GREY ZONE SITREP 27 JAN 22
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Welcome back to The Grey Zone, where we bring you the most critical underreported events across the Indo-Pacific, keeping you informed and protecting your interests.
In this issue, we will be covering a range of topics, including Fiji's decision to suspend its policing agreement with China, the US's concerns over the participation of Australia and New Zealand in future conflicts, and Xi Jinping's promotion of a spy chief to lead Taiwan reunification efforts.
We'll also be diving into the secretive Project Overmatch, China's soft power progress, and Papua New Guinea's preparations to sign a defence agreement with the US. Additionally, we'll be discussing Google's exposure of Chinese online influence operations and Australia's highlighting of cyber vulnerabilities in its health care system.
Finally, we'll be updating you on a recent operation by US AFRICOM forces that resulted in the deaths of 10 ISIS militants and a regional leader of the group in northern Somalia.
In a recent email, I spoke about the launch of ‘Compartment ALCON’ which is a private Telegram channel exclusive to paid subscribers. In this channel, I’ll be offering a one-stop shop of curated intelligence and information that I get from various sources.
So far, there are three main channels:
ALCON China. Information concerning all things China related, focusing on geopolitical and military activity.
ALCON Russia. Focusing on Russian military activity in Ukraine and the Pacific. This is not to shill Russia, but it’s important to study Russian footage rather than Ukrainian footage.
Outstations Chat. A place for general chat and the sharing of information from the community.
This is still a work in progress but I am posting daily. In the near future I will be adding a Pacific intel feed too (which is heavily underreported!).
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Stay informed and stay ahead of the curve with The Grey Zone.
Fiji drops policing agreement with China, the US questions Australia and New Zealand participation in future conflict and Xi promotes spy chief to lead Taiwan reunification.
Fiji's new government, led by Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, has made some significant moves in recent days. The government has suspended the police commissioner, Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho, and also signalled the end of a controversial policing agreement with China.
The suspension of Qiliho, who was seen as being close to former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, was made on the advice of the Constitutional Offices Commission and is pending investigation and referral to a tribunal. Additionally, the Supervisor of Elections, Mohammed Saneem, was also suspended by the commission.
These moves come as the Pacific island nation is experiencing its first change of government in 16 years, following elections last year that saw Rabuka become prime minister on December 24. It is not yet clear what the new government's policies will be in relation to China, but the suspension of the policing agreement and the suspension of Qiliho, who was seen as being pro-China, suggest a shift in the country's stance towards Beijing.
This shift in Fiji's stance towards China comes at a time when there are growing concerns about China's increasing aggression in the region. A senior United States senator, John Cornyn, recently expressed concern over the willingness of some American-allied countries to help defend Taiwan in case of a Chinese invasion. He also expressed concern over Taiwan's ability to endure such an invasion long enough before friendly forces arrive.
In addition to these concerns, it has been reported that the chief political strategist of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Wang Huning, has been tasked by Chinese President Xi Jinping to craft a new unification policy for Taiwan. This move could signal an end to the era of the "one country, two systems" proposal championed by Beijing for decades.
Analyst Comment. As tensions continue to rise in the region, it will be interesting to see how Fiji's new government navigates its relationship with China and how it balances its interests with those of its allies, including the United States and Taiwan. The move for the Rabuka government to suspend Qiliho signals possible purge of corrupt officials from the Bainimarama-era.
The secretive Project Overmatch, Chinese soft power progresses and Papua New Guinea prepares to sign defence agreement with the US
Project Overmatch is a highly secretive initiative by the U.S. Navy, designed to prepare for future large-scale conflicts. The project is part of the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), which aims to connect disparate databases and forces across land, air, sea, space, and cyber. By doing so, defense officials say, the U.S. will be able to better address foreign aggression.
The thick fog of secrecy surrounding Project Overmatch is intended to keep rival nations like China and Russia off-balance, unable to discern from afar how the service is readying for future large-scale conflicts. According to Bryan Clark, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at the Hudson Institute, and Bill Drexel, an associate fellow of technology and national security at the Center for a New American Security, the clandestine approach that has shrouded the project since its inception in late 2020 is purposeful, however frustrating it may be to outside observers.
“A large part of it is this idea that decision advantage does depend on what you think you’re going to be combining together, how you manage the communication network,” Clark said. “And getting too much into the details of that would provide information that China could use to try to take that network apart.”
The U.S. Navy’s Project Overmatch is just one aspect of the Pentagon’s multibillion-dollar push to connect disparate databases and forces across land, air, sea, space, and cyber. By doing so, defense officials say, the U.S. will be able to better address foreign aggression.
As China becomes more confident, it has become increasingly adept at military diplomacy as it seeks to exploit American complacency, pursue strategic opportunities, and nudge countries into its camp. This makes Washington’s alliances and intelligence collection on Beijing’s campaigns even more crucial.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is using many tactics the U.S. has long employed to expand its soft power, including port calls, military-to-military contacts, arms sales, education programs, and global conferences. Furthermore, Beijing has unique tools such as an ability to leverage state-owned companies to spy and support PLA interests.
“We are seeing the PLA engage more and more because they want to project global power,” said Melodie Ha, an analyst with the U.S. Defence Department.
In order to counter this soft power influence, Papua New Guinea reportedly preparing to sign a Defence Cooperation Agreement with the United States, as it also finalizes a security treaty with Australia. The new defence and security agreements come amid concerns in Canberra and Washington about China's more assertive position in the Pacific.
PNG's Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko said the United States has "stepped up" in the region and is "wanting to make their presence known".
"The United States have taken a fairly serious role now in the Pacific since China and Solomon Islands have had their agreement, which has created a tsunami throughout the Pacific region and put more concentration on the area," Tkatchenko told the ABC.
The Defence Cooperation Agreement with the U.S. will be focused on capacity building for the PNG defence force in training and infrastructure, Tkatchenko said.
Analyst Comment. The U.S. Navy's Project Overmatch, China's soft power tactics, and Papua New Guinea's defence cooperation agreement with the U.S. are all indications of the growing tensions between nations in the Pacific region. The U.S. and its allies There has been a marked shift in reporting over the past 7 days with many moves being made in the Pacific, possibly indicating a rise in tensions.
This weeks economic indicators.
Stocks in the Asia-Pacific traded higher on Friday as traders digested Tokyo’s January core consumer prices that rose 4.3%, also faster than estimates — nearing the highest for Japan’s capital since mid-1981.
The Nikkei 225 was slightly above the flatline to end its session at 27,382.56 and the Topix gained 0.22% to close at 1,982.66. The yield on the 10-year Japanese government bond rose more than 3% to trade at 0.480%, inching close to the central bank’s upper ceiling of its yield curve tolerance range.
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 traded 0.34% higher to 7,493.8. In South Korea, the Kospi rose 0.62% to 2,483.02 while the Kosdaq rose 0.31% to 741.25 as major company earnings were released in the region.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.24%, and the Hang Seng Tech Index rose 0.62% — after a seeing a rally on the first trading session following the New Year holidays.
Wall Street’s major indexes gained after the U.S. economy grew more than expected. Government data showed the economy expanded at an annualized rate of 2.9% during the fourth quarter, higher than expectations. Stocks also gained as investors digested the latest batch of corporate earnings, with a Tesla-led tech rally. - via cnbc
Google exposes Chinese online influence operations and Australia highlights cyber vulnerabilities in its health care system.
Google has recently exposed a pro-Chinese influence operation known as DRAGONBRIDGE. The company's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) reported that they took steps to dismantle over 50,000 instances of activity orchestrated by the group in 2022. According to the report, "most DRAGONBRIDGE activity is low quality content without a political message, populated across many channels and blogs." However, a small fraction of the group's accounts also post about current events with messaging that pushes pro-China talking points.
DRAGONBRIDGE, also known as Spamouflage Dragon, is a spammy influence network that has a presence across multiple platforms, including YouTube, Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter. The group primarily disseminates narratives critical of the U.S. and favorable of China. Some of the narratives included claims that the U.S. was interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries, while also highlighting themes of political discord, racial inequality, and inflation in an attempt to show the nation in a negative light.
In addition to criticizing the U.S., DRAGONBRIDGE's pro-China content also featured narratives praising the country's COVID-19 pandemic response, condemning pro-democracy protests, and intensifying support for the unification of Taiwan with China. The group was first exposed by Google-owned Mandiant in July 2022, which called out its unsuccessful efforts in targeting rare earth mining companies in Australia, Canada, and the U.S. with the goal of triggering environmental protests against the firms.
In regards to cyber threats in the Pacific, Australia's hospitals and health care system are at a high risk from cyberattackers targeting citizens' personal data, according to the country's home affairs minister, Clare O'Neil. Speaking ahead of an international cybersecurity meeting due to be held in Australia within months, O'Neil said that while protecting citizens' data was a "core national issue" for the new Labor government, more work needs to be done to end Australia's perception as a "soft target."
O'Neil stated, "The question is, are we tackling the cybersecurity threat with an energy level commensurate to which we're being attacked? And I would say that we're not there at the moment." To address this issue, Australia will host an international ransomware task force in early 2023 to bring together countries including the U.S., UK and Germany in tackling the growing threat to cybersecurity. The meeting comes after several hacks of major Australian companies in recent months, including communications giant Optus and medical insurer Medibank. Sensitive information of Australian consumers, including medical information and personal details, were leaked online as a result of the two attacks.
Analyst Comment. It is clear that cyber attacks and influence operations are becoming a growing concern, not just in the U.S. but in countries like Australia as well. The exposure of groups like DRAGONBRIDGE highlights the need for continued vigilance in identifying and dismantling these types of operations, and for countries to work together to combat the threat of cyber attacks and protect citizens' personal data.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched by China in 2013 has had a number of negative impacts on its partner countries, according to a report by the South-South Research Initiative (SSRI). The report analyzed the economic, social, and political changes in Zambia, Pakistan, Laos, Angola, and Sri Lanka as a result of the BRI.
One of the major issues highlighted in the report is that some BRI initiatives were implemented too quickly without giving enough thought to the long-term benefits. The initiatives frequently rely too heavily on the backing of governments and policies, and some nations are hesitant to contribute on their own, assuming that China should cover the majority of the expenses.
Furthermore, the report states that China has mostly focused on interacting with government institutions without giving enough consideration to the worries of corporations, civil society groups, and local residents. This issue was best illustrated by China’s engagement with Zambia, Pakistan, Angola, Laos, and Sri Lanka.
In Zambia, for example, the report states that no strategies have been put in place by the government to benefit from Chinese investments. Instead, Zambia is turning a blind eye to how Chinese investors are destroying the country’s industrial sector. Similarly, in Pakistan, many are unable to sustain themselves and compete with the large Chinese fishing vessels, leading to social unrest and economic instability.
In Laos, the report states that the country is now indebted to China, which can use its power to influence the policy-making process in Laos. Angola, on the other hand, has avoided investing in real estate due to a lack of legislative reforms to create a functional real estate market.
The report also states that Sri Lanka, as a result of the BRI projects, is sacrificing a level of autonomy around how to manage these infrastructures. With a significant portion of investment in BRI coming from Chinese public entities, there is a concern about Sri Lanka’s growing debt burden and loss of sovereignty. BRI projects in Sri Lanka also show a lack of transparency and corruption, as well as some environmental impacts.
In light of these negative impacts, it is important for China and its partner nations to consider the long-term benefits and drawbacks of the BRI and to involve all stakeholders, including corporations, civil society groups, and local residents, in the decision-making process. Additionally, it is crucial for partner nations to maintain a level of autonomy and to address any concerns about debt and sovereignty.
US AFRICOM FORCES CONFIRM OPERATION THAT RESULTED IN DEATHS OF 10 ISIS MILITANTS AND ISIS REGIONAL LEADER BILAL AL-SUDANI IN NORTHERN SOMALIA - Expeditionary Intelligence
It was confirmed today that key regional ISIS figure Bilal al-Sudani and 10 ISIS militants were killed yesterday following a military operation conducted by US forces in Somalia yesterday. The incident occurred when US forces believed to be deployed from Djibouti, received approval from US President Joe Biden following months of planning and intelligence gathering to conduct a raid on the leader’s base located within a complex cave system in Somalia’s mountainous region. Originally the troops were tasked with capturing al-Sudani to be able to use the leader for intelligence purposes, however, the response from the militants prompted an intense firefight resulting in the leader’s death. Furthermore, it was noted that no US service members sustained injuries while conducting the operation. Al-Sudani has been known to be fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa as well as financing their operations. Prior to becoming involved with ISIS, Sudani was known for recruiting and training fighters for Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab in Somalia for nearly a decade.
Multiple US officials have confirmed the results of the raid including US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who stated, “On January 25, the US military conducted an assault operation in northern Somalia that resulted in the death of a number of ISIS members, including Bilal al-Sudani." Confirming Sudani’s activities a separate official speaking on the condition of anonymity stated, “Sudani had a key operational and financial role with specialized skills which made him an important target for US counterterrorism action," adding, “From his mountain base in northern Somalia, he provided and coordinated funding for IS branches, not only in Africa but also Islamic-State Khorasan, the arm operating in Afghanistan.”
Since the beginning of his tenure, President Biden has progressively been increasing US military support within Somalia, however, instead of a direct-action role it has been mostly training of Somali forces, air strikes, and more recently the donation of military equipment, weapons, and vehicles to Somali national forces to combat terrorism within the nation.
CARRIER KILLERS - Vermilion China
China’s likely motivation for developing Dong Feng anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) is to overcome their qualitative inferiority in conventional naval combat platforms. In comparing the US and China, many analysts point to the PLAN’s (People’s Liberation Army Navy) lack of blue water capability (being able to operate on the high seas far from home ports) as a key indicator in US naval superiority, but this is not a necessarily the case.
Historically, the PLA has a tendency to utilize asymmetric means to overcome capability gaps. This was apparent in the Battle of Hainan (article coming soon) and in regards to sea control, they have leaned toward the notion of “using the land to control the sea” (以陆制海). In this context, using missiles to deter or destroy US carrier strike groups is a way for China to overcome qualitative inferiority with quantitative superiority.
In the eyes of the Communist leadership, the DF family of missiles is the perfect tool for the job because these missiles are cheap and easy to build.
Russia MoD Ukraine War Update Correct as at 26 Jan 2022 (Translated)