26 July 2023

Diasporic Dividend: India’s Secret Weapon in the Global REE Chessboard

Gokul Ganesh

In the global chessboard of geopolitics, rare earth elements (REEs) are the new power pieces. Their strategic importance continues to escalate, especially for nations like India with a burgeoning technology sector. This is underscored by the Indian government’s recent unveiling of a list of 30 critical minerals integral to national security and active efforts to establish a domestic semiconductor manufacturing plant. Essential to hi-tech and renewable energy industries, REEs’ dominance by China—which controls over 80-90% of the global market—poses a significant challenge, leaving nations like India in an uncomfortable position of dependence on their eastern neighbor.

Africa – the sleeping giant of REE reserves – remains largely underexplored. Its rich REE deposits in countries like Burundi and Tanzania wait in the wings due to lack of technology and investment. However, the narrative is rapidly changing with China weaving its intricate web of influence in Africa’s REE sector. Yet China’s largesse comes with a price. Its notorious “debt-trap diplomacy” ensnares economically vulnerable nations into an unending cycle of debt, exemplified by Zambia, Djibouti, and Angola.

In stark contrast to China, India has always aimed to pursue a non-extractive and sustainable approach in all its engagements. India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, recently reaffirmed India’s non-expansionist and inclusive approach towards Africa. Thus, India, not China, at least over the longer term, clearly emerges as the preferred partner for Africa, setting the stage for a strategic repositioning of India’s influence in the continent.

The Winning Factor

An underappreciated facet of India’s connection with Africa is the vibrant Indian diaspora, which numbers over 3 million. Integrated into Africa’s socioeconomic fabric, the Indian diaspora has proven its mettle in the trade, manufacturing, and services sectors. This network, with its deep-rooted ties and understanding of local contexts, could be the catalyst for India’s enhanced engagement with the African REE sector.

US–India defence and technology cooperation

A US decision to transfer jet-engine technology to India will bolster the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy while also presenting an unprecedented test of the strength of US–India ties.

In June 2023, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first state visit to the United States, Washington announced its decision to share GE Aerospace’s proven F-414 jet-engine technology with India. The deal is the latest and boldest attempt by the two countries to build a China-focused strategic partnership that is also consistent with India’s longstanding refusal of formal alliances. This new arrangement will likely bring the US and India closer strategically – indeed, the decades-long life-cycle for many kinds of military equipment is sure to strengthen institutional ties between the respective armed forces and defence industries. Much will depend, however, on the manner of the deal’s implementation, particularly which parts of the US jet-engine design are eventually transferred to India and how this will affect India’s overall inventory of strategic capabilities.

Resuming defence coordinationFor a generation, US–India diplomacy has sought to overcome a stop-start pattern of defence cooperation, a consequence of the United States’ high-technology sanctions against India imposed after it tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Washington later replaced these with softer export controls related to India’s non-aligned status and its acquisition of nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In 2014, New Delhi launched a high-profile ‘made in India’ campaign, later complemented by Modi’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat (‘self-reliant India’) policy seeking indigenous production. In the defence sector, India loosened foreign-investment and joint-venture rules but since 2016, in practice, it has slowed large new purchases of off-the-shelf military equipment. This undermined the 2012 US–India Defence Technology Trade Initiative that sought to promote co-development and production of systems including the Javelin anti-tank guided missile. Since 2020, however, China’s assertiveness in disputed border areas with India, and across the region more broadly, has reactivated US–India defence-cooperation efforts.

A robust agenda for cooperationSince 2021, American and Indian leaders have leant on their national-security advisors, Jake Sullivan and Ajit Doval, respectively, to initiate and arbitrate inter-departmental policies. Both sides have sought to expand the scope of strategic cooperation, including on civilian and dual-use technologies and on co-development of next-generation technologies, which will mitigate the effects of the United States’ export-control policies, which remain in place. These steps, taken over the last 18 months, enabled Modi’s state visit in June to set a new and higher watermark for US–India ties

New Canal Threatens the Peace Between the Taliban and Central Asia

Bruce Pannier

Since their return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have managed to reach an understanding with most of the Central Asian governments to preserve a relative calm along the areas of the Afghan-Central Asian frontier.

Disputes over water use have suddenly become an issue that could derail ties between Afghanistan and Central Asian states. Specifically, the construction of the Qosh Tepa canal in northern Afghanistan could lead to the loss of water for tens of thousands of people in downstream communities in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

In addition, three people were killed in recent clashes between Iranian border guards and Taliban fighters along the Afghan-Iranian border over rights to water from the Helmand River.

When the Taliban entered Kabul in mid-August 2021, the Central Asian governments, with the exception of the Tajik government, simply continued, to the extent possible, business as usual with Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan temporarily closed its border crossings with Afghanistan, mainly to prevent Afghans from fleeing into Uzbekistan. But traffic resumed before the end of August and during the following weeks, all the Central Asian states, again with the exception of Tajikistan, sent diplomatic missions to Kabul to meet with Taliban officials.

There were Central Asian militants in Afghanistan, mostly Tajiks and Uzbeks, who were the Taliban’s allies in fighting against the Afghan government and foreign troops. The Taliban promised not to allow these Central Asian militants to use Afghan territory to plan or launch attacks against the neighboring Central Asian countries.

That promise, combined with infrastructure and communications projects completed during the twenty years when foreign forces were in Afghanistan that connected Central Asia to Afghanistan economically, seems to have convinced Central Asian governments that some level of cooperation with the Taliban was beneficial. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, all the Central Asian countries except Turkmenistan were hostile to the Taliban with the result that tensions were always high along the Central Asia-Afghan border.

China’s Influence Is Rising in Afghanista

Adela Raz

China’s influence in Afghanistan has become increasingly evident following America’s withdrawal in August 2021. With the collapse of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the takeover by Taliban, China has strategically sought to expand its engagement and presence in the country. The United States should see the situation as more than a humanitarian crisis, as Afghanistan could play a crucial role in countering China's growing hegemony in the region.

China has a keen interest in Afghanistan's economic potential. Beijing views the country as a possible source of valuable mineral resources such as copper, lithium, and rare earth elements which are essential for China’s industries. Chinese companies have shown a strong interest in the mining industry in Afghanistan and have been eager to secure access to these resources.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an attractive prospect for the Taliban. Since the U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan has experienced severe economic regression and a major humanitarian crisis. The U.N. has issued warnings of famine and hunger, exacerbated by the Taliban's decision to ban women from working with international and U.N. agencies. As a result, some countries have reduced or even halted aid to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan occupies a strategic position in the BRI infrastructure projects. The Chinese investment model heavily relies on loans, which often result in long-term debts for the recipient countries. Nevertheless, countries like Afghanistan and regimes like the Taliban prioritize accessing funds and bolstering their propaganda over sustainable economic growth.

China is actively engaged in diplomatic efforts with the Taliban. Last March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Afghanistan. In a recent trilateral dialogue between China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi met with his Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang, and expressed that the Taliban regards Afghanistan-China relations with “great importance.”

South Asia’s Dual Dilemma: Climate Impacts Heighten Conflict Vulnerability

Laraib Farhat

South Asia has been confronted with a conflictual crisis for decades now. The arch of vulnerability that this region faces ascends from its long-rooted history of colonialism that left it with a traumatic past and is lingering to date. The conflicts created at that juncture and fortified over time have made this region vulnerable to any internal or external influence. The already declined state of South Asia’s security landscape has been further compromised under the looming climate emergency. With rising temperatures, melting glaciers, and depleting natural resources compounded by South Asia’s internal instability and external intimidations, the region is subject to a mounting dual dilemma. This issue brief looks into two areas of heightened vulnerability for the region—climate-induced migration coincided with conflict escalation and development-induced migration along with the rising energy crises that could become a potential hotspot for conflict in the region.

China’s Cognitive AI Research

William Hannas, Huey-Meei Chang, Max Riesenhuber, Daniel Chou

An expert assessment of Chinese scientific literature validates China's public claim to be working toward artificial general intelligence (AGI). At a time when other nations are contemplating safeguards on AI research, China’s push toward AGI challenges emerging global norms, underscoring the need for a serious open-source monitoring program to serve as a foundation for outreach and mitigation.Download Full Report

Executive Summary

China’s intent to create broadly capable artificial intelligence, also called “artificial general intelligence” (AGI), was announced in its 2017 “New Generation AI Development Plan” and is championed by leading Chinese scientists and AI institutions.

This study assesses the plausibility of these claims by examining Chinese scientific papers published in Chinese and English between 2018 and 2022 for evidence of related research. While most such papers are on routine AI applications, a significant body of research was found on AGI precursor technologies, indicating that China’s claims to be working toward artificial general intelligence are genuine and must be taken seriously.

The study reaches the following conclusions:Published scientific studies indicate China is actively researching general AI.

Chinese research on advanced (general) AI is shared over a broad talent base.
The greatest concentration of Chinese AGI research is in the Beijing area.
Global contributions support the research but are not its main drivers.

US ambassador to Beijing targeted in Chinese cyber-attack – report

Julian Borger 

The US ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns, was reportedly one of the American officials whose emails were accessed in a recent Chinese hacking attack which took Washington by surprise with its sophistication.

Another target was Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for east Asia, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. When the attack was first disclosed last week, the administration admitted the email account of the commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo, had also been compromised. US officials were quoted as saying those were the three most senior targets but that in total, hundreds of thousands of government email accounts could have been breached.

Asked for comment on the report, a state department spokesperson said: “For security reasons, we will not be sharing additional information on the nature and scope of this cybersecurity incident at this time.”

“The department continuously monitors and responds to activity of concern on our networks,” the spokesperson said. “Our investigation is ongoing, and we cannot provide further details at this time.”

It was not clear how much sensitive US government information had been compromised.

According to the Journal’s account, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s email had not been breached, nor had those of his inner circle of advisers. But Kritenbrink accompanied the secretary on his visit to China last month, and Burns had also attended meetings with the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, and other senior Chinese officials in the course of the visit. It is possible the hackers gained access to US preparations for those meetings and internal discussions about them.

US intelligence officials are reported to have been taken by surprise by the stealth and sophistication of the cyber-attack, which exploited a flaw in Microsoft’s cloud computing environment which has since been fixed, the company said.

(Re)assessing the near-term Chinese carrier threat in a Taiwan scenario


With the fast approach of the Davidson Window, which sets the date for a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan as soon as 2027, much attention has been focused on Beijing’s aircraft carriers and how they could come into play. In the following analysis, Ben Ho of IISS looks at two prevailing theories about how effective the carriers may be in an invasion, before raising a new way of looking at the issue.

In the past decade, there has been much talk over China’s staggering pace of defense modernization. Of note would be Beijing’s aircraft-carrier program, and this aspect of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has spawned a bustling cottage industry. There have been additions to this conversation in recent months. For instance, in a May Reuters article, various experts maintained that the Chinese carrier force is still embryonic and poses “little threat yet” despite 10 years of development and counting. The story came on the back of the early-spring deployment of the PLAN’s second flattop, the Shandong, into the western Pacific and approaching Guam.

The Reuters piece added that there are questions over the value of Chinese carriers during a Taiwan contingency, at least in the short term (read within the next few years or within the timeframe of the “Davidson window.”), and such doubts are largely due to the limited capabilities of the Liaoning (China’s first flattop) and Shandong. (While China’s third carrier, the Fujian, is much more capable owing to its catapult-assisted takeoff and barrier-arrested recovery, or CATOBAR, flight-deck configuration, the ship will probably be operational only in the late 2020s given the “first-in-class” issues that will invariably surface). In response to the Reuters article, military analyst Rick Fisher warned of underestimating the Chinese carrier threat because of the protective cover of Beijing’s shore-based anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) edifice. The arguments both sides put forth have merit, but need more nuance. What is more, that PLAN carrier airpower could adequately menace Taiwan’s east coast — an argument which seems to be gaining traction — needs to be addressed.

China Is Striking Back in the Tech War With the U.S.


Two dates from 2022 are destined to echo in geopolitical history. The first, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, hardly needs further elaboration. The second is October 7, 2022, when the United States enacted a new set of export controls designed to cripple China’s future progress in AI technology. Rather than target AI software, the export controls choke off China’s access to the advanced (and almost exclusively American-designed) computer chip hardware that powers AI. More than a decade of breakthrough after breakthrough in AI technology has convinced policymakers in both Beijing and Washington that leadership in AI technology is foundational to the future of economic and military power. On October 7th, the U.S. government committed to stopping China from becoming an AI-enabled authoritarian superpower.

Things got tougher for China in March 2023, when Japan and the Netherlands announced that they were also adopting new export controls on advanced semiconductor manufacturing equipment. Combined, the U.S., Japan, and the Netherlands provide roughly 90% of all the equipment that is used in computer chip factories worldwide. All three countries are now enforcing strict export controls on advanced semiconductor manufacturing equipment, so China not only can’t buy U.S. chips, but it also can’t buy the equipment needed to make Chinese alternatives.

In the months since October 7, the world has waited to see how China would retaliate against the U.S. and its allies, as China’s diplomats have constantly threatened to do. “This will not be without consequences,” said a Chinese ambassador in March. “We won’t just swallow this.”
More from TIME

Exiled Hong Kong Activists React to Their Million-Dollar Bounties

Now, the wait is over. With three targeted moves, China has begun striking back.

First, China’s anti-trust authority has effectively blocked any and all corporate mergers involving a U.S. semiconductor company that operates in Chinese markets. While this is hardly as significant as the U.S., Dutch, and Japanese export controls, it is more painful for the U.S. semiconductor industry than it might at first sound. Corporate mergers are critical for U.S. companies to acquire innovative technology and to make strategic changes to their business model. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger recently visited China in an effort to persuade officials there to approve Intel’s $5.4 billion acquisition of Tower Semiconductor – a deal that Intel’s leaders see as vital to the company’s future. The completion of the deal is six months behind schedule and rapidly approaching its August 2023 termination deadline.

How China Overreache

Andrew Latham and Shweta Shankar

In the last three decades, China has become the focus of intense debate within U.S. foreign policy circles. Beijing’s peaceful rise to power has turned into an aggressive overreach of power over the last few years, sparking concerns about China’s future behavior as a great power. A deeper look into the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the United States reveals a number of dynamics that could be detrimental to global peace.

In her newly released book, Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise, Susan L. Shirk, founding chair of the 21st Century China Center, wades into the debate, writing that “China’s aggressive posture in world affairs and its relentlessly tight grip on domestic society are leading to what it most fears — a return to the politics of containment.”

Specifically, Shirk argues that Chinese President Xi Jinping “is quite comfortable using China’s huge market power and deep pockets to suck up advanced technologies from abroad and into China. The aim of achieving self-reliance in semiconductors, batteries, and other crucially important technologies has become increasingly overt. With the hands of the state so obviously orchestrating this massive effort, it is no wonder that China is provoking a backlash in the United States and Europe.”. This and similar political realities, Shirk concludes, exert a considerable burden on China’s power, limiting its potential to display itself as a peaceful actor.

How China Has Evolved as a Power

This is good as far as it goes, but it is with respect to the tumultuous history of China’s rise that Shirk’s book really shines. On this theme, the author’s main argument is that the ease with which Xi reversed 30 years of institutionalization reveals the opacity of the Chinese political system.

ZTE leaving Ericsson, Nokia in its 5G dust


TOKYO – Despite campaigns and sanctions against Chinese-made 5G telecom equipment in the US, Europe, Australia, Japan and elsewhere, Chinese telecom giant ZTE’s share price has risen by 61% over the past year while rivals Ericsson and Nokia’s have dropped 30% and 22% respectively.

This surge-plunge comparison can be attributed to China’s greater commitment to building 5G base stations and its focus on the technology’s industrial application, of which China is the world-leading pioneer. ZTE is China’s second-ranking telecom equipment maker after Huawei.

Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia are paying a heavy price for their dependence on the consumer market in an inflationary and rising interest rate environment.

On July 14, Nokia’s shares plunged 9.6%, the biggest fall in two years, and Ericsson’s dipped 8.7% following disappointing company sales and profit announcements for the second quarter and the rest of 2023.

It was the second abrupt drop in Europe’s two leading telecom equipment companies’ shares so far this year. The first was in April in response to weak first-quarter earnings.

Both companies have been laying off workers and otherwise cutting costs in response to weak demand and excessive inventory, primarily in North America. As a result, their customers – mostly telecom service providers – have been forced to cut prices and postpone 5G projects.

On July 14, Ericsson reported a 3% year-on-year increase in sales (-9% excluding newly consolidated investments and changes in foreign exchange rates) and a 62% decline in operating profit (net of restructuring charges) in the three months to June.

Management said this was in line with their expectations. However, it was not in line with market expectations.

Export Controls — The Keys to Forging a Transatlantic Tech Shield

Matthew Eitel

A transatlantic tech shield requires a new, united vision for export controls and enacting the reforms necessary to make it a reality.

The United States (US) and the European Union (EU) agree that export controls are a key weapon in the arsenal against authoritarianism. In response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the allies coordinated a comprehensive ban on selling Moscow a variety of dual-use technologies — hardware or software with both civilian and military applications — such as semiconductors and telecommunications equipment. 1 They also align on placing export controls in a central role to “de-risk” supply chains from China. 2

Yet the differing governance structures of the allies remain a key obstacle. The US benefits from a strong federal executive branch, which can impose financial sanctions and export controls quickly and unilaterally. Some US export controls are effective upon release. 3 The EU, on the other hand, can only act after forging consensus among its 27 member states, who view export controls as a national security competency and often sideline the Brussels-based European Commission when creating national level controls. It takes about a year to update the EU’s export control list. 4

EU and US political priorities also differ. The US now places national security concerns at the center of its international economic agenda, willing to sacrifice trade in the name of protecting US security. 5 The EU has hardened its view of economic engagement with China, but key member states such as Germany remain skeptical of the trade-offs required to closely align their approach with that of the US. 6

Future transatlantic coordination on the rationale and implementation of export controls will require reflection and reform. Washington must remain careful about unilateral action. It must avoid applying too many extraterritorial controls and coercing allies to align their regulations. Europe must update its fragmented export control regime and form a consensus on a strategic approach to technology transfers to China.

Washington Sounds the Alarm and Seeks to “Lead from the Front”


US–China relations have become progressively more strained in the past decade, with each state increasingly convinced that the other is seeking to undermine it. This situation was thrown into stark relief during the Trump administration, which initiated the United States’ trade and technology wars with China and enhanced relations with Taiwan. While both countries are seeking to put a floor under their deteriorating relationship, the prospects for sustained improvement are remote given their differences in ideology, values and geopolitical ambitions.


The Biden administration has not merely maintained the policies of the previous US administration: it has systematically sought to build alliance relations in the Indo-Pacific to constrain China’s room for manoeuvre.


The US president has also imposed major restrictions on the sale to China of advanced semiconductors – and the equipment required to manufacture them – in order to maintain US dominance in technologies deemed critical for national security. Decoupling is a reality, although its pace and impact remain unclear.


Sino-American tensions have become focused on Taiwan, a critical source of advanced semiconductors, with Beijing perceiving Washington’s increased engagement with the island as hollowing out the United States’ long-standing ‘One China’ policy and reducing the prospects for peaceful reunification.

The US–China relationship has been characterised by cultural and political misperceptions and mismatches of expectations ever since the two countries first came into contact in the mid-nineteenth century. The result has been a dynamic that has seesawed between periods of close approximation and intense antagonism. Even during the best of times, relations were never straightforward; as China has grown in wealth and power it has become increasingly competitive and confrontational, while the US perceives China’s rise as a threat to its global standing. The 2008 global financial crisis proved to be a major tipping point in the relationship as Beijing sought, not without justification, to blame Washington for failing to prevent it while overlooking its own role in precipitating the crisis through mercantilist behaviours that led to an unmanageable global savings glut.

China a growing port of call for African naval expansion

Sub-Saharan naval forces have been undergoing dramatic and dynamic changes, driven by economic developments and growing maritime security concerns. The Military Balance and Military Balance+ data show that China is playing an increased role in transforming what have largely been modest naval forces. The data also underscores some of the continuing challenges in developing African naval capabilities.

Numbers game Concerns about piracy and other threats to the maritime economy and shipping in and around the African littoral have received greater international attention in recent years. These concerns have driven United States activity – chiefly through the naval component of US Africa Command – and an increasingly coordinated and persistent European maritime presence. In both cases, efforts have included a focus on local training and capacity-building. These concerns have also been among the main drivers behind regional force developments.

According to The Military Balance and the Military Balance+ database, the total number of active Sub-Saharan surface combatants has almost tripled since 2008. The region now sports 420 such vessels, up from 158 in 2008.

The preponderance of the additions is to patrol and coastal combatants, in a move by respective states to secure their littoral waters. Their procurement choices have been dictated chiefly by their limited budgets – larger combatants can be significantly more expensive to buy and operate. But operational priorities – focusing on offshore, coastal and riverine security and patrolling – have also played a part.

Although 18 of 30 regional states with navies and/or coastguards saw their fleet sizes increase by 50% or more, the growth in aggregate Sub-Saharan vessel numbers was driven primarily by a few countries. Nigeria’s surface combatant number rose from 12 to 128, in large part to combat maritime security threats in the Gulf of Guinea. Angola’s fleet grew 650% over the period and Mozambique, which had no surface combatants in 2008, now has 30.

The clue China is preparing for war


In a sinister reversion to the very worst days of Mao’s rule, Communist Party officials across China are blindly obeying orders to rapidly increase the supply of arable land by any means possible. As with the “Great Leap Forward” that starved tens of millions to death in a futile attempt to produce more steel to industrialise overnight, the official aim is straightforward: to grow more “grain”.

In reality, however, China produces more than enough rice, wheat and maize to feed its human population. So why the sudden rush? Xi Jinping, it seems, is preparing for war.

At present, China relies on colossal imports of soya beans, maize, wheat and other cereals to feed its pigs, cattle, chickens and ducks — more than 120 million metric tons last year. These are supplied by the daily arrival of bulk carriers into Chinese ports from Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the United States. If war were to break out, these imports would quickly dry up.

In China, there is no spare land for crops, leaving Beijing little choice but to uproot the trees recently planted by its costly and much-admired reforestation efforts — even though China’s forests are mostly on slopes, and new crop plantings are often swept away by the first serious rain. Local party officials executing Beijing’s orders know this perfectly well, but disobeying means instant demotion at best.

After the colossal Yangtze River floods of 1998 destroyed 13 million homes, drowned thousands and swept away highways and rail lines, the CCP recognised that the floods had been made worse by uncontrolled deforestation. Orders were issued all across China to stop logging and to plant trees instead, with vast funding allocated to add up to roughly 90 billion trees over the next decade. Thousands of tree nurseries were established, and an army of tree-planters set to work on the bare deforested slopes, with local farmers hired to nurture the new trees. As a result, China became visibly greener in satellite images, as forest cover increased from 12% in 1998 to 24% in 2020 to then increase further — until last year. No figures have been published, but what has happened since greatly exceeds the rate of the Amazon’s deforestation, even though the West’s environmentalists have so far remained entirely silent.

How Xi Jinping Thinks

Stephen B. Young

Xi Jinping’s China is not a normal country.

Since he became Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, and President of the People’s Republic of China in 2013, Xi Jinping has been turning back the clock – way, way back.

Xi has been transforming China from a normal modern country back into a Bronze Age theocracy.

Though he has been boasting of this reformation for years, our best and brightest in foreign affairs, politics, and business have been too clueless to grasp the scope of his agenda. Xi speaks of “Chinese Characteristics” as the warp and woof of his nation-building project. If we open our eyes and suspend our Western rationalism for just long enough to investigate Xi’s “Chinese Characteristics” from his point of view, we can almost read his mind and predict his decisions.

You see, Xi’s “Chinese Characteristics” is not merely a slogan. It signifies something grand and transcendent—a theological mythology propounded by the Shang and early Zhou Dynasties (1,700 – 500 BCE), long before the Chinese people had made themselves into a great empire. I’ll summarize the ancient myth as such: it characterizes a sentient and purposeful Heaven above and around us; our world as the All-Under-Heaven, planned and directed in everything by Heaven; and Heaven acting in our world through its loyal servant, the Son of Heaven.

Now, this may sound archaic, even crazy, to a modern Western audience. But I guarantee these myths are as real and credible to Xi (and many Chinese people) as anything contained in the Old Testament.

Roughly speaking, Xi proposes that Heaven has chosen him to be the Son of Heaven in our time. Xi believes he has been given authority to guide the All-Under-Heaven according to his instructions. And, China’s destiny today is to bring our world into conformity with Heaven’s plans and aspirations.

Chinese spy balloon exposed gaps in U.S. ability to detect threats, NORAD commander says

Patrick Smith

The Chinese spy balloon that flew across North America earlier this year exposed important gaps in the U.S.’ ability to detect airborne threats and propelled the development of new surveillance technology, the senior U.S. commander responsible for patrolling the skies told NBC News in an exclusive interview.

Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told “Nightly News with Lester Holt” that U.S. surveillance capabilities have been strengthened with new technology since the balloon was spotted off Alaska in late January.

“We were not looking for a high-altitude balloon at that time ​​ — 65,000 feet, very slow. Our radars are capable of seeing it, but we were filtering out that data,” he said recently in a wide-ranging interview at the Colorado Springs headquarters of NORAD, which monitors the skies over the U.S. and Canada and responds to potential threats.

The Biden administration was criticized for its handling of the Chinese surveillance balloon, first reported by NBC News, with some asking why it was allowed to fly over sensitive military sites in the continental U.S., where it could collect valuable information about American defenses. The revelation that the Chinese were able to fly such balloons into American airspace without the U.S. military detecting them also raised questions about an intelligence failure, prompting calls for more investment in the country’s air defense and radar systems.

China initially apologized for the incident but maintained the object was a civilian weather balloon that had blown off course.

VanHerck, like other American officials, said there was no doubt the balloon was used for spying.

“We know for sure it was a spy vehicle,” he said.

Content Moderation Through Removal of Service: Content Delivery Networks and Extremist Websites

Seán Looney

Kiwifarms was an internet forum known for its active targeting and harassment of trans people. In August 2022, the forum set its sights on Canadian Twitch Streamer and trans activist, Clara Sorrenti, also known as Keffals. The forum members called in the police to a fake bomb threat to her home and subsequently tracked her around the world once she fled Canada. If this harassment had occurred on a major social media platform, Sorrenti may have had some recourse to a form of content moderation. However, as Kiwifarms is a standalone website with no content moderation infrastructure or Trust and Safety teams, she had no such recourse. Instead, Sorrenti utilised her online following, starting a ‘Drop Kiwifarms’ movement to get the site kicked off the internet by targeting the companies that allow them to operate. The primary target of this campaign was Cloudflare, the content delivery network (CDN) providing services to Kiwifarms. Cloudflare stopped offering services to Kiwifarms in September 2022.

While considerable attention has been paid by researchers to the effectiveness of content moderation on social media platforms, and messaging applications, less attention has been paid to if and how infrastructure and service providers including CDNs deal with terrorist and violent extremist content (TVEC). CDNs play an important role in deplatforming websites by refusing to provide service. Denial of service by CDNs has resulted in the takedown of a wide range of websites such as The Daily Stormer, 8chan, and a variety of Taliban-owned websites.

This Insight provides an overview of what CDNs are, what content they host, and their role in countering TVEC online. While CDNs are a necessity in the modern internet ecosystem for websites to operate, there is no consistency in CDNs’ approach to addressing TVEC being hosted on their servers. The lack of a clear standardised process of content moderation may lead to the current situation where CDNs ignore or remain ignorant of the prohibited use of their services without sufficient public pressure.

How do CDNs work?

Prigozhin’s Aborted Mutiny, What Will Happen to the Wagner Group?

Colin P. Clarke

After the Wagner Group’s aborted march on Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that Wagner has been a Kremlin-operated and financed conglomerate since it was established in 2014. The thin veil obfuscating Moscow’s relationship with Wagner was obliterated.

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin agreed to disband the group in exchange for being able to live in exile in Belarus. However, disbanding Wagner altogether isn’t as simple as liquidating a company. Its forces serve as a force multiplier for the Kremlin, conducting operations that are essential to projecting Russian influence abroad.

Whether Wagner is disbanded, rebranded, or largely left intact, the United States and its allies are moving forward with new sanctions against Wagner equities in Africa.

The future of the Wagner Group is in doubt. Less than a week after Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin launched his march on Moscow on June 23, which was then aborted mid-coup, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Wagner fighters who participated in the rebellion the option of relocating to Belarus. Putin also reportedly met with Prigozhin in the days after the mutiny, perhaps to press the mercenary boss on the details of the operation and to force him to lay out the inner workings of Wagner’s global enterprise. Wagner’s lightning-quick advance into Russia brought its fighters close to a nuclear site, previously unreported details that further demonstrate the severity of the incursion. Prigozhin’s current whereabouts are unknown, although he was expected to accept exile in Belarus. A revived military base in Belarus that was expected to host Wagner troops that took part in the mutiny remains empty.

Those Wagner forces that did not join Prigozhin’s coup were eligible to join the Russian military and sign contracts under the command of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the very issue that prompted Prigozhin’s mutiny in the first place. Clearly, the balance of power between Wagner and the Ministry of Defense has shifted, with Prigozhin confident enough to call for the dismissal of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

Challenges Facing China after the Ukraine War and Its ResponsesIssue/Region :

Lee Dong Gyu 

China considers Russia an important partner to establish a multipolar international order and the two sides announced a “no limits partnership” on February 4, 2022. China has tacitly supported Russia diplomatically and economically even after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, as the Ukraine war has become protracted, China is now confronted with a number of challenges.

1. Strengthening Western Countries’ Coalition against Authoritarian States

The United States and Western countries have recovered and reinforced their cooperative relations rapidly against a common enemy, Russia. In addition, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine justified the United States’ warning against the perils of authoritarian countries. Such strengthening of the Western countries’ coalition implies that the United States and Western countries are likely to intensify containment and pressure on China.

2. Need for New Momentum for Cooperation with European Countries

In its efforts to advance the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China sought to cooperate with European countries, emphasizing infrastructure development and economic exchanges. However, China’s tacit support for Russia after the Ukraine war has spread distrust of China in Europe, undermining cooperative relationships between China and European countries. Against the backdrop of widening security concerns over Russia’s invasion among Eastern European and Baltic countries, China needs to find new momentum to maintain cooperation and rebuild trust while balancing U.S. influence.

3. Tarnished National Image as a Responsible Power

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, China is likely to be perceived as a potential disruptor of the international order or a revisionist power given its close partnership with Moscow. Furthermore, China’s passive response to the Ukraine war has damaged its national image as a responsible power amidst the international society’s expectation for China to take responsibility and play a positive role.

Dispatch from Odesa: Russia escalates its naval war against Ukraine

Michael Bociurkiw

In recent days, the front line of Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine appears to have shifted south toward the Black Sea—placing major port cities such as Mykolaiv and Odesa directly in the crosshairs of a Russian naval buildup that began just before its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

While exact numbers are difficult to come by, the bulk of recent missile strikes on Ukrainian targets such as Odesa have originated in the Black Sea. One estimate put the Russian amphibious assault ship increase at the start of the full-scale invasion as equivalent of an additional one-and-a-half battalion tactical groups. Earlier this week, Russia carried out a live fire “exercise” against potential maritime targets in the northwestern part of the sea.

Russia’s daily strikes on Ukrainian targets along the Black Sea coast represent an extraordinary escalation. They mark a shift in Russian strategy toward leveraging missile batteries in occupied Crimea with Kh-22 and P-800 Oniks anti-ship cruise missiles, which typically fly at extremely high speed and, as they reach their targets, can descend to low altitude (as low as thirty-two feet) along the water or land, making them difficult to intercept.

Some residents here in Odesa have responded by heading to safer ground in the countryside or overseas, but for the most part I’m detecting the same irrepressible resilience that was on display in the earlier months of the war.

While it’s doubtful Russia plans to decimate Odesa to the extent that it laid waste to Mariupol, the force with which it is pounding the southern port region has folks here worrying. After all, in one night alone, Russian forces launched at least thirty cruise missiles, primarily from ships in the Black Sea, according to the Ukrainian Air Force. One strike came dangerously close to the Chinese consulate and damaged a wall of the building. Some residents here in Odesa have responded by heading to safer ground in the countryside or overseas, but for the most part I’m detecting the same irrepressible resilience that was on display in the earlier months of the war.

The Kremlin has significantly escalated tensions after torpedoing the Black Sea Grain Initiative on Monday, attacking Odesa port infrastructure and then issuing a unilateral declaration from the Russian Ministry of Defense that all Black Sea vessels sailing to Ukrainian ports will be considered potential carriers of military cargo. The statement added that no matter which flags the vessels carry, they would be considered on Kyiv’s side.

Experts react: South Korea embarks on a new nuclear era. How will it play out?

Atlantic Council experts

When it comes to nuclear-related events, the Korean Peninsula this week resembled an atom’s nucleus, from which the adjective nuclear derives. It was a charged center of activity. On Tuesday, US and South Korean officials gathered in Seoul for the inaugural meeting of the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG), a new bilateral platform coming out of April’s Washington Declaration to coordinate deterrence against a North Korean nuclear attack, including with US nuclear weapons. The same day, a US nuclear submarine docked at a South Korean port for the first time since 1981, even as North Korea continues to launch missiles and claim tensions are escalating “to the brink of nuclear war.” Throw in the curious case of a US soldier crossing from South Korea to North Korea, and it’s been an explosive week.

Below, Atlantic Council experts explain what happened and what to expect next.

Success will require reaching beyond the officials in the NCG

The inaugural meeting of the US-South Korea NCG is an important step in improving the assurance of South Korea, deterrence of North Korea, and the alliance’s military response capability. That senior representatives from the White House and South Korea’s presidential office led the delegations should signal the importance both sides place on following through with the Washington Declaration and set the stage for robust follow-through. However, the NCG’s engagement outside of high-level government channels may be even more pivotal to its success going forward.

The brief joint readout set out an ambitious and logical agenda of quarterly meetings to advance on several workstreams, which include some very practical measures focused not just on reassuring South Korea, but also on improving deterrence of and responses to a North Korean nuclear attack. Such a brief public readout, of course, cannot capture the full scope and detail of what has been and will be discussed at NCG meetings. Such meetings will inevitably touch upon issues that are politically sensitive, involve classified operational and intelligence information, or both. The unfortunate tendency by some South Korean and US officials, as a result, will be to keep the proceedings very “close hold” and the public readouts very brief and selective. Meanwhile, issues deemed too politically sensitive by one or both sides might not even make it on the agenda, for fear of derailing the meetings or that such discussions might leak to the press. Such an approach would not be helpful for the NCG’s goals.

What is the status of US, Israel cyberwars?


On June 19, 2022, false rocket-warning sirens were activated in Jerusalem and Eilat, caused by a stunning cyber attack by Iran.

Israel’s cyber authorities at the time tried to downplay the hack, which seemed to have significant national security implications.

However, in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Israel National Cyber Directorate Chief Gaby Portnoy gave the most comprehensive explanation to date of that event. In a surprise revelation, he said the IDF’s early-warning system for rocket fire was not hacked by Tehran.

Rather, Jerusalem’s and Eilat’s civilian municipalities have alarm systems relating to the start of Shabbat, which were hacked. Basically like standard intercom systems, some have no password protection and could have been hacked by a child (if the child had noticed their existence), Portnoy explained.

This event illustrates how intense, destabilizing, and confusing cyberwars have become in 2022-2023.


Kevin D. Stringer and Heather S. Gregg

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, they did so according to a well-established playbook. Beginning with the air assault operation to capture Kyiv and overthrow the Ukrainian government, Russia’s moves followed the same model as those of past foreign interventions by both the Russian Federation and its Soviet predecessor, including Prague in 1968, Kabul in 1979, and Sevastopol in 2014. An appreciation of this playbook is key for states who might find themselves in the crosshairs of future Russian aggression.

Russia’s invasion playbook generally proceeds as follows: positioning conventional forces on the borders of the targeted country to amplify political pressure and organize for invasion; infiltrating special operations (Spetsnaz) units to prepare and spearhead the incursion; seizing a strategic airport through airborne units; and airlanding additional assault troops to secure the battlespace and decapitate the national government in conjunction with the already inserted special operations units. Understanding and delineating Russia’s sequence of events for regime decapitation allows for the creation of specific countermeasures that at-risk countries and their allied advisors can take to protect vulnerable national capitals.

Russia’s Invasion Playbook

One of the first examples of Russia’s playbook comes from the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to counter the Prague Spring. Czechoslovak First Secretary Alexander Dubček’s attempts to introduce economic and political reforms, along with efforts to decentralize power, prompted a Soviet-led invasion with the aim of restoring pro-Kremlin authority in the country. On August 20, 1968, a Spetsnaz element along with KGB personnel secured Prague’s Ruzyně International Airport. The rest of the assault force, consisting of a Spetsnaz brigade and an airborne division then airlanded, and the former proceeded to seize locations in Prague—the presidential palace, radio stations, and other key terrain. Simultaneously, Warsaw Pact mechanized troops crossed the border for the occupation. The Soviets arrested the Czechoslovak leadership and flew them to Moscow. Ultimately, the Warsaw Pact invasion, led by Russian forces, took eight months to successfully suppress the popular uprising that followed the invasion.

The Guns of Europe: Defence-industrial Challenges in a Time of War

Twenty-five years of declining defence budgets led to the downsizing of Europe’s defence-industrial capacities. The challenge now is to ramp up production quickly.

Defence planners and industrialists expend a lot of effort trying to avoid preparing for the last war. And yet, the uncomfortable truth emerging from the ongoing war on European soil is that European countries have barely prepared for war at all. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has revealed significant shortcomings in the capacity of European NATO governments to supply and arm a neighbouring partner, much less fight a major war themselves. The armed forces in European NATO and European Union member states are hollowed-out, plagued by unserviceable equipment and severely depleted ammunition stocks. Policymakers in many nations have responded by announcing significant increases in defence spending. The new money is intended to address long-standing capability shortfalls, support the modernisation of armed forces and in some cases their growth, replenish stocks, and fill gaps created by the transfer of equipment and munitions to Ukraine. As Morten Brandtzæg, CEO of the Norwegian defence company Nammo, has observed, ‘it’s a war about industrial capacity’. Yet it has very quickly become apparent that Europe’s defence-industrial base will struggle to meet this increased demand in the short term. This raises urgent questions about European industry’s ability to continue supporting Ukraine militarily at scale and at speed, and its ability to recapitalise forces in NATO and the EU.

The approximately 25 years of decline in European defence budgets between the end of the Cold War and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 inevitably led to the downsizing of Europe’s defence-industrial capacities. During the Cold War, European governments were willing to finance a degree of defence-industrial overcapacity to ensure reliable access to equipment and munitions at scale. When the Cold War ended, the emphasis changed from readiness to efficiency – to doing more with less. The defence industry had little choice but to take business decisions that reduced capacity. The war in Ukraine is prompting a rapid reassessment of priorities. The challenge now is to ramp up production quickly.

Ukraine could win but still become a failed state


Much ink has been spilled on how Putin’s war in Ukraine has weakened Russia’s economy, military and international standing. Less attention has been paid to the future of Ukraine as a nation. Even if Ukraine is able to expel all of the Russian invasion, it could still become a failed state.

It is worth remembering that Ukraine was not thriving before February 2022. After his 2019 election, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took over a state suffering from economic malaise, low birth rates and high rates of corruption. Ukraine’s population, after peaking at 52 million in 1993, had already fallen to 45.5 million by 2013, before the annexation of Crimea, with UN estimates concluding that it would fall by a further 20% by 2050.

Widespread emigration has plagued Ukraine, which was suffering from extensive brain drain well before the war. Emigration and population decline are parts of a vicious cycle — citizens leave countries due to political instability or low economic prospects, which tends to worsen the very problems that immigrants are fleeing from.

In addition to a declining birthrate and negative net migration, Ukraine’s economy has floundered since the nation achieved independence in 1991. Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe — before the war, its GDP per capita was comparable to that of Iraq, and unemployment was about 10 percent. Ukraine’s economy is the second-most corrupt in Europe, behind only Russia. This corruption and lack of opportunity fueled Ukraine’s pre-war emigration and poverty.

The invasion and subsequent Russian military strikes have wreaked havoc on this already weak economy. Infrastructure has been devastated, with an estimated $138 billion in damage. Power systems, roads and other critical assets have been left in ruins. Ukrainian agricultural production, which made up 40 percent of Ukraine’s exports, has fallen by a third, which will only be exacerbated by recent Russian attacks on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Finally, Russian minefields and artillery attacks have also left much of eastern Ukraine inundated with unexploded ordinance, the effects of which will continue to be felt for decades.

Stop Micromanaging the War in Ukraine

Phillips Payson O’Brien

One of the biggest challenges that a superpower faces is figuring out what it can and cannot do. When you are a global hegemon, you might believe that you can micromanage wars, orchestrate foreign countries’ diplomatic relations and internal politics, and precisely calibrate how others perceive you. That tendency is evident in the American approach to Ukraine. Although the U.S. has provided Ukraine some strong diplomatic support and a significant amount of modern weaponry, it has done so with a catch. To avoid provoking Russia too much, it seems, the Biden administration has been very restrained in offering additional types of weaponry—and therefore additional military capabilities—to Ukraine. Until recently, the U.S. has given noticeably mixed signals about when or even whether NATO, the West’s preeminent military alliance, might accept Ukraine into its ranks.

The overall presumption seems to be that the U.S. can give Ukraine just enough help—without going too far. Lesser powers than the United States tend to make simpler calculations: Pick a side and do whatever you can to help it win.

The twists and turns at last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, revealed American strategy making at its worst and best. The opening day could have been disastrous. The alliance’s official communiqué—which the U.S. presumably played a major role in shaping—said up front that Russia “is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.” Yet the statement included a word salad of qualifications and obfuscations about whether Ukraine—the country now actually at war with Russia, and thus protecting many NATO states—would be allowed into the alliance. Though the statement said “Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” it offered only the vaguest idea of when even the process bringing about that future might start. The key paragraph puzzlingly concluded that NATO “will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met.” So Ukraine seemed to be being offered a deeply conditional chance to receive an invitation to possibly join NATO sometime in the unknown future. The implication was: We view Ukraine as a partner, but only up to a point.