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Join us for a virtual discussion on how the United States can regain the initiative in the emerging competition with authoritarianism with Ambassador Eric Edelman, Ambassador Samantha Power, and Dr. Kori Schake on Thursday, December 10 at 10:30am EST/4:30pm CEST. Register here.

Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph will testify before the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Foreign Interference on countering political funding from third-country sources on Wednesday, December 2 at 3am EST/9am CEST. Watch the session here, and read Rudolph’s and Thomas Morley’s recent report on covert foreign money in democracies here.

Our Take

Chinese state media and diplomatic messaging around the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has sought to enhance the country’s international standing and to portray the agreement as a symbol of China’s commitment to multilateralism, while also denigrating the role of the United States and India in the Asia-Pacific region, China Analyst Bryce Barros and Research Assistant Etienne Soula write in a Hamilton analysis blog post.

The killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, one of Iran’s top nuclear scientists, will complicate the incoming Biden administration’s efforts to renew the nuclear deal with Iran—and could lead to escalation, Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai writes in Foreign Policy.

To make real progress in Southeast Asia, the Biden administration will need to craft a positive security, economic, and political agenda that shows the United States views the region as important in its own right instead of through the lens of great power competition with China, Co-Director Zack Cooper writes in Fulcrum Singapore.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian diplomatic accounts and state media continued to tout Russia’s coronavirus vaccines, including the announcement that Sputnik V “will cost less than its Western rivals.” Following President-elect Joe Biden’s announcement of key cabinet picks, Russian state media covered domestic pushback from progressives to some of the announced and presumed picks, often echoing the backlash and suggesting that the United States will continue or return to standard U.S. “imperialism” under Biden but “with a nicer face.” This is consistent with Russia’s longstanding effort to drive a wedge between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party. Chinese state media devoted significant coverage to the ongoing uncertainty around the transition between the outgoing and the incoming U.S. administrations, but more attention focused on the increasingly rancorous rhetoric between China and Australia. Deputy spokesperson for the Chinese MFA, Zhao Lijian, sent several tweets about Australian military atrocities in Afghanistan, one of which included a doctored image of an Australian soldier supposedly preparing to decapitate an Afghan child. Iranian officials condemned the assassination of the head of Iran’s nuclear program, assigning blame to Israel and, at times, the United States. Ayatollah Khamenei was also active on Twitter last week, criticizing U.S.-led sanctions and blaming the U.K. and EU for their “destructive intervention in the region.”

Continue reading here.

News and Commentary

European Union and NATO propose new transatlantic agendas to meet challenge posed by China: The European Commission has drafted a policy paper that calls for revitalizing the EU-U.S. partnership on a range of issues to ensure democratic countries are able to meet “the strategic challenge presented by China’s growing international assertiveness.” The paper recommends that the EU and United States hold a summit in the first half of 2021 to announce the new transatlantic agenda, which would include cooperating to shape the digital regulatory environment, working together to screen sensitive foreign investments, and joining forces to counter cyber threats. The paper also states that “a transatlantic technology space should form the backbone of a wider coalition of like-minded democracies.” On December 1, NATO released a report that recommended a series of changes over the next decade to better respond to threats from China and Russia, including the establishment of a consultative body to coordinate policy toward Beijing on issues like supply chains, information warfare, and arms buildups. President-elect Biden has written that the most effective way to meet the challenges presented by China “is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners” and has stated that he will organize a global summit for democracy to forge a common democratic agenda. A recent ASD Task Force report recommends the United States work with like-minded partners and allies to advance a cyber and Internet governance model based on the democratic principles of openness, transparency, and accessibility.

Facebook struggles to reduce misinformation while driving growth: In response to a flood of election-related misinformation, Facebook temporarily altered its news feed algorithm to promote trusted news outlets and limit the reach of hyper-partisan pages associated with misinformation and divisive content, according to The New York Times. The algorithm emphasized the importance of secret internal rankings Facebook assigns to news publishers based on the quality of their journalism, which resulted in more visibility for mainstream sources including CNN, The New York Times, and NPR. Some Facebook employees have argued the change should become permanent, while others warned it could hurt the company’s bottom line. Last week, reporting revealed that a group of Facebook employees had failed in a 2019 attempt to reverse the company’s decision to exempt a list of political accounts from fact checking. The employees cited a survey that found Facebook users were more likely to believe false and misleading information that is shared by a politician. An ASD report argues that the United States needs to develop a legal framework for empowering and protecting online users that addresses the structural characteristics of social media platforms without stifling innovation.

In case you missed it

● The United Kingdom will ban the installation of new equipment from Chinese telecoms provider Huawei starting in September 2021 and has proposed legislation that would fine companies that do not comply with telecommunications security requirements.

● The EU has approved a law that will allow the bloc to sanction human rights abusers and coordinate sanctions more closely with the United States.

● A suspected Chinese hacking campaign is targeting individuals and groups involved in negotiations about the operations of the Catholic Church in China.

● The EU introduced legislation aimed at creating a data marketplace for industrial and government information, which would be secured by EU data security standards.

● The Federal Communications Commission rejected a request by the Chinese telecommunications group ZTE to remove the company’s designation as a national security threat.

● The U.K. government warned that state-sponsored hackers are attempting to exploit vulnerabilities in mobile device software to target organizations in the local government, health, logistics, and legal sectors.

● The Government Accountability Office recommended that policymakers consider developing cybersecurity standards to ensure the safe roll out of 5G networks.

● The Treasury Department pushed back the deadline for TikTok’s Chinese parent company to sell its video-sharing app by one week to December 4.

ASD in the News

Russian Influence Peddlers Carving Out New Audiences on Fringes, VOA. Comments from Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts

EU Braces Itself for Battle Despite New Faces in White House, Financial Times. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

With 2020 Called A Success, Big Questions Lie Ahead For Election Security, NPR. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Coronavirus Infodemic: Using and Abusing Information Space, DROG. Interview with Fellow and Program Manager Nad’a Kovalčíková

Middle East Expert On Assassination Of One Of Iran’s Top Nuclear Officials, NPR. Interview with Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist Stayed in the Shadows But His Work Was Uncovered, Reuters. Comments from Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist Killed in Ambush, State Media Say, The New York Times. Comments from Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Analysts: Iran Likely to Delay Response to Assassination of Top Nuclear Scientist, VOA. Comments from Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Iran Under Intense Pressure Over How To Respond To Top Scientist’s Brazen Killing, Los Angeles Times. Comments from Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Iran’s Security Apparatus Under Fire After Top Nuclear Scientist Assassinated, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Comments from Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Bad Idea: “Great Power Competition” Terminology, CSIS. Written by Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“I have confidence in the security of this election because I know the work that we’ve done for four years in support of our state and local partners. I know the work that the intelligence community has done, the Department of Defense has done, that the FBI has done, that my team has done. I know that these systems are more secure. I know based on what we have seen that any attacks on the election were not successful.”

– Chris Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said in an interview.

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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.