In Other News: UK Pushes Back Against China, Russia’s Nord Stream II & More – June 5, 2020

June 5, 2020

The UK has begun to push back against China’s move to bring Hong Kong further under its control, pledging to open up the possibility for 2.9 million Hong Kong citizens who are eligible for British National Overseas passports to reside and work in the UK. Currently 300,000 Hong Kong residents hold BNO passports and another 2.6 million residents are eligible. China considers these Hong Kong residents Chinese nationals, and it is unclear whether Beijing would allow those seeking to take advantage of the offer to travel to the UK. China’s tactics in Hong Kong violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed when the UK handed Hong Kong over to the mainland in 1997. This has triggered anti-China sentiment in the UK, which in addition to offering a lifeline to Hong Kong residents, is also courting rivals to Chinese tech giant Huawei as equipment providers for its national 5G network. The UK agreed in January that Huawei would supply parts for the UK’s 5G network in January over the strong objections of the US but is now considering a plan to phase out Huawei’s involvement in its network by 2023. China has stepped up aggressive activities around the globe, including declaration of new administrative zones in the South China Sea, border altercations with India, and blocking some imports from Australia as retaliation for the Australia-backed WHO investigation of the origins of Covid-19. Pushback against these activities is picking up steam. The UK’s actions on Hong Kong residents and Huawei mark a major policy shift that will signal to China that some of its aspirations may start to run into more resistance, possibly at the expense of its commercial interests.

China’s aggressive international activities mid-pandemic include phishing attempts on campaign staffers for Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2020 US presidential elections, according to Google. The tech behemoth also reports that Iran has attempted to access the gmail accounts of staffers on President Trump’s 2020 campaign. The detected attempts were not successful in either case, but we doubt that either country’s attempts were limited to those targeting campaign staffer gmail accounts. It is likely that both China and Iran are conducting a range of simultaneous attacks, including some that are much more sophisticated than phishing schemes. TAG sources report that Chinese nationalists are supportive of a second Trump term, as his harder line on China lends legitimacy to their anti-US stance at home, whereas most of China’s policy community (especially the pragmatists) would prefer Biden, the candidate they think would bring some stability back to U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A bipartisan group of senators have introduced a bill to expand sanctions targeting Russia’s Nord Stream II undersea natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. The new sanctions would be imposed on service providers to seagoing vessels, such as pipe-laying ships, that are involved in the project. Firms affected would include insurance providers or anyone providing port facilities for those vessels. Nord Stream II is a centerpiece of Russian efforts to maintain its market share in Europe and cut the Ukrainian “middleman” out of its natural gas deliveries to the continent, a shift that would deprive Ukraine of much needed-transit fees. US sanctions thus far have delayed the Nord Stream II project and driven up its costs, but Russia has insisted that sanctions will not keep it from completion. Should this legislation pass and new sanctions be imposed, Russian retaliation is highly likely in some form or other. Given Russia’s long-standing program to infiltrate our electoral systems, the US should be on guard as the 2020 presidential election draws near.