Our Take

When engaging with China, the EU should do more to match the decisive pro-democracy measures of some of its smaller member states, most notably Lithuania, Hong-Cheng Hsiao and Research Analyst Etienne Soula argue in an ASD blog post

China’s internal data policies and outgoing data-collection efforts increase its competitiveness in key future industries like AI and biotechnology, while also challenging democratic values in cyberspace through limits placed on freedom of expression, state access to citizen data, and the ability for targeted influence campaigns, former Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman writes for the National Bureau of Asian Research.

The Biden administration and Congress should have three top priorities in Asia: refocusing on a positive strategy instead of framing U.S. engagement as a response to China; embracing a proactive trade and economic integration agenda; and increasing U.S. diplomatic and military resources in the region, Co-Director Zack Cooper and Adam P. Liff write in Foreign Affairs.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media and diplomats focused heavily on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Alongside coverage of the unfolding chaos and humanitarian crisis, monitored Russian accounts made predictable attacks on the United States’ role in Afghanistan, categorizing the U.S. presence in the country as imperialism, blaming the CIA for empowering the Taliban, and criticizing a supposed U.S. strategy based on “democracy, dollars, and M16s.” Russian state media also amplified domestic criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis, running critical op-eds by former U.S. military members and amplifying domestic attacks. Russian state media also shared videos of Taliban members dancing and circulated talking points from Taliban spokespeople, including that the group would “protect Afghan women’s rights and honor.” In coronavirus coverage, Russian state media and diplomats continued to highlight protests against vaccines and pandemic-related restrictions, especially in France. Russian state-backed messengers also covered developments around the flow of migrants from Belarus to Lithuania, which Lithuanian officials have claimed is being orchestrated by the Belarusians as retribution for sanctions imposed on Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. 

Last week, Chinese state media and government officials covered the chaos surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, using it to present the United States as an unreliable ally. The connection to China’s strategic interests was made clear in a series of articles by the Global Times, which explicitly warned that U.S. “treachery” should be a lesson for Taiwan. China’s messengers also used the situation to hint at a geopolitical repositioning in the region. Chinese officials and state media also frequently targeted Lithuania last week over its decision to open a de-facto embassy in Taipei and to allow Taiwan to do the same in Vilnius under the Taiwan nameas opposed to the Taipei name China usually tolerates. Chinese officials keenly stressed Lithuania was harming China’s “territorial integrity” and took a few swipes at the United States. Finally, Chinese diplomats and state media repeated their conspiracy theories on Fort Detrick and claimed that the United States created  Covid-19 and AIDS

Iranian state media and diplomats focused on news related to the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan last week, with diplomats expressing concern over escalating violence, and state-backed media reporting on the dire situations many civilians face. Some accounts associated with the Iranian military celebrated the chaotic U.S. withdrawal and mocked the quality of weapons and aircraft the United States supplied to the Afghan military. At the same time, the more conspiracy-minded among the Tehran-backed media ecosystem alleged that the United States and the United Kingdom have cut a deal with the Taliban to ensure continued influence in the country. Despite the preeminence of Afghanistan coverage, the Russian and U.K. envoys to Tehran touched off a storm of criticism from Iranian officials after their ambassadors posed for a photo at the Russian embassy staged to evoke the 1943 photo of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin taken in the same spot. Outgoing Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the picture “extremely inappropriate” and said Iran’s destiny is no longer determined “in foreign embassies or by foreign powers.” 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

CISA director calls for closer federal, state, and local coordination on election security: On August 14, Jen Easterly, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), called for a nationwide approach to combating disinformation and for closer collaboration between CISA and state and local election officials at the National Association of Secretaries of State’s summer conference. Easterly urged election officials to use their expertise to push back on narratives seeking to undermine confidence in elections and announced the continuation of CISA’s Rumor Control page designed to debunk election-related conspiracy theories. Easterly’s remarks come weeks after a Department of Homeland Security bulletin warned of potential election-related violence surrounding conspiracy theories related to the reinstatement of former President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, local election officials continue to be targeted by a flood of criticism and personal attacks relating to false claims of fraud in the 2020 election. ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine previously recommended that state and local officials should develop a robust plan to protect election officials that may involve updating security systems, creating legal strategies to deter suspicious behavior, and implementing security protocols in election officials’ homes and workplaces. 

EU and United States raise concerns over Poland’s media bill: Last week, the European Commission expressed concerns regarding a bill, which was passed by the lower chamber of the Polish legislature, that could effectively muzzle the largest remaining independent television news outlet in the country, TVN. The legislation, championed by Warsaw’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, stipulates that only European companies can own a controlling share in Polish media companies. If enacted, U.S.-based Discovery Inc. would have to sell off its controlling stake in TVN. Critics have labelled the law an attempt to silence critical media voices in a country that has already seen a drop in press freedom over the past five years. On August 11, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement condemning the draft legislation, stating that the law may undermine Poland’s media freedom and investment climate. Former ASD Co-Director Jamie Fly has explained that independent media outlets are central to the health and success of democracy and called on the United States to work with its allies to strengthen independent media. 

China and Lithuania recall ambassadors following dispute over prospective Taiwan-Lithuania offices: On August 11, Lithuania and China pulled their ambassadors from each other’s countries in response to deepening informal diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Lithuania. The diplomatic spat began in March 2021, when the Lithuanian government announced its plans to open a trade office in Taipei later this year and in May pulled out of the China-led 17+1 bloc of Central and Eastern European states that was created to enhance cross-regional infrastructure and trade investment. On July 20, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu announced plans to open a diplomatic office in Lithuania, breaking protocol by using the name “Taiwan” rather than “Taipei.” China retaliated on August 10 by recalling its ambassador to Lithuania and demanded Lithuania do the same, which it did on the following day. While China warned Lithuania of the “potential consequences” of allowing the establishment of the diplomatic office, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman condemned China’s actions in solidarity with NATO partner Lithuania. ASD Intern Hong-Cheng Hsiao and Research Analyst Etienne Soula wrote last week that small EU democracies like Lithuania are paving the way for a more confrontational approach towards China in addressing issues such as human rights, economic interests, and democracy.

In Case You Missed It

  • The Federal Election Commission’s Office of Inspector General warned that inefficient oversight of illicit foreign money targeting U.S. elections is a critical national security risk.
  • Prominent GOP officials, super PACs, and candidates are using Facebook ads to fundraise on false claims tying migrants with the surge of delta variant cases in the southern United States. 
  • The Russian-linked disinformation operation known as Secondary Infektion has been connected to an attempt to perpetuate anti-Muslim sentiment and coronavirus disinformation by creating a false narrative that Muslims are responsible for the spread of the coronavirus.
  • The United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commissioner urged a moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technology until countries introduce a framework to address the human rights implications of its abuse. 
  • Video platform Rumble, a YouTube competitor that does not have policies of removing misinformation, has reached agreements with eight “thought leaders,” including former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and journalist Glenn Greenwald, to provide content for the platform. 
  • U.S. intelligence reports reveal Russian information operations in the United States are evolving in sophistication in the run up to the 2022 midterm elections.  
  • A U.S.-based contractor filed a lawsuit alleging that Huawei required it to install technology to gain access to sensitive information on citizens and government officials in Lahore, Pakistan as part of a safe-cities surveillance project.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is considering tapping private companies to monitor social media for indicators of extremist violence, sparking controversy over civil liberties protections.

ASD in the News

Quote of the Week

“The American people need to have the facts to be able to make the best decisions and to have confidence in the integrity of our elections. There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than a safe and secure election that the American people have confidence in.”

  • Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told the Associated Press on August 14.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.