after the harsh policies of his predecessor.” 

And lastly: The U.S. Space Force will use robot dogs to patrol a base at Cape Cod, Massachusetts’ WBZ News Radio reported Sunday. The mechanical mutts are the ones we’ve seen so many times from Boston Dynamics; but these are built by Asylon Robotics, in partnership with BD, WBZ reports. It’s unclear how many will be on patrol; but those patrols aren’t expected to begin until sometime next year. Read more, here.