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China-Russia alliance poses a danger, Pacific commander warns


Military forces from China and Russia are engaged in operations in the Pacific since last week, prompting the commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific to call the emerging alliance “dangerous.”

Chinese state media reported Wednesday that as part of joint military exercises, Chinese and Russian warships will conduct a third joint maritime patrol in the western and northern Pacific. China’s Defense Ministry said in a written statement the operations do not target any third party and are unrelated to current and regional affairs, which Chinese leaders have described as particularly tense.

The warships were operating in the Sea of Japan last weekend as part of the Northern/Interaction 2023 exercise as part of an annual program. Those operations ended July 23 and the next phase is a joint patrol.

In addition to the naval vessels, warplanes also took part in what Chinese state media called “joint fire strike training” and a “coordinated maritime operation.”

The warships last week conducted what were termed highly concentrated strategic passages through three waterways, transiting through the Tsushima Strait between Japan and Korea; the Tsugaru Strait between Japan’s two main islands; and the Soya Strait, located between Russia’s Sakhalin Island and Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.

The official People’s Liberation Army website, China Military Online, noted that the joint exercises in the Pacific took place a week after a NATO summit meeting in Vilnius declared China and Russia as threats.

“The Northern/Interaction-2023 demonstrated a high level of political and military mutual trust between China and Russia, whose strategic coordination, especially in the military domain, guarantees global security and stability, and whose bilateral relations have regional and global significance,” the website article stated.

The article was written by Wu Dahui, an academic at Tsinghua University, who insisted the joint operations were not part of an anti-Western alliance.

But that’s not how Adm. John Aquilino, the commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, sees the growing military cooperation between the two countries.

“I don’t know what this partnership is, [but] I’ll use their words: It’s a ‘no limits’ relationship,” the four-star admiral said during a security conference in Colorado last week. “And we’ve seen a lot of things that lead us to believe that it’s truly real despite their long historical and cultural differences.”

In the Pacific, China and Russia have expanded and increased joint training, joint exercises and joint demonstrations of power, he said.

“Just a month ago, bombers from both Russia and China [exercised], Russian bombers landed in China,” Adm. Aquilino said. “And then they flew a joint mission into the Philippine Sea towards Guam,” a major U.S. military hub.

On the day he spoke to the Aspen Security Forum, a Chinese and Russian maritime task force conducted a combined patrol.

“We’ll see where that ends up, whether it’s off the Aleutian Islands, whether it’s in the Philippine Sea, whether it goes to Guam, whether it goes to Hawaii, or whether it goes off the west coast of the United States,” he said. “So, their exercises have increased, their operations have increased. I only see the cooperation getting stronger, and, boy, that’s concerning. That’s a dangerous world.”

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell said the joint exercises highlighted the growing military threat to chokepoints in Northeast Asia and posed “a clear and unambiguous threat to Japan’s west coast.”

“The military alliance between China and Russia represents an unambiguous message to both Washington and Tokyo that any effort to defend Taiwan will be diverted due to defense of the main island of Honshu in Japan,” Capt. Fanell said.

“American leaders should understand this dynamic and recognize that the Seventh Fleet and Fifth Air Force need immediate reinforcement.”

Congress probes Agency for Global Media corruption

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is moving forward with a major investigation into suspected corruption at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the government unit that oversees U.S. official and semi-official radio broadcasts.

Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, said in a statement Monday that the panel’s two-year probe had uncovered “alarming evidence of misconduct and negligence at the senior-most levels of the agency,” which has an annual budget of $840 million. “The agency has confirmed that high-ranking officials were aware of questions that remained unresolved even after an internal investigation of employee misconduct.”

But “rather than pursuing the matter further,” the lawmaker said, “officials shelved credible allegations, including instances of waste of taxpayer funds, credentialing fraud and abuse of office, and offered not so much as a slap on the wrist for relevant actors.”

Mr. McCaul said he will demand answers on why the agency apparently failed to act. “I will keep working until the agency stops rewarding misconduct, improves its vetting practices, and tells the American people the truth,” he said.

A USAGM spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last year, the Voice of America, the main U.S. government-funded broadcaster, canceled two Chinese-language programs focused on the standoff between China and Taiwan. Critics said the action signaled a softening of broadcasts on communist China.

The website USAGM Watch has reported on numerous instances of financial impropriety and corruption at the agency and its broadcast components, including issues related to coverage of China, Iran, Russia and Cuba, as well as promoting pro-Iranian and pro-Russian journalists.

China promotes propaganda in ‘Barbie’

The summer blockbuster film “Barbie” is an example of China promoting its worldview through movies, according to the newsletter The Wire China.

Isaiah Schrader, a Washington-based writer and doctoral student studying China’s legal system at Harvard University, wrote in a recent article that the film’s brief showing of a vague world map with two curved broken lines next to a land mass labeled Asia had political overtones, effectively supporting China’s expansive maritime claims in the disputed South China Sea.

The map drew pre-release political fire from the governments of both Vietnam and the Philippines, which questioned if the line was code for China’s illegal “Nine-Dash Line” underlying claims to sovereignty over about 90% of the strategic sea.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled the Nine-Dash Line was invalid under international law. China rejected the ruling.

Vietnam banned domestic showings of “Barbie” over the map flap, and the Philippines government allowed distribution only after a lengthy film review, despite calls from a lawmaker for the film to be banned.

Warner Brothers defended the movie. The studio told Reuters in a statement the map had no political significance.

“The map in Barbie Land is a whimsical, child-like crayon drawing,” the studio said in a statement. “The doodles depict Barbie’s make-believe journey from Barbie Land to the real world. It was not intended to make any type of statement.”

Conservative critics panned the summer blockbuster for its portrayal of a doll infused with “woke” radical feminism, while male characters are depicted as wimps.

Mr. Schrader said the controversy over the infusion of Chinese propaganda in a major movie highlights broader concerns that Hollywood is overeager to give in to Beijing’s demands on content, given the size of China’s multibillion-dollar domestic movie market.

China restricts showing American films to a handful a year and rejects any that contain content Communist Party censors oppose.

Film producer and consultant Robert Cain, who has worked with studios that seek access to China, told the newsletter that many studios succumbed to Chinese censorship demands early in the relationship. As a result, “as long as China has an authoritarian government… these changes will remain in place,” he said.

By contrast, in the 1990s, Hollywood was unafraid to make movies violating Chinese draconian censorship, including “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Kundun,” and “Red Corner.” All three directors of the films were banned from traveling to China.

Chinese investment also influences studios. Beijing spent $3.3 billion on U.S. entertainment, media and education, according to the Rhodium Group China Investment Monitor. The Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda purchased Legendary Studios in 2016 for $3.5 billion. Earlier, the company bought a major stake in the AMC Theatre chain.

American businesses in China increasingly are being pressured by authorities following Beijing’s crackdown on foreign companies over spying concerns. Some U.S.-based data firms and financial due diligence companies operating in China were targeted by investigators under a new counterspy law that went into effect July 1.

— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.


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