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Jan. 27, 2021
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. mulls evacuating Beijing embassy over COVID rules

By Bill Gertz
China’s draconian pandemic control measures have prompted the State Department to consider evacuating American diplomats and their families from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

A State Department spokeswoman told “Inside the Ring” no decision has been made on pulling out the officials and dependents.

“The operating status at our mission in the [People’s Republic of China] has not changed,” the spokeswoman said. “Any change in operating status of this nature would be predicated solely on the health, safety and security of our colleagues and their family members.”

Reuters reported that the U.S. Embassy on Monday asked the State Department for approval for the diplomatic pullout as China’s government increased COVID-19 containment measures ahead of the Olympic Games set for next month. Embassy staff reportedly are upset that the Biden administration has been unwilling or unable to gain an exemption for American officials from China’s strict quarantine rules. The rules include forced admittance to COVID clinics and separation from children.

China in the past required foreign diplomats to undergo anal swab coronavirus testing in an action widely viewed as harassment of diplomats.

Reports from China say the omicron variant is spreading in China, including Beijing, threatening the regime’s so-called “zero COVID” policy aimed at totally eliminating the virus. The Olympic Games are set to begin Feb. 4, and China has put in place a health security bubble over all foreign athletes taking part.

Mr. Zhao praised China’s epidemic prevention and control protocols as “rigorous and science-based.”

“China is undoubtedly the safest country at present,” he said. “Evacuating from the safest place in the world will only expose U.S. personnel to much greater risks of infection.”

Mr. Zhao said the rationale for the U.S. diplomatic evacuation is confusing. “China has expressed grave concern and dissatisfaction over this to the U.S. side,” he said. “We hope the U.S. can observe China’s COVID-19 protocols, take China’s position and concerns seriously, and think carefully about the so-called “authorized departure” of diplomatic and consular staff.”

The state-linked Global Times report said the Biden administration was “conducting a number of acts in instigating and sabotaging the Winter Olympics in Beijing.”

“Such tricks ahead of the Chinese New Year and the Games showed its true intention, which is beyond the anti-epidemic consideration but only serves to create panic, slander China‘s anti-epidemic work and disrupt China’s successful hosting of the Winter Olympics,” the outlet stated.

The administration announced that U.S. diplomats would boycott the Olympics to protest Chinese human rights abuses, which include genocide in western China against Muslim Uyghurs and crackdowns against Tibet and against Hong Kong. Last week, the administration suspended 44 flights by Chinese airlines from the United States to China over pandemic-related travel restrictions.

The ban by the Transportation Department was imposed in retaliation for China’s banning of 44 flights by U.S. airline carriers from China to the United States.

Report: Chinese commandos to play key role in Taiwan attack
Chinese military operations designed to take over the self-ruled island of Taiwan would rely heavily on the use of special operations commandos, according to a new analysis by the Naval War College.

People’s Liberation Army special operations forces “would likely play important supporting roles in an amphibious assault on Taiwan,” the report issued by the college’s China Maritime Studies Institute. The report was written by John Chen and Joel Wuthnow. “Their capabilities and training are geared towards several missions undertaken during the preparatory and main assault phases of the landing, including infiltration via special mission craft and helicopter, reconnaissance and targeting, obstacle clearance, strikes and raids, and extraction missions.”

PLA commandos have been training for over a decade to prepare for island landing attacks. The forces have bolstered weapons and training in anticipation of an operation against Taiwan, which China considers part of its sovereign territory.

The report concludes that both the Taiwan and U.S. defense establishments should take a hard look at whether current defense deployments can deal with PLA commando attacks in a future conflict.

Senior U.S. military commanders have warned Congress that China is poised to retake Taiwan, militarily if necessary, in the coming years.

PLA special operations troops are expected to play key roles in the landing phase of a Taiwan invasion and again during a potential “mop up” campaign against Taiwan resistance forces after the invasion. Chinese military writings reveal that the PLA commandos will provide special reconnaissance and conduct strikes and raids on key targets, such as leaders and centers of gravity. Commandos also will conduct information operations during the invasion.

Special operations troops also have expanded their capabilities for a Taiwan invasion in recent years, including underwater personnel delivery systems.

Chinese military print and television reports detailed plans by the PLA to use commandos in large, combined arms exercises, although the report said the training is limited.

“Their capabilities and training are geared towards several missions that would be undertaken during the preparatory and main assault phases of the landing, including infiltration via special mission craft and helicopter, reconnaissance and targeting, obstacle clearance, strikes and raids, and extraction missions,” the report said. Unmanned drone submarines and aircraft also will be used to clear mines and beach obstacles.

The commandos also are preparing to wage psychological warfare aimed at what one military report called “disintegrating enemy resolve,” using disinformation and technical means to disseminate propaganda.

Unlike the U.S. Navy’s elite Seal Team Six that has dedicated transport and intelligence support, most of the PLA commandos do not have similar resources.

That shortcoming “could diminish the effectiveness of joint operations involving special forces, potentially leading to catastrophic results similar to the failed U.S. hostage rescue attempt in Iran during Operation Eagle Claw,” the failed 1980 mission to free American hostages in Iran, the report said.

Chinese Communist Party controls over the military also are a weakness, the report said.

“Generally, there is a tension between the Leninist emphasis on centralization and the need to grant autonomy to lower PLA commanders,” the report said. “This could be especially problematic in special operations: Centralized command could lead to poor performance if small units fail to act due to the lack of explicit authorization, or if they are forced to maintain radio communications and thus reveal their positions to the enemy.”

The report notes that the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military power provides few details on the secretive commandos. The latest report states that commandos would be used during a Taiwan invasion to “infiltrate Taiwan and conduct attacks against infrastructure or leadership targets.”

The Chinese military has 15 special operations brigades that have trained for direct action, infiltration, island-landing, drone warfare and airfield seizure.

The report provided no numbers for PLA special operations troops. Some analysts estimate the commando forces can include up 30,000 commandos, out of an estimated 2.3 million active-duty PLA troops.

Kazakh official who opposed China genocide imprisoned
In the aftermath of social and political upheaval in Central Asian former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, a key official associated with the former regime of President Nursultan Nazarbayev is facing treason charges.

Karim Massimov, who is part ethnic Uyghur, was recently arrested on unspecified treason charges. He had served Mr. Nazarbayev as a former government minister, prime minister and presidential chief of staff and, at the time of his arrest, was chief of the government national security organization, a senior intelligence official.

“In Kazakhstan’s recent upheaval, the Kazakh ministers were dismissed but only in part — Uyghur Karim Massimov is in prison … to please the Chinese?” said national security expert Edward N. Luttwak.

According to Mr. Luttwak, Mr. Massimov, 56, appears to be a scapegoat for new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Mr. Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor who then removed the former president from all positions of power and purged his aides and supporters following the violent unrest earlier this month.

Mr. Massimov, however, appears to be the sole Kazakh official imprisoned and charged with treason.

Suspicions focus on role Mr. Massimov, who speaks Mandarin, may have played while a presidential national security chief in authorizing a demonstration last year protesting the genocide in China against Uyghurs in front of the Chinese consulate in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The demonstrators were mainly ethnic Kazakhs from China‘s Xinjiang Province who also are being targeted in the mass Chinese repression along with Uyghurs.

Whatever the basis for the arrest, China’s government, which backed Russian intervention in Kazakhstan, was likely pleased by imprisonment, analysts say.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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