China vs. protestors; Russia evacuates blast site; Syria rebels, besieged; Twin car-bombs in Somalia; And a bit more.

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Hong Kong’s airport has reopened today, a welcome bit of news from a contested city that China’s military appears poised to enter should pro-democracy protests escalate.   

The short story: “About three dozen protesters remained camped in the airport’s arrivals area a day after a mass demonstration and frenzied mob violence forced more than 100 flight cancelations,” the Associated Press reports this morning from Hong Kong. “Additional identification checks were in place, but check-in counters were open and flights appeared to be operating normally.”

Protesters’ message to travelers in the airport: “It is not our intention to cause delays to your travels and we do not want to cause inconvenience to you. We ask for your understanding and forgiveness as young people in Hong Kong continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”

And about China’s military, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted this to the world shortly after lunch on Tuesday: “Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!” You may recall some of those movements in Reuters’ Sunday evening report on the situation in Hong Kong, here. 

But we can now see the result of those military movements more clearly with this satellite imagery over a sports arena just 25 kms away from Hong Kong. In the photos you’ll see 500 or so of “what appear to be armored personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police… sitting on and around the soccer stadium at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center just across the harbor” from Hong Kong.

Worth noting: “Chinese state media have said only that the exercises” that have drawn those 500 or so vehicles to the stadium “had been planned before hand and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong,” AP reports, “although they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to show the ‘sprouts of terrorism.’”

So would China do it? AP writes that ordering in the PLA would upend “the territory’s reputation as a safe and stable place to invest in” would be seen “as indication of the Communist Party’s failure to win over the hearts and minds of the city’s 7.3 million residents.” 

On the other hand, “mainland China is believed to have already dispatched officers to fortify the ranks of the Hong Kong police, and may also have planted decoys among the protesters in order to encourage more violent acts that could eventually turn ordinary Hong Kongers against the protest movement.” 

More on those alleged decoys: Hong Kong Police appear to have begun “dressing like protesters, infiltrating the protests, starting violence, and then beating up the protesters,” the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin noted off this Monday report from the Hong Kong Free Press

What’s more, China is “using state and social media to wage a disinformation war against Hong Kong protesters,” the New York Times reports. The story leads with the example of a television news channel that misplaced blame for a woman injured by police.

But Chinese trolls aren’t quite world-class yet. Alex Stamos of the Stanford Internet Observatory points to pro-state tweets from brand-new accounts: “The weakness of the Twitter troll campaign around #HongKongAirport demonstrates why the Russian Internet Research Agency spent years building realistic personas. Nobody is buying 1 follower and the 1 post on HK protesters being violent.” 

USN port visits, cancelled. CNN’s Barbara Starr: “Amidst Hong Kong unrest, China denies US Navy requests for two ships to make port visits. USS Green Bay was scheduled to visit Hong Kong on August 17 and USS Lake Erie was scheduled for Sept. @HongKongProtest (Reality:USN doesn’t like to make port visits during unrest)”

If China sends troops to Hong Kong, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., told Reuters on Tuesday that “there will be action in Congress to enforce the autonomy agreements that were entered into that are part of the special recognition of Hong Kong.” Part of that special recognition involves a “1992 U.S. law affords Hong Kong preferential treatment in matters of trade and economics compared with China,” Reuters writes. “Areas of special treatment include visas, law enforcement and investment.” 

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado tweeted a warning to China on Tuesday, which read, “The Administration must make clear to Beijing that any crackdown in Hong Kong will have profound consequences for China, including imposition of US sanctions, which was included in my amendment that passed the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.”

Gardner’s GOP colleague from Florida, Marco Rubio, tweeted his own warning on Tuesday as well: “China’s escalating threats against #HongKong is not an ‘internal matter,’ it’s a blatant violation of commitment to Hong Kong’s autonomy Beijing made in an international treaty. And given their history of repression, Chinese troops massed on [the] border is cause for grave concern.” 

Rubio returned to Twitter this morning, writing that the “Actions of the Chinese govt against #HongKong a cautionary lesson for anyone thinking about any deal with them. They signed a treaty promising autonomy & democracy for Hong Kong. They will agree to anything to get a deal. But they have no intention of keeping those promises.”

On China’s broken promises: Hong Kong is only the most pressing example, writes Jacob Stokes of the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Beijing’s string of violated agreements is starting to weigh heavily on U.S.-China relations.” Read on, here. 


From Defense One

China’s Army May Miss Some of Its Modernization Goals // IISS’ Henry Boyd: But the PLA will still have more modern armored brigades than the United States.

New Tool Reveals Big Vulnerabilities In Mobile Apps That Use Multiple Clouds // Patrick Tucker: The remote servers that power thousands of popular apps harbor a rats’ nest of vulnerabilities.

Our Efforts to Prevent Nuclear Terror Are Shrinking. The Threat Is Not. // Lee Hamilton and George Shultz: Five ideas to help Congress reinvigorate the crucial pursuit of nuclear security.

Chinese Propaganda Goes Tech-Savvy to Reach a New Generation // Wanning Sun, The Conversation: As the Party’s propaganda strategies become more nuanced and sophisticated, so should our frameworks for understanding them.

NIST Has a Roadmap to Develop Artificial Intelligence Standards // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: NIST also calls for tools to help agencies better study and assess the quality of AI-powered systems.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1791, France’s captives in the largest colony in the Caribbean, Saint-Domingue, held a ceremony to mark the start of “one of the most successful revolts of enslaved people in history.” Today we call that meeting the beginning of the Haitian Revolution. France’s own revolution, just two years earlier, terrified many Americans of the time, U.S. historian Jill Lepore writes in her 2018 book, “These Truths.” But “it held for most Americans not half the fear that was inspired by the revolution in Haiti in 1791.”


The Pentagon is about to get a new spokeswoman, the Washington Post reports. Alyssa Farah, 30 years old, moves from a gig as Vice President Mike Pence’s top spox after having “previously worked on Capitol Hill for five years, serving as the spokeswoman for the conservative House Freedom Caucus and before that as communications director for Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).”
More recently, she served “as part of the official U.S. delegation to the 2019 Munich Security Conference, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Singapore and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in Papua New Guinea, both in 2018.”
According to Chief Pentagon spox Jonathan Hoffman, Farah’s titles now include press secretary and deputy assistant to the defense secretary for media. More from WaPo, here.

Nearly a dozen civilians were killed during an Afghan military operation near the Pakistani border, according to the UN. Kabul’s spy service, the National Directorate of Security, told Reuters overnight that “the operation in Paktia province had targeted a Taliban hideout and among the 11 dead militants were two commanders.” However, “A politician in the area said the government forces attacked a student gathering over the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday.” A bit more, here. 

Meanwhile, Pakistan is asking for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council over the rising tensions in Kashmir, Islamabad’s foreign ministry announced today (Reuters). 

Votel’s warning about a safe zone with Turkey. Former CENTCOM chief, retired Gen. Joseph Votel, took to the pages of the National Interest on Monday to argue — along with Gönül Tol of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies — that the U.S. should reject the current U.S.-Turkish arrangement for a “safe zone” along the northern border of Syria.
Why? Safe zones “are usually designed to be neutral, demilitarized and focused on humanitarian purposes. Imposing a twenty-mile-deep safe zone east of the Euphrates would have the opposite effect… creating an environment for increased conflict that would require an extended deployment of military forces.”
What, then? According to Votel and Tol’s thinking, “What is needed is not a safe zone, but rather a sustainable security mechanism that addresses the specific concerns of all the parties involved and creates a structure that monitors and controls security operations while also facilitating communication among all sides. It will not be perfect, and no one will be completely satisfied with the arrangement, but this is the only viable way forward.” More to their argument, here. 
Elsewhere in the country, the Syrian and Russian militaries are closing in on a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province called Khan Sheikhoun. The besieging forces are already about 2.5 miles away, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters this morning.
Background: “The northwestern Idlib region is part of the last major stronghold of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. The rebels that control it include the powerful jihadist group Tahrir al-Sham and Turkey-backed factions. Assad’s side had struggled to make any gains in the area in an offensive that got under way in late April. But since the collapse of a brief ceasefire this month, it has managed to take several significant positions, including the town of al-Habeet on Saturday.” A bit more, here. 

Al-Shabaab used two car bombs and a few foot soldiers to attack a Somali base about 43 miles southwest of the capital Mogadishu, in a predominantly agricultural town called Awdheegle. “A Somali journalist working for the National Army radio among at least three killed in the attack,” Voice of America’s Harun Maruf reports this morning. 
Most of Awdhegle was captured by Somali troops just last week, Reuters reports. But crossfire from today’s attack also claimed the lives of at least one civilian, a shopkeeper told Reuters. More here. 
Reminder: Shabaab still shows no signs of stopping its insurgency in Somalia. Recall that just two weeks ago the mayor of Mogadishu died after a Shabaab suicide attack on a government building on July 25. CNN has more on the aftermath, here. 

In Chad, a female suicide bomber killed six people, including one soldier, in an attack attributed to Boko Haram in the Kaiga-Kindjiria district of Chad’s Lac province, “which abuts the vast Lake Chad — a region shared by Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria,” France24 reports today. 
FWIW: Boko Haram “has carried out at least 10 cross-border attacks in Chad since 2018, mainly targeting army positions.” That includes a March attack that killed 23 troops; and a June attack, which killed 11 soldiers. Tiny bit more, here. 

Russia sends train to evacuate villagers near nuclear-accident site. NYT: “Residents of Nenoksa, the village closest to the incident, were told to leave on a special train that would be sent to their community, TV29, a local news outlet, reported on Tuesday. It attributed the move to events at the nearby base from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Wednesday, but did not elaborate on those events or explain the time frame.” 
However: “There is no evacuation,” the governor of the Arkhangelsk region, Igor Orlov, told the Interfax news agency Tuesday. “That is complete nonsense.”
To recap: “Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear agency, has said that the Aug. 8 accident occurred during a rocket test on a sea platform in the White Sea, killing at least five and injuring three more,” Reuters reported. The explosion, which threw off a spike of radiation, appears to have occurred during the test of a new “unlimited-range” cruise missile that Russia calls the 9M730 Burevestnik (Storm Petrel) and NATO has designated the SSC-X-9 Skyfall.
Moscow: never mind, we’re still winning this new arms race. “Our president has repeatedly said that Russian engineering in this sector significantly outstrips the level that other countries have managed to reach for the moment, and it is fairly unique,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.
Looking ahead: a proposal to fold the new nuclear weapons into an extended New START treaty, via Carnegie’s Pranay Vaddi, writing at Lawfare.

Regarding new weapons: North Korea warned the U.S. not to put a new INF-range missile in South Korea unless it wants a new Cold War, Reuters reports. 

A-10 Warthogs will now fly until the late 2030s, Air Force Times reported Tuesday after a new “re-winging” operation. Read more behind the layered assault of ads and videos, here.

And finally today: The U.S. Navy is pivoting away from touchscreen systems and back to mechanical controls on its destroyers “in the aftermath of the fatal USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) collision,” U.S. Naval Institute News reported last week. Read more about the return to old tech in The Verge’s writeup from Sunday, here.




China vs. protestors; Russia evacuates blast site; Syria rebels, besieged; Twin car-bombs in Somalia; And a bit more.