Our Take

Ahead of the Biden administration’s first face-to-face meeting with top Chinese officials last week, China Analyst Bryce Barros noted that a reset is unlikely, and Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman explained why Beijing’s “divide-and-conquer strategy” won’t stand in a GMF blog post.  

Since domestic voices began denigrating the integrity of the 2020 election months before it even happened, Russia did not need to do much more than pour a little fuel on the fire in the information space, Acting Director David Salvo said during a conversation on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessment of foreign interference in the 2020 election on “Julie Mason Mornings.”

Four key pillars underpin China’s messaging strategy, but the country’s embrace of “wolf warrior” diplomacy threatens its success, Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson explains in an ASD blog post.

The mainstreaming of conspiracy theories like QAnon has eroded trust in authorities and contributed to vaccine skepticism across the United States and Europe. Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková and Caitlyn Ramsey explain how the United States and EU can restore trust in authoritative sources of information in an ASD blog post.

If the Biden administration wants to strengthen the United States’ alliances in Asia moving forward, its first priority should be to restore confidence in U.S. reliability, Co-Director Zack Cooper and Lindsey Ford write in the Texas National Security Review.

We are now witnessing arguably the most consequential struggle over U.S. elections since the Civil Rights era. To ensure that more Americans believe that our elections are legitimate ahead of the 2022 midterms, President Biden should establish a Presidential Commission on Election Resilience and Trust, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine writes in Electionline.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian state media last week amplified criticism from Russian officials of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessment that Moscow interfered in the 2020 election. Officials and state media also rebuked President Biden’s characterization of Putin as a “killer” and widely shared Putin’s subsequent invitation to have a public dialogue with Biden. After Biden declined, state media amplified U.S. voices tying the decision to supposed problems with Biden’s health. Meanwhile, Russian state media eagerly tracked the growing number of European countries that had suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine and amplified calls for the EU to approve Sputnik V as an alternative. 

Chinese state-backed media provided critical and largely factual coverage of the tragic shooting of eight people, including six Asian-American women, in Atlanta last Tuesday. Government officials and state media also argued that politicians and scholars critical of China, as well as the Trump administration, were the main causes behind increasing hate crimes against Asians in the United States. Narratives about Xinjiang and Hong Kong were largely recycled from previous weeks, with state-backed messengers emphasizing increasing life expectancy in Xinjiang and depicting Hong Kong’s population as wholeheartedly supporting electoral reforms. 

On the Iranian dashboard, regime-linked social media accounts last week focused on Nowruz (Persian New Year) celebrations. Pro-regime media also trumpeted the first phase of trials for a new Iranian vaccine called “Fakhra” and accused the United States of using diplomatic pressure to keep the Sputnik V vaccine out of Brazil. Once again, a large share of Tehran-linked content focused on the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), blasting the “maximum pressure” campaign as a failure. Finally, some Iranian media reported on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s accusations of Russian interference in the 2020 election, though they mostly ignored similar charges against Iran.

Read the full Hamilton report here.

News and Commentary

U.S. and Chinese top diplomats hold talks amid tension: On March 18 and 19, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with top Chinese diplomats Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi in Anchorage, Alaska, for the first talks between the two countries during the Biden administration. Blinken confronted the Chinese delegation about Beijing’s cyberattacks on the United States, economic coercion of U.S. allies, and actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan—all of which “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” the secretary of state said. Yang Jiechi accused the United States of hypocrisy, arguing that Washington was the “champion” of cyberattacks and highlighting U.S. domestic instability and its history of human rights abuses. An ASD task force report argues that the United States should put democratic values at the center of its strategy to outcompete autocracies.

Polish officials blame Russia for hack of government websites: On March 17, the spokesman for Poland’s security services Stanislaw Zaryn said that Russia was likely behind the hacking of two government websites that briefly carried false warnings about a nuclear waste leak coming from neighboring Lithuania. The websites of Poland’s National Atomic Energy Agency and Health Ministry published the warning. The Twitter account of a journalist that covers politics in Eastern Europe was also hacked and used to amplify the false information. Zaryn told reporters that “the whole story looked like a typical Russian attempt” to sow division between Western allies. However, the false statements received little public attention before being removed. ASD Program Manager and Analyst Brad Hanlon has written that Russian operatives regularly target journalists to amplify and add legitimacy to disinformation.

In Case You Missed It

  • The Biden administration established a task force of federal agencies and private firms to investigate and respond to recently discovered cyberespionage campaigns.
  • Finnish intelligence officials said that a hacking group linked to the Chinese government was behind a cyberespionage campaign that breached the Finnish parliament in 2020.
  • The U.S. Commerce Department subpoenaed multiple Chinese companies as part of an effort to gather information on foreign technology firms that could threaten national security.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken requested that entities stop working on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as President Biden reportedly considers sanctions.
  • Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States a day after the U.S. intelligence community released a report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered operations to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election.
  • Ukraine plans to nationalize a major defense firm and cancel its acquisition by China after the United States opposed the deal for its potential to hand over critical technology to Beijing.
  • Facebook will no longer recommend political and health-related groups to users globally to limit the spread of disinformation.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited China and called for Moscow and Beijing to reduce their dependence on the U.S. dollar and Western financial systems, a move that would limit the impact of Western sanctions.
  • China appears to have blocked the encrypted messaging app Signal, which activists and journalists often use.

ASD in the News

“Tough” U.S.-China talks signal rocky start to relations under Biden, Reuters. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Why China may be the last bipartisan issue left in Washington, NBC News. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Bitter summit shows no reset in chilly US-China relations, Financial Times. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

US and EU to revive joint effort to handle more assertive China, Financial Times. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Russia outsources disinformation efforts to foreign troll farms, Roll Call. Comments from Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt

Presidential Commissions and Elections, “High Turnout Wide Margins.” Interview with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

A Podcast for the Middle Class, “Net Assessment.” Co-hosted by Co-Director Zack Cooper

How to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific, The Washington Post. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Too little, too late. I dubbi degli esperti sul piano digitale Ue 2030 (Experts’ doubts on the EU 2030 digital plan), Formiche. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina and Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Wirtschaftskrieg des 21. Jahrhunderts: Wie China den deutschen DIN-Standard verdrängt (Economic war of the 21st century: How China is displacing the German DIN standard), Handelsblatt. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Sette Storie (Seven Stories), Rai. Interview with Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Quote of the Week

“Our administration is committed to leading with diplomacy to advance the interests of the United States and to strengthen the rules-based international order… The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all. And that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us.”

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during talks with his Chinese counterpart on March 18.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.