Living in the shadow of President Xi’s autocracy

Taiwan faces ‘growing threats to its security’ as Beijing ramps up a ‘psychological warfare’ campaign

Welcome to the 15th edition of Between The Lines. This week we look at the “psychological warfare” being waged by Beijing. Mind games that are just as explosive as minefields. Also, we focus on China’s new BRICS in the wall and the keyboard spy. Let’s get started.

These are dark days for Taiwan. As China’s economy slips into the abyss and the howls of Beijing’s “Wolf Warriors” grow louder, the island democracy is being squeezed by “Big Brother” across the Taiwan Strait.

“Psychological warfare” continues to be waged on Taipei’s government with the threat of a full-scale “invasion” or a “blockade” just a heartbeat away. 

The risks are real and they are outlined in a detailed report released this week from the German Marshall Fund in the United States. Cue Bonnie S. Glaser, the managing director of GMF’s Indo-Pacific program:

Taiwan faces growing threats to its security. The circumstances and factors that have deterred for decades an attack by the People’s Republic of China on Taiwan and enabled its people to remain secure and prosperous are changing,” she wrote in the report’s introduction.

“The conventional military balance in the western Pacific has tipped in China’s favor, although its military, the People’s Liberation Army, is not yet ready to seize and control Taiwan,” Glaser said in the Next Generation Perspectives on Taiwan: Insights from the 2023 Taiwan-US Policy Program review.

But there are other forces at work targeting the Taiwanese people.

“Apart from the military threats of invasion, blockade, and seizure of one of its small outlying islands, Taiwan is the target of Chinese economic and diplomatic pressure, disinformation and other forms of psychological warfare,” she pointed out.

In short, an island of hope in a cruel sea.

China has been a driving force in adding more BRICS to the group. Image: Public Domain

Building BRICS for China’s great wall of influence

Only China could turn an acronym into a geopolitical trading bloc. Back in 2001, the word BRIC was coined by Baron O’Neill of Gatley to describe the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China in a major report.

At the time, he was just plain Jim O’Neill, the then-chief economist at Goldman Sachs, before swapping Wall Street for Westminister and the British House of Lords.

The original report is probably gathering dust now. But the name stuck and by 2009 the first BRIC gathering popped up in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. A year later, South Africa joined what was known as the “Global South” club and the BRICS were born.

Since then, China has increasingly dominated the group with its economic muscle and the ruling Communist Party’s hatred of Western values. During the latest shindig taking place in Johannesburg this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping rallied the troops: 

The world is undergoing major shifts, division and regrouping … it has entered a new period of turbulence and transformation.

“We should always bear in mind our founding purpose of strengthening ourselves through unity. We should let more countries join the family to pool wisdom and efforts to make global governance more just and equitable,” he added.

Among those invited to join the club were those bastions of repression, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia.

Welcome to the spying game in China. Photo: Flickr

The spy that came armed with a keyboard

It is a tale of secrets and subterfuge, spiced with cash. But unlike the work of the late master of espionage, John le Carré, this spy did not come in from the cold but sat at a keyboard.

Earlier this week, an investigation by The Times of London revealed how a Chinese agent using fake LinkedIn accounts tried to obtain British “state secrets” in exchange for piles of pounds:

The intelligence officer created a string of aliases and fake companies to target security officials, civil servants, scientists and academics with access to classified information or commercially sensitive technology.

“Western security services believe the operative, whose main alias is Robin Zhang, is the most prolific spy for a hostile state working against British interests. He is understood to have operated almost entirely from behind a desk at the Ministry of State Security headquarters in Beijing,” The Times reported.

Again, “sources said that Zhang had worked on an industrial scale for at least five years” for China’s spy agency and that it was “impossible to know how many” people he had recruited.

And finally …

China Factor’s favorite economist Clyde Prestowitz, a former adviser to four American presidents, has written another insightful post for his Substack newsletter, entitled Down With Conventional Wisdom. Check it out.