6 July 2021

The PLA’s Developing Cyber Warfare Capabilities and India's Options

Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that his objective for China is to emerge as a ‘cyber superpower’. China wants to be the world’s largest nation in cyberspace and also one of the most powerful. The information technology revolution has produced both momentous opportunities and likely vulnerabilities for china. China is home of largest number of ‘netizens’ in the world. It also hosts some of the world’s most vibrant and successful technology companies. It also remains a major victim of cyber crime. 

Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) believes that with the rise of the Information Age future wars will be contests in the ability to exploit information. Wars will be decided by the side who is more capable to generate, gather, transmit, analyse and exploit information.

China’s Cyber-Influence Operations

 Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

… With its growing assertiveness in the international arena, China uses new technologies to achieve its foreign policy goals and project an image of responsible global power … spending billions on influence operations across the world ... fits in with China’s larger aim of expanding its soft power alongside its growing economic and military power … reach of Beijing’s overseas media is impressive and should not be underestimated. But the results are mixed ...

India playing the Taliban move won’t checkmate Pakistan


Now that India is enrolled in the big league of nations – the Quad – it wants to feel big and grow bigger strategic nails. Talking to Taliban is certainly viewed as part of New Delhi’s formula to appear serious and strategic, and not remain tied to ideology. However, the engagement may not necessarily have an impact on India’s national security or its calculated gains in Afghanistan. The shift is more about India feeling that it has come of strategic age and less about immediate security benefits. All the argument about beefing up India’s security or allaying fears on the return of Taliban in Kashmir after the American withdrawal are justification of the move rather than anything real. Tactically, it also signals Pakistan that New Delhi is not willing to give up its geo-political stakes in Afghanistan and hence, explains the bid to engage a group of warriors, the Taliban, that have remained Pakistan’s forte for long.

New Delhi’s new approach may not translate into any tactical benefits for India in the short to medium term because despite all its problems, we are looking at an Afghanistan that doesn’t seem returning to the Taliban days of yore.

Unabating Tension With China Spurs India’s Border Infrastructure Efforts

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh was in the Ladakh region earlier in the week to inaugurate 63 bridges spread across six states and two union territories. This was the area where Indian and Chinese forces clashed last year and where they are still eyeball-to-eyeball. New Delhi’s disappointment that several rounds of negotiations with China have not helped in easing tension across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the area means that India is continuing to build up its infrastructure.

Of the 63 bridges, 11 are in the Ladakh region and four in the Jammu and Kashmir territory. Other Indian states all along the LAC are getting the rest: three in Himachal Pradesh, six in Uttarakhand, eight in Sikkim, one each in Nagaland and Manipur, and 29 in Arunachal Pradesh. These bridges were built at a total cost of 2.4 billion Indian rupees ($32.2 million). The defense minister specifically inaugurated a 50-meter long bridge on the Leh-Loma Road, which “will ensure unhindered movement of heavy weapon systems, including guns, tanks and other specialized equipment.”

With Accelerated Afghan Withdrawal, US Engagement With Central Asia Intensifies

Catherine Putz

With the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan nearly complete, diplomacy between Washington and Central Asian capitals has intensified as evidenced by back-to-back meetings between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Tajik and Uzbek counterparts on July 1.

U.S. President Joe Biden set September 11, 2021, as a deadline for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, but the end of the process could come much sooner. According to a CNN report on June 30, citing “multiple US officials,” the end of the U.S. withdrawal is mere days away. The last U.S. troops quietly departed the massive Bagram Air Base on July 2, handing the facility over to Afghan forces.

The United States is expected to leave a sizable military contingent in Afghanistan (estimates range from 640 to 1,000) tasked with protecting the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the Afghan capital’s international airport. Hamid Karzai International Airport is particularly critical as a major point of access to landlocked Afghanistan. While the U.S. has been in talks with Turkey to continue providing security for the airport, it’s unclear that Ankara will get the concessions it wants in order to commit to remaining at the airport, for which it has provided security for several years as part of its NATO contribution.

Closing the Davidson Window

Jerry Hendrix

In his valedictory testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, the outgoing Indo-Pacific Combatant Commander, Admiral Phil Davidson, stunned his audience with his observation that China might seek to achieve its ambition of integrating Taiwan with the mainland “in the next six years.” While others had discussed China’s abandonment of Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of hiding the ancient nation’s capacities and biding its time, the ascension of his successor, Xi Jinping, assertive military strategy backed by “wolf-warrior" diplomacy, no senior policymaker, least of all the military regional combatant commander had ever been so bold or time specific regarding China's military ambitions. It appears that the one area of bipartisan foreign policy consensus finds its center on the U.S. approach to China both nation’s political parties seemed to accept Davidson’s threat window, with Biden administration senior officials electing to continue both the rhetoric and policies of their more bellicose predecessors from the Trump administration.

Surprisingly, however, the Biden defense budget appears to ignore Davidson’s warning. Smaller than the last Trump budget when adjusted for inflation, the new spending plan, in the near term, shrinks those forces that would be expected to confront China in the Indo-Pacific region, cutting 17 bombers from the Air Force and fifteen Navy battleforce ships, including seven Ticonderoga class cruisers, while adding no replacement bombers and adding only eight new battleforce ships, with half of those falling in the logistics or auxiliary categories. The administration can and does justifiably trumpet its near record-breaking investments in research and development of new advanced capabilities, investments that have been long needed. The nation needs new defense related communications, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, hypersonic, unmanned, and directed energy systems to remain competitive in the future battlespace. However, these investments appear to have come at the cost of divesting older platforms and the capacity they bring to the fight today to invest in future capabilities, dis-investing to investing, and therein lies the problem.

It’s Getting More Likely The Japanese Would Fight For Taiwan

David Axe

Japanese authorities, increasingly worried about China’s determination to invade and forcibly “reunify” Taiwan, reportedly asked American officials to share U.S. plans for defending Taiwan.

That’s the bombshell news from Financial Times reporters Demetri Sevastopulo and Kathrin Hille.

The Americans “demurred,” Sevastopulo and Hille wrote, “because it wanted to focus on boosting co-ordination with Tokyo in phases.”

A “former U.S. official” told the reporters the goal was for the U.S. and Japanese armed forces eventually to write a single integrated plan for a Taiwan contingency.

It’s fairly obvious what that means. The geography of the western Pacific region essentially dictates the role Japan would play in an allied defense of Taiwan.

The CCP’s Shifting Priorities: An Analysis of Politburo Group Study Sessions

Brian Hart

On June 25, the 19th Central Committee Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held its 31st “group study” (集体学习, jiti xuexi) session on the topic of “Making Good Use of Red Resources and Continuing Red Blood” (用好红色资源、赓续红色血脉, yong hao hongse ziyuan, gengxu hongse xuemai). The meeting—held in the runup to celebrations of the CCP’s centenary—saw General Secretary Xi Jinping (习近平) lead Politburo members on a special visit to Peking University (北京大学, Beijing Daxue) and Fengzeyuan (丰泽园), the former residence of Mao Zedong (毛泽东), to discuss party history (Xinhua, June 26).

Observers of Chinese politics have long paid attention to Politburo group study sessions, as the meetings provide unique insights into the interests and priorities of the CCP’s elite. When analyzed across time, they offer a useful body of evidence for identifying significant changes in the party leadership’s priorities. A close analysis of study sessions reveals that, under Xi Jinping, the Politburo has more heavily focused on party affairs, foreign affairs, and security and military affairs. This represents a dramatic departure from the Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) era, when Politburo study sessions were dominated by economic development and other domestic issues. The Politburo has also pursued innovations in the format of study sessions during Xi’s tenure. In some instances, these changes have attracted greater attention to the meetings and brought a level of spectacle to what may have otherwise been more staid affairs. Taken together, the changes in topic and format have provided Xi with an enhanced platform from which to shape the party’s priorities and convey them to the public.

Xi Warns China’s Foes Will Break Against ‘Steel Great Wall’

President Xi Jinping struck a defiant tone in a speech marking the Communist Party’s 100-year anniversary, calling China’s quest to gain control of Taiwan a “historic mission” and warning the country’s adversaries to avoid standing in the way of his government.

In a nationwide address from above the portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square, Xi hailed the party’s successes, saying China wanted to promote peace in the world and was open to “constructive criticism.” Yet he quickly warned that the country would no longer listen to “sanctimonious preaching” and that “the time when the Chinese nation could be bullied and abused by others was gone forever.”

Xi, 68, called the move to unify China and Taiwan an “unshakable commitment” and vowed “resolute action to utterly defeat any attempt toward ‘Taiwan independence.’” Although the language is similar to what Xi has said before, the comments recommit him to an assertive path as calls grow in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere to boost support the democratic government in Taipei.

The Communist Party claims to have brought prosperity and equality to China. Here’s the real impact of its rule

Chongyi Feng

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is in full swing to prepare for the 100th anniversary of its founding this week, with an intense publicity push to crow about its achievements.

However, the CCP has little to celebrate in terms of what it has done for China. Its chief achievement has been how it has managed to survive and stay in power for so long.

So, what exactly does the CCP lay claim to, and where does the truth lie?
1. Chinese sovereignty

The top claim on the list is that the CCP unified the country and secured its independence through the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The CCP had accused the previous government, led by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), of being a puppet of the imperialist US.

Life of the Party

Orville Schell

July 23 marks the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, which was founded in Shanghai in 1921. The first party congress was attended by, among others, a 27-year-old Mao Zedong, who had made an arduous journey from his inland Hunan Province. This summer, China will hold an epic celebration to honor the occasion. Although the party will forgo a military parade in Tiananmen Square (lest it appear too militaristic), the jingoistic Global Times explained that “large-scale exhibitions will be held to display the glorious course, great achievements, and valuable experience of the CCP over the past 100 years.” There will be celebratory publications, seminars, commemorative stamps and coins, medals for “outstanding party members,” and a special hotline set up so that patriotic citizens can report any “historical nihilists”—miscreants who might deign to “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture.” Xi Jinping, China’s president and the general secretary of the CCP, has, in rhetoric that would have pleased Mao, exhorted the party’s 90 million members to “vigorously carry forward the Red tradition.” Meanwhile, propaganda organs are bombarding the public with wordy slogans: “Adhere to Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important idea of the ‘Three Represents,’ the Scientific View of Development and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for the New Era as the guide!”

Assessing One-State and Two-State Proposals to Solve the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Jeremy Pressman

In May 2021, the confrontation in Israel-Palestine again assumed center stage with many people wondering if this conflict would ever end (International Crisis Group 2021). The human costs have been high. Millions of Palestinians and Israelis suffered mental and emotional anxiety. Hundreds were killed, thousands wounded, and tens of thousands displaced from their homes. Given the Israeli occupation and Israel’s advanced military firepower, over 90% of the casualties and displaced were Palestinians. In theory, one way the conflict could come to an end is through a negotiated diplomatic outcome, but what would such an outcome look like? In this article, I consider the two most-commonly discussed negotiated solutions to the conflict: 1) one state with equal rights for all Palestinians and Israelis in what is today Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank and 2) two states, a State of Israel and a State of Palestine alongside each other. Each resolution has benefits and drawbacks; neither option is clearly more beneficial or more likely. Moreover, there is no independent decision rule that makes clear how to weigh the pros and cons and choose the better option.

Biden needs to end the tariff war with China

Yan Liang

US President Joe Biden wasted no time reversing many of the damaging policies introduced during the Trump presidency, with exception to trade. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai is expected to meet her Chinese counterpart to review the Phase One trade deal, but expectations for the talks are low.

Biden lacks the political will to reverse course on Trump’s trade policies, with bipartisan support for ‘being tough’ on China and using the tariff war as leverage to demand structural change in China. Nonetheless, keeping the Trump tariffs is a mistake.

First, the tariff war is based on a flawed economic rationale. The Trump administration imposed tariffs in response to the bilateral trade imbalance, according to which the United States ran a large and persistent trade deficit. Donald Trump believed that trade deficits are bad for the US economy. But the bilateral trade balance is meaningless when supply chains are globally structured and trade is multilaterally constructed. Consider, for instance, the iPhone X: when imported from China, each unit adds US$409.25 to the balance, even though China accounts for only 10.4 per cent of the value added.

What Happened To The U.S. Deficit With China During The U.S.-China Trade Conflict?

Hunter L. Clark and Anna Wong

The United States’ trade deficit with China narrowed significantly following the imposition of additional tariffs on imports from China in multiple waves beginning in 2018 - or at least it did based on U.S. trade data. Chinese data tell a much different story, with the bilateral deficit rising nearly to historical highs at the end of 2020. What’s going on here? We find that (as also discussed in a related note) much of the decline in the deficit recorded in U.S. data was driven by successful efforts to evade U.S. tariffs, with an estimated $10 billion loss in tariff revenues in 2020.

There Was an Unprecedented Shift in the Trade Balance Discrepancy after 2018

The U.S.-reported bilateral trade deficit with China during the decade prior to 2018 was on average about $95 billion larger than the deficit implied by China’s reported trade surplus with the United States, and this discrepancy had been consistently positive for several decades. However, this statistical gap narrowed significantly with the onset of the U.S.-China trade conflict in 2018, and even reversed sign in 2020, as shown in the left panel of the chart below. This narrowing was driven almost entirely by disagreement in the statistics between growth rates in U.S. imports from China as reported by the United States, and what the Chinese data say China was exporting to the United States. As a result, for the first time ever, China’s reported exports to the United States had become larger than U.S.-reported imports from China in 2020, as indicated in the right panel of the chart. Hereafter, the “trade data gap" will refer to U.S.‑reported imports from China minus China’s reported exports to the United States.

How the Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously

Gideon Lewis-Kraus

On May 9, 2001, Steven M. Greer took the lectern at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., in pursuit of the truth about unidentified flying objects. Greer, an emergency-room physician in Virginia and an outspoken ufologist, believed that the government had long withheld from the American people its familiarity with alien visitations. He had founded the Disclosure Project in 1993 in an attempt to penetrate the sanctums of conspiracy. Greer’s reckoning that day featured some twenty speakers. He provided, in support of his claims, a four-hundred-and-ninety-two-page dossier called the “Disclosure Project Briefing Document.” For public officials too busy to absorb such a vast tract of suppressed knowledge, Greer had prepared a ninety-five-page “Executive Summary of the Disclosure Project Briefing Document.” After some throat-clearing, the “Executive Summary” began with “A Brief Summary,” which included a series of bullet points outlining what amounted to the greatest secret in human history.

Russia-U.K. Standoff Shows the New War at Sea Has Gone Global

James Stavridis

The last time Russia and the U.K. were at odds in the Black Sea was during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century. Most famous for the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” immortalized by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the three-year conflict also introduced the use in combat of the telegraph, railway transportation of troops, and highly explosive naval shells.

The sorts of territorial disputes that drove the Crimean War are back in the news, with the two nations facing off in the contested waters around Ukraine last week, in ways that are still only becoming clear.

The Defender, one of the most modern destroyers in the British Navy, was transiting between two Black Sea ports on June 23. Its route was through waters claimed as territorial seas by the Russian Federation, based on the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. More from

Russia claimed that one of its warships fired warning shots, and that Russian aircraft dropped bombs near the British vessel. Both claims were subsequently denied by the U.K. It occurred near Sevastopol, a port and naval base I visited several times as military commander at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Putin's Blunt Message For Germany: Forget Ukraine

Alexander Demchenko

KYIV — The title itself is catchy enough: "To be open despite the past." True, it had nothing to do with the War or post-War years. The article, printed in the German newspaper Die Zeit is rather a call to Germans to forget about the Ukrainian issue and to engage as soon as possible in real, profitable policies, such as the launch of Nord Stream.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to convince the Germans to be open-minded, regardless of the past. But the past he urges Germans to forget has nothing to do with Nazism. Here the Russian president understands that Germans are still bound by the politics of memory, and are unlikely to allow themselves to change history any time soon.

Putin is also aware that the thought viruses propagated by Kremlin propaganda are effective enough to bind the Russian population together in a single aggressive impulse. What he wants the German people to forget about is another, not-so-distant and yet also unpleasant past: the war in Ukraine and the occupation of its territories.

In his Die Zeit article, the Russian president once again recalled the so-called coup d'etat in Kyiv in 2014, saying that he considered Ukraine's breakaway from Russia a tragedy, that there was no occupation of Crimea, but only a split in Ukraine that led to the separation of the peninsula. He recalled many of the old tropes of Kremlin propaganda. The same lines that he has been trying to introduce into the information space of Europe for eight years now.

Explainer: How Synthetic Biology is Redesigning Life

Carmen Ang

Synthetic biology (SynBio) is a field of science that involves engineering life for human benefit. It has the potential to reshape many facets of society—from the ways we produce food, to how we detect and cure diseases.

It’s a fast-growing field of science. In fact, by 2026, the SynBio market’s global revenue is expected to reach $34.5 billion, at a CAGR of 21.9%.

While this fascinating area of research is worth paying attention to, it might be daunting to wrap your head around—especially if you don’t come from a scientific background. With this in mind, here’s an introduction to synthetic biology, and how it works.
What is Synthetic Biology?

As we touched on in the introduction, SynBio is an area of scientific research that involves editing and redesigning the biological components, systems, and interactions that make up life. By doing this, SynBio can grant organisms new abilities that are beneficial to humans.

Online Warfare: Russian Policy on International Information Security

Agnieszka Legucka

Russia’s Goals and Interests
 Russia emphasises the political and social nature of the global confrontation in the information sphere. It considers the struggle in cyberspace to be part of an information war waged against it by Western countries. This distinguishes the Russian perception of information security from the Western discourse, which is dominated by concerns about the security of personal data and protection against cyberattacks (e.g., on critical infrastructure).

According to President Vladimir Putin’s Executive Order on the “Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on International Information Security”, approved on 12 April, Russia is striving to strengthen the role of government entities in the information space. In domestic politics, this is dictated by the need to restrict Russian citizens’ access to independent content in order to prevent social unrest and internal destabilisation. In the international dimension, Russia has announced that it will try to ensure global peace, security, and stability while seeking to gain influence over regulation of the information sphere. It also means a change in the Russian definition of IIS compared to 2013 when the importance of protecting the rights of individuals, societies, and states in the information sphere was emphasised.

EU Proposes Artificial Intelligence Regulation

Oskar Szydłowski,  Stefania Kolarz

On 21 April, the European Commission (EC) proposed a set of rules that would be the world’s first project to comprehensively regulate AI. Until now, individual norms have only been adopted at the national level (e.g., definition of computer-generated work in UK legislation or the requirement in German law for a driver to be present in an autonomous vehicle). EU countries more often use political documents, such as strategies on AI (France, Estonia, Poland, Germany, among others). Following the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Union once again has the chance to set a global normative standard.
Key Assumptions

The regulation is aimed to ensure that ethics, security, EU values, and fundamental rights are respected in the creation of AI. The fixing of legal certainty should foster investment and AI development in the EU, strengthen the Union’s competitiveness, and protect its digital sovereignty.

The Real Reason They Blame Heat Deaths, Blackouts, And Forest Fires On Climate Change Is Because They’re Causing Them – OpEd

Michael Shellenberger

Journalists, experts, and elected officials are today blaming heat wave deaths, forest fires, and electricity shortages in New York, California, and Texas on climate change, but the underlying cause of those events is lack of air conditioning, lack of electricity, and the failure to properly manage forests, not marginal changes to temperatures.

It’s true that there have been more heat waves in the United States since 1960, and that higher temperatures dry out the dead wood in forests, contributing to a greater area burned by forest fires. “Climate dries the [wood] fuels out and extends the fire season from 4-6 months to nearly year-round,” US Forest Service scientist Malcolm North explained to me last summer.

But what determines whether people die in heat waves is whether or not they have air conditioning, not whether temperatures rose to 111° instead of 109°. Proof of that comes from the fact that heat-related deaths declined in the US by 50% to 75% since 1960 thanks entirely to air conditioning, even as heat waves grew in frequency, intensity, and length.

Quantum Computing and Cybersecurity

Michaela Lee

Executive Summary
Quantum computing poses both opportunities and risks to the cybersecurity environment in which the U.S. operates. The current state of research into quantum technologies and their applications is still nascent, leaving us with an incomplete understanding of how and when to prepare for future quantum computing breakthroughs. While quantum computers powerful enough to undermine current cryptographic defenses are a decade away or more, experience has shown that it will likely take an equivalent amount of time to transition to quantum-resistant approaches to cryptography.1 The magnitude of the threat and the persistence of encrypted information has spurred public and private sector efforts to develop quantum-resistant algorithms and prepare for adoption.2

Countries are moving quickly to create applied research programs designed to accelerate progress in quantum technology development and ensure a strong, domestic quantum technology community. In order for the U.S. and its allies to retain their leading position, they must continue to invest in the creation of an enabling environment for the knowledge, talent, and infrastructure needed by the field. Simultaneously, knowing that commercial applications are decades away, the U.S. and its allies should anticipate the long game that will require continuity of effort, funding, preparation, and collaboration. Though the impacts of large-scale quantum computing will not be seen for years3, it requires both urgent and sustained focus. Recommended actions by government and private sector include:

Director's speech on Cyber Power - as delivered

Thank you for that warm welcome… it’s great to be here.

Firstly, I’d like to thank the International Institute for Strategic Studies for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to speak about Cyber Power. It’s a topic that I know needs wider discussion. And it’s great to see IISS once again breaking new ground.

In particular, I’d like to thank John and the wider IISS-Asia team for the wonderful work they do with this speaker series. They always pull together a strong and influential audience, and it’s clear to me they are doing great work promoting geopolitical debate in the South East Asian region.

I’d also like to thank the team here at the Fullerton Hotel for all they have done to ensure we have such a productive conference.

It’s great to be here in Singapore. I enjoy visiting this amazingly vibrant and successful City, its palpable optimism for the future and the impact it has far beyond its shores. I love the way it blends the old and new, the juxtaposition between the state of the art GPO of the 19th Century and the subject today is not lost on me.

America’s Counterterrorism Wars

Peter Bergen, David Sterman, Melissa Salyk-Virk

This project tracks America's counterterrorism wars including the drone war in Pakistan, air and ground operations in Yemen and Somalia, as well as the internationalized air war in Libya. It is updated on an ongoing basis.


Giving Precision Munitions ‘Eyes’ and a ‘Brain’: The State of PLA Research on Military Target Recognition

Alex Barker

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has identified artificial intelligence (AI) as an economic and security developmental priority. The State Council’s National AI Development Plan, released in July of 2017, calls AI “the new focus of world competition” and the 14th Five Year Plan, adopted in March 2021, promotes the “deep integration of internet, big data and artificial intelligence in industries” (State Council, July 8, 2017; Xinhua, November 3, 2020). China’s emphasis on AI can be considered a “whole of government” approach, which has important ramifications for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Specifically, China’s “military-civil fusion” (军民融合, jun min ronghe) strategy is intended to facilitate transfers of technology and expertise between the commercial and military sectors, including in the field of AI.

This article examines writings by PLA-affiliated authors and private sector researchers leveraging open-source research—much of which is developed in the U.S.—to improve China’s automatic military target recognition capabilities. Sources were drawn from the Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) and ultimately focused on 16 research papers. Where possible, articles were chosen based on their number of citations, though the slow pace of the academic publishing cycle means that many valuable recent articles have yet to be cited.