What to Watch for the Week Ahead: Feb. 13-17
More Unidentified Flying Objects. The U.S. military shot down three unidentified flying objects over the United States and Canada over the weekend, just one week after a Chinese spy balloon traversed the country and was ultimately shot down over the Atlantic ocean. Additional details about the new objects and their capabilities have not been released and their connection to China has not been confirmed. However, officials believe that the flights are a Chinese effort to collect intelligence about American military bases and other national defense installations. The recent sightings will be of great interest on Capitol Hill as concerns about China’s aggression continue to grow and will continue to put pressure on the Biden administration to respond to what is being perceived as increasing antagonism.
China Seeks to Enhance Ties with Taiwan Opposition. China hosted the leader of Taiwan’s opposition party, the KMT, last week as Beijing continues to put pressure on Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty. The opposition party has historically favored closer ties with China, but denies accusations that it desires to subject Taiwan to China’s control. Instead, the party insists it is working to maintain open lines of communication with China. After the visit, China announced that it is willing to work closely with the KMT to maintain peace. Taiwan is scheduled to hold its next presidential election in early 2024.
China Warns EU about Ukraine. Fu Cong, China’s top diplomat to the EU, called on the bloc of nations to avoid seeking “complete victory” in Ukraine on the eve of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to the European summit. Zelenskyy is continuing to push for additional support from Europe and for Ukraine’s admission into the EU as Russia’s war in Ukraine hits its one-year anniversary. “Frankly speaking, we are quite concerned about the possible escalation of this conflict,” Fu said at an event hosted by the European Policy Centre in Brussels. “And we don’t believe that only providing weapons will actually solve the problem.” China’s posture toward the conflict in Ukraine remains of great interest to policymakers in the West, with parallels being drawn between Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine and China’s aggression toward Taiwan.
Sneak Peak. Brownstein has learned that the House Select Committee on China will hold their official organizing meeting and first formal hearing on Feb. 28. We expect this hearing to be broadly focused on the threats posed to the United States by the Chinese Communist Party.
Highlight Reel: Feb. 6-13
SFRC Hearing on U.S.-China Policy. On Feb. 9, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a hearing to discuss U.S.-China Policy in the Era of Strategic Competition. The committee heard testimony from Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner. Sherman told the committee, “The People’s Republic of China is the pacing geopolitical challenge of our era, one that touches nearly every facet of our Department’s leadership on a daily basis and one that will test American diplomacy like few issues in recent memory.” The discussion mainly focused on China’s influence across the world, the fentanyl crisis, Taiwan, authoritarian encroachment and potential areas of cooperation between the United States and China. The hearing was one of the first in what is expected to be a recurring theme in many committees across both chambers this year and next.
Department of Commerce
BIS Lists Six Entities Linked to Chinese Surveillance Balloon. On Feb. 10, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added six Chinese entities linked to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military and aerospace modernization to the Entity List, restricting them from obtaining U.S. goods and technologies without a license from BIS. The BIS press release notes that the added entities were targeted specifically for their relation to “aerospace programs, including airships and balloons,” ostensibly linking the decision to the U.S. military interception of a Chinese surveillance balloon that flew over multiple U.S. states earlier in February. Following the BIS decision, Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said that China’s “use of high-altitude balloons violates our sovereignty and threatens U.S. national security,” noting that entities “that seek to harm U.S. national security and sovereignty will be cut off from accessing U.S. technologies.” The text of the rule, which includes the list of entities added, is scheduled to be published on the Federal Register’s website on Feb. 14.
Department of Defense
China Declines Proposal for Call with Secretary Austin After Downing of Surveillance Balloon. On Feb. 4, the Department of Defense (DOD) submitted a request for a call between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and China’s Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe, which was declined by China’s government, further ratcheting diplomatic tensions between the two countries. China’s Defense Ministry Spokesperson, Senior Col. Tan Kefei, cited the U.S. military’s “irresponsible” takedown of the Chinese surveillance balloon on Feb. 4 as reason for the decision to not take the meeting with Secretary Austin, adding that the U.S. government was “seriously violating international practice” in downing the balloon over U.S. territory. This follows Secretary of State Antony Blinken having postponed a planned trip to China for meetings with President Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials as a result of the balloon flying through U.S. airspace. U.S. officials have iterated a willingness to keep open lines of communication with China following the balloon incident while maintaining that the balloon’s trajectory placed it in violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law, though it remains unclear when communication channels between the most senior officials in both governments will reopen.
Department of the Treasury
Secretary Yellen Open to China Trip, but No Date Set. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen noted she would be willing to visit China to continue discussions on economic issues in press remarks given on Feb. 8, while acceding that a date for a trip was not likely to be set without coordination and approval from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the State Department. Yellen said she would “still hope to be able to visit China to meet with [her] economic counterparts,” noting that she had recently met with Vice Premier Liu He in January in Zurich, where both officials agreed to enhance communication around macroeconomic issues. Yellen’s willingness to visit China in the wake of the downing of the balloon mirrors other U.S. officials who have iterated that the U.S. is not seeking a shutdown of diplomatic communications following the incident. However, as planned meetings and travel from other Cabinet members to China has been postponed or cancelled due to the incident, it remains unclear whether a trip will take place in the near term, as well as to what degree U.S. and Chinese officials will interact at the upcoming G20 meetings in India.
Secretary Yellen Calls for China to Support Debt Restructuring Efforts. Secretary Yellen called for China’s government to include itself more comprehensively in multilateral efforts to support debt restructuring in specific developing countries, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) event on Feb. 9. Characterizing China’s unwillingness to “comprehensively participate” in debt restructuring efforts as a “roadblock,” she highlighted Zambia as a country where China is the largest creditor but has delayed attempts to restructure the country’s debt, referencing China’s creation of a range of additional requirements to creditors’ committees that stymied progress on a debt restructuring framework in the country. Yellen said that the issue of China’s participation in these issues would be raised as a key priority at the upcoming G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) meetings from Feb. 22–25 in Bengaluru, India.
On the Calendar
Senate Armed Services Committee
Global Security Challenges and Strategy
9:30 a.m., Live Stream
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Countering Illicit Fentanyl Trafficking
10:30 a.m., Live Stream
China and Ukraine: A Time for Truth
12:00 p.m., Live Stream