samedi 16 décembre 2017

Chinese aggressions

China has continued to militarise disputed islands in the South China Sea by installing high-frequency radars while the world has been distracted by the North Korean nuclear crisis
By NICOLE STINSON

It comes military expert Li Jie warned that China has started preparing its military to support North Korea if World War 3 breaks out with the US.
And now satellite images reveal Chinese activity has been detected on the Spratly and Paracel islands, contested with several other Asian nations, spanning 72 acres (29 hectares).
Over the last several months China has constructed what appears to be a new high-frequency radar array at the northern end of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, according to a report by the Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Maritime Initiative.
Subi Reef has seen tunnels built which the expert believe may be used for ammunition.
The think tank also believes Chinese tunnels are potentially hiding another radar antenna array and radar domes.
China has continued to militarise disputed islands in the South China Sea by installing radars

Meanwhile construction on Mischief Reef includes underground storage for ammunition and hangars, missile shelters and radar arrays.
Smaller-scale work had continued in the Paracel Islands, including a new helipad and wind turbines on Tree Island and two large radar towers on Triton Island.
Triton Island has been at the centre of recent tension between China and Vietnam and the site of multiple US Navy drills.
The operations by the US Navy have been used assert what it sees as its right to free passage in international waters.
Woody Island, China's military and administrative headquarters in the South China Sea, saw two first-time air deployments "that hint at things to come at the three Spratly Island air bases farther south”, according to the report.
At the end of October, the Chinese military released images showing J-11B fighters at Woody Island for exercises, while on November 15, AMTI spotted what appeared to be Y-8 transport planes, a type that can be configured for electronic surveillance.
The US and its allies – including the UK – have condemned China's building of artificial islands in the South China Sea and their militarisation.
But China has hit back claiming the construction is “peaceful” and “completely normal”.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: "It's completely normal for China to conduct peaceful construction and build essential defence equipment on its own sovereign territory.
"We believe certain people who have ulterior motives are making mountains out of molehills and stirring up trouble."
A new helipad and wind turbines on Tree Island
China has constructed what appears to be a new high-frequency radar array on Fiery Cross
The Pentagon has conducted several patrols near Chinese-held South China Sea territory this year, even as it has sought China's help in northeast Asia to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated a call for a "freeze" in China's island building and said it was unacceptable to continue their militarisation.
Last week the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted military exercises along the North Korean border sparking speculation Beijing was preparing a war breaking out between the US and North Korea.
Construction on Mischief Reef includes underground storage for ammunition and missile shelters
The fear of war between the two countries has risen over the past several months after China’s neighbour carried out a number of illegal missile tests and threatened to target the US territory of Guam with a nuclear missile.
Following the announcement regarding China’s new military drills, military expert Li Jie has given her verdict as to who the country would side within any future conflict.

Rogue Nation

A CONSTRUCTIVE YEAR FOR CHINESE BASE BUILDING
ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE

International attention has shifted away from the slow-moving crisis in the South China Sea over the course of 2017, but the situation on the water has not remained static. 
While pursuing diplomatic outreach toward its Southeast Asian neighbors, Beijing continued substantial construction activities on its dual-use outposts in the Spratly and Paracel Islands. 
China completed the dredging and landfilling operations to create its seven new islands in the Spratlys by early 2016, and seems to have halted such operations to expand islets in the Paracels by mid-2017. 
But Beijing remains committed to advancing the next phase of its build-up—construction of the infrastructure necessary for fully-functioning air and naval bases on the larger outposts.
AMTI has identified all the permanent facilities on which China completed or began work since the start of the year. 
These include buildings ranging from underground storage areas and administrative buildings to large radar and sensor arrays. 
These facilities account for about 72 acres, or 290,000 square meters, of new real estate at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs in the Spratlys, and North, Tree, and Triton Islands in the Paracels. This does not include temporary structures like storage containers or cement plants, or work other than construction, such as the spreading of soil and planting of grass at the new outposts.

Fiery Cross Reef

Fiery Cross saw the most construction over the course of 2017, with work on buildings covering 27 acres, or about 110,000 square meters. 
This counts work previously documented by AMTI, including completion of the larger hangars alongside the airstrip, work on large underground structures at the south of the island likely intended to house munitions or other essential materiel, a large communications/sensor array at the northeast end of the island, various radar/communications facilities spread around the islet, and hardened shelters for missile platforms at the south end.

The large underground tunnels AMTI identified earlier this year as likely being for ammunition and other storage have been completed and entirely buried. 
They join other underground structures previously built on the island, which include water and fuel storage.

In addition to the work previously identified at Fiery Cross, in the last several months China has constructed what appears to be a high frequency radar array at the north end of the island. 
It consists of a field of upright poles, similar to those erected at Cuarteron Reef in 2015. 
This high-frequency radar is situated next to the large communications/sensor array completed earlier in the year (the field of radomes in the image below).


Subi Reef

Subi Reef also saw considerable building activity in 2017, with work on buildings covering about 24 acres, or 95,000 square meters. 
This included buried storage facilities identical to those at Fiery Cross, as well as previously-identified hangars, missile shelters, radar/communications facilities, and a high-frequency “elephant cage” antenna array for signals intelligence at the southwest end of the island.

Like at Fiery Cross, the new storage tunnels at Subi were completed and covered over in the last few months. They join other buried structures on the islet, including large storage facilities to the north.

China is poised to substantially boost its radar and signals intelligence capabilities at Subi Reef. 
Since mid-year, it has built what looks like a second “elephant cage” less than 500 meters west of the first, as well as an array of radomes on the southern end of the outpost that appears similar to, if smaller than, the one on Fiery Cross Reef.



Mischief Reef

This year construction was undertaken on buildings covering 17 acres, or 68,500 square meters, of Mischief Reef. 
Like at Fiery Cross and Subi, this included underground storage for ammunition and other materiel, the completion of hangars and missile shelters, and new radar and communications arrays.

The new storage tunnels at Mischief were completed over the last several months and have been buried, joining previously-built underground structures to the north.

In addition to previously-identified structures, China has started work on a new radar/communications array on the north side of the outpost.

China has continued construction, though on a smaller scale, at its bases in the Paracel Islands. 
The most significant of this work in 2017 was at North, Tree, and Triton Islands.

Tree Island


Like North Island, dredging and reclamation work at Tree Island continued as late as mid-2017. 
In total, China built facilities covering about 1.7 acres, or 6,800 square meters, of the island. These included a new helipad next to the harbor and solar arrays and a pair of wind turbines on the north shore of the island.

North Island

China had earlier tried to connect North Island to neighboring Middle Island, but gave up the project after the land bridge it created was washed out by a storm in October 2016. 
Earlier this year, it built a retaining wall around the remaining reclaimed land at the southern end of North Island and built a large administrative building on the feature.

Triton Island

Triton Island saw completion of a few buildings this year, including two large radar towers, which are especially important given that Triton is the southwestern-most of the Paracels and the waters around it have been the site of several recent incidents between China and Vietnam, as well as multiple U.S. freedom of navigation operations.

Woody Island
Woody Island is China’s military and administrative headquarters in the South China Sea. Developments at Woody are usually a precursor to those at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief in the Spratlys. 
There was no substantial new construction at the island this year, but it did see two first-time air deployments that hint at things to come at the three Spratly Island airbases farther south.
First, at the end of October, the Chinese military released images showing People’s Liberation Army Air Force J-11B fighters deployed to Woody Island for exercises. 
This was the first confirmed deployment of J-11s to Woody. 
Previous deployments to the island involved the less-advanced People’s Liberation Army Navy J-10, which is what AMTI has used as a basis—perhaps too conservatively—to estimate Chinese power projection capabilities from its South China Sea bases.


Then on November 15, AMTI spotted several large planes that appear to be Y-8 transport aircraft, which in certain configurations are capable of electronic intelligence gathering. 
AMTI earlier noted that the larger hangars built at each of the Spratly airbases could accommodate Y-8s, suggesting their presence at Woody could be a sign of things to come.

vendredi 15 décembre 2017

Chinese Subversion

Australian Concerns About Chinese Political Influence Reach Washington
by JOHN HAYWARD

Australia's Manchurian Senator: Sam Dastyari
The saga of Australian Senator Sam Dastyari, whose career has been severely damaged by allegations of improper contact with a Chinese billionaire, reached Washington, DC this week as a bipartisan U.S. commission investigated Chinese political influence around the world.
The American commission was headed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who described the Dastyari case as “accusations made that, not only had he tipped off a Chinese national of some intelligence operation being conducted against him, but that he had received cash from a wealthy Chinese national.”
Dastyari, once a rising star in Australian politics, resigned from his leadership positions after the scandal broke. 
This week, he announced he would quit the Senate entirely, citing the damage his continued presence was inflicting upon the Labor Party.
“Senator Rubio noted China’s tactics appeared to be focused on cultivating influential political and academic figures, which differed from Russia’s campaign of spreading messages on Twitter during last year’s presidential election,” Australia’s ABC News reports.
Testimony provided to the commission warned of the Chinese government’s efforts to use higher education and Chinese-language media as vehicles for spreading its political ideology, in the United States as well as Australia.
They are able, through, for example, the Confucius Institutes, to promote a particular view of China and to close out discussion of certain topics on campus,” said Dr. Glenn Tiffert, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. 
Use of the Confucius Institute for this purpose is explored in the award-winning documentary In the Name of Confucius
China has established hundreds of CI branches around the world.

Also discussed at the hearing was the United Front Work Department, a Chinese Communist Party agency that exports China’s ideology and seeks to develop subversive relationships with officials in other governments.
“This is an issue that merits greater attention from U.S. policymakers,” said Rubio. 
“Chinese government foreign influence operations, which exist in free societies around the globe, are intended to censor critical discussion of China’s history and human rights record and to intimidate critics of its repressive policies.”
“Attempts by the Chinese government to guide, buy, or coerce political influence and control discussion of ‘sensitive’ topics are pervasive, and pose serious challenges in the United States and our like-minded allies,” he warned. 
Examples he provided of this influence included the suppression of academic papers, Internet communications, and even Hollywood movies that displease Beijing.
Shanthi Kalathil, Director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy, testified before the commission that China’s influence operations include hundreds of millions of government-fabricated social media posts each year to influence online discourse.
Kalathil warned that telecommunications infrastructure built by China in the developing world could become part of its international political influence operation, and it is moving to acquire heavy financial stakes and operational influence in key global applications and Internet services.
Kalathil said: 
"These technological advances dovetail with the government’s efforts to shape the Internet and other future technologies through key Internet governance bodies and discussions. 
"The Chinese government’s initially derided attempt to direct this conversation, the recently concluded World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, succeeded this year in attracting high-level Silicon Valley participation. 
"Importantly, it established the optic that the world’s leading technology firms have blessed China’s approach to the Internet".
Officials in Beijing revealed on Thursday that the Australian ambassador to China, Jan Adams, was summoned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 8 for an “important discussion” about Australia’s complaints of political interference.
“The Australian side should be very clear about China’s position on the relevant issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday.
The UK Guardian thinks Adams got a “pre-Christmas dressing down” after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called upon Australians to “stand up” to interference in their politics.
Various Chinese responses have dismissed allegations of meddling in the political affairs of other countries as “disgraceful,” “logically absurd,” and a xenophobic attempt to whip up “China panic.” Chinese newspapers have attacked Turnbull as Australia’s “China-basher-in-chief.”

Sunlight v subversion: What to do about China’s infiltration?

China is manipulating decision-makers in Western democracies. The best defence is transparency.
The Economist

WHEN a rising power challenges an incumbent one, war often follows. 
That prospect, known as the Thucydides trap after the Greek historian who first described it, looms over relations between China and the West, particularly America. 
So, increasingly, does a more insidious confrontation. 
Even if China does not seek to conquer foreign lands, it seeks to conquer foreign minds.
Australia was the first to raise a red flag about China’s tactics. 
On December 5th allegations that China has been interfering in Australian politics, universities and publishing led the government to propose new laws to tackle “unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated” foreign efforts to influence lawmakers (see article). 
This week an Australian senator resigned over accusations that, as an opposition spokesman, he took money from China and argued its corner. 
Britain, Canada and New Zealand are also beginning to raise the alarm. 
On December 10th Germany accused China of trying to groom politicians and bureaucrats. 
And on December 13th Congress held hearings on China’s growing influence.
This behaviour has a name—“sharp power”, coined by the National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based think-tank. 
“Soft power” harnesses the allure of culture and values to add to a country’s strength; sharp power helps authoritarian regimes coerce and manipulate opinion abroad.
The West needs to respond to China’s behaviour, but it cannot simply throw up the barricades. 
Unlike the old Soviet Union, China is part of the world economy. 
Instead, in an era when statesmanship is in short supply, the West needs to find a statesmanlike middle ground. 
That starts with an understanding of sharp power and how it works.

Influencing the influencers
China has long tried to use visas, grants, investments and culture to pursue its interests. 
But its actions have recently grown more intimidating and encompassing
Its sharp power has a series of interlocking components: subversion, bullying and pressure, which combine to promote self-censorship. 
For China, the ultimate prize is pre-emptive kowtowing by those whom it has not approached, but who nonetheless fear losing funding, access or influence.
China has a history of spying on its diaspora, but the subversion has spread. 
In Australia and New Zealand Chinese money has bought influence in politics, with party donations or payments to individual politicians. 
This week’s complaint from German intelligence said that China was using the LinkedIn business network to ensnare politicians and government officials, by having people posing as recruiters and think-tankers and offering free trips.
Bullying has also taken on a new menace. 
Sometimes the message is blatant, as when China punished Norway economically for awarding a Nobel peace prize to a Chinese pro-democracy activist. 
More often, as when critics of China are not included in speaker line-ups at conferences, or academics avoid study of topics that China deems sensitive, individual cases seem small and the role of officials is hard to prove. 
But the effect can be grave. 
Western professors have been pressed to recant. 
Foreign researchers may lose access to Chinese archives. 
Policymakers may find that China experts in their own countries are too ill-informed to help them.
Because China is so integrated into economic, political and cultural life, the West is vulnerable to such pressure. 
Western governments may value trade over scoring diplomatic points, as when Greece vetoed a European Union statement criticising China’s record on human rights, shortly after a Chinese firm had invested in the port of Piraeus. 
The economy is so big that businesses dance to China’s tune without being told to.
An Australian publisher suddenly pulled a book, citing fears of “Beijing’s agents of influence”.
China's new weapon to infiltrate the West: LinkedIn

What to do?
Facing complaints from Australia and Germany, China has called its critics irresponsible and paranoid.
However, if China were being more truthful, it would point out that its desire for influence is what happens when countries become powerful.
China has a lot more at stake outside its borders today than it did. 
Some 10m Chinese have moved abroad since 1978. 
It worries that they will pick up democratic habits from foreigners and infect China itself. 
Separately, Chinese companies are investing in rich countries, including in resources, strategic infrastructure and farmland. 
China’s navy can project power far from home. 
Its government frets that its poor image abroad will do it harm. 
And as the rising superpower, China has an appetite to shape the rules of global engagement—rules created largely by America and western Europe and routinely invoked by them to justify their own actions.
Open societies ignore China’s sharp power at their peril.
Part of their defence should be practical. 
Counter-intelligence, the law and an independent media are the best protection against subversion. 
All three need Chinese speakers who grasp the connection between politics and commerce in China. The Chinese Communist Party suppresses free expression, open debate and independent thought to cement its control. 
Merely shedding light on its sharp tactics—and shaming kowtowers—would go a long way towards blunting them.
Ignoring manipulation in the hope that China will be more friendly in the future would only invite the next jab. 
Instead the West needs to stand by its own principles, with countries acting together if possible, and separately if they must. 
The first step in avoiding the Thucydides trap is for the West to use its own values to blunt China’s sharp power.

Rogue Nation

China Is Still Building on Disputed Islands in the South China Sea
By MATTHEW PENNINGTON

WASHINGTON -- Tensions over China’s island-building in the South China Sea may have eased in the past year, but Beijing has kept busy.
New satellite imagery shows China has built infrastructure covering 72 acres (28 hectares) in the Spratly and Paracel islands during 2017 to equip its larger outposts to be air and naval bases.
The Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative closely tracks developments in the South China Sea, where China and several Asian governments have conflicting territorial claims. 
It said Thursday there has been construction of hangars, underground storage, missile shelters, radar arrays and other facilities.
The activity comes as China joins what are likely to be protracted negotiations with Southeast Asian nations on a “code of conduct” for South China Sea. 
Tensions with the U.S. on the issue have also eased, despite Washington’s criticism of Beijing’s conduct.
The construction is the follow-up phase to a campaign of land reclamation that was completed by early 2016 in the Spratlys, an island chain where Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei also have claims. 
China has added more than 3,200 acres (1,248 hectares) of land to the seven land features it occupies in the area.
China also seems to have halted smaller-scale operations to expand islands in the Paracels that lie farther north, the initiative said.
The U.S. and others have accused Beijing of further militarizing the region and altering geography to bolster its sweeping claims across the South China Sea. 
China says the man-made islands in the Spratlys, which are equipped with airstrips and military installations, are mainly for civilian purposes and to boost safety for fishing and maritime trade.
Greg Poling, the initiative’s director, said China had seized a diplomatic opening after the election of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who adopted a conciliatory stance toward Beijing over their territorial dispute. 
It’s also been less of a focus for Donald Trump’s administration, preoccupied by North Korea’s nuclear threat and trade disputes with China.
“It’s gotten off the front pages, but we shouldn’t confuse that with a softening in China’s pursuit of its goals. They are continuing all the construction they want,” Poling said.
The most construction has been on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, including hangars alongside its 10,000-foot (3,000-meter) airstrip, underground structures intended to house munitions or other materiel, hardened shelters for missile platforms, and communication and radar facilities, the initiative said.
It also noted that China has deployed new military aircraft at Woody Island in the Paracels. 
At the end of October, the Chinese military released images of J-11B fighter planes there for drills. 
In mid-November, Y-8 transport aircraft were spotted on the same island that may be capable of electronic intelligence gathering.
Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday that he could not comment in detail on U.S. assessments of the region but that “further militarization of outposts will only serve to raise tensions and create greater distrust among claimants.”
The United States does not claim territory in the South China Sea but has declared it has a national interest in ensuring that the territorial disputes there are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law and that freedom of navigation and overflight are guaranteed. 
China has opposed what it calls U.S. meddling in an Asian dispute.

jeudi 14 décembre 2017

Rogue nation: Why Europe need not kowtow to China

With a modicum of confidence, EU nations can set the terms of the relationship 
By PHILIP STEPHENS

Economic weakness has seen EU governments allow Beijing to play divide and rule 

It is a commonplace in Chinese commentary that Europe is in irreversible decline.
Hope, you suspect, is welded to expectation.
Democracies, the story goes, are in trouble as the old economic powers are left behind.
China is stealing a technological march.
As the US turns inward, an enfeebled Europe will have to turn eastward.
China’s grand “one belt, one road” project will connect east to west, new to old.
Guess who will be in charge?
Western liberalism, this prognosis has it, has outlived its time.
Cumbersome, inefficient and divisive, it lacks the unity of purpose harnessed by autocratic regimes.
Nor can it any longer meet the demands of the people — witness the trouncing of the old elite by Donald Trump in the US and the nationalist backlash in much of Europe.
The future belongs to strongman leaders untroubled by the competing demands of pluralist societies — Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and, above all, China’s Xi Jinping. Europeans are often too feeble in the face of such jibes.
The autocrats, otherwise intelligent people mutter, have a point.

Xi has attached the might of the state to his great China dream.
The breathless advance of technology is allowing autocrats to tighten their grip on the state.
Look at China’s chilling experiment to capture digitally every detail of its citizens’ lives in a single electronic “rating”, combining everything from credit status to fealty to the party.
Economic weakness at home has seen EU governments scramble for the benefits of doing business with a booming China. 
They have allowed Beijing to play divide and rule. 
London, Paris and Berlin have had their sights on the rich market for exports; smaller economies on the eastern periphery seek a new source of investment.
Human rights now take a back seat. 
Only the other day, 16 leaders from the eastern half of the continent paid homage to Chinese premier Li Keqiang at a summit in Budapest.
All true.
But, as the European Council on Foreign Relations says in an excellent analysis of the balance of power in the EU-China relationship, even the most enthusiastic mercantilists have begun to count the costs of doing business with Beijing. 
Win-win too often refers to a double whammy for China. 
 There is anyway a bigger flaw in these grand predictive sweeps.
The organising assumption is that history travels in straight lines — that Europe’s troubles are inescapable and that China will be forever impervious to the economic cycle and the human desire for freedom.
To the contrary, the EU is on the mend.
Sure, Britain is leaving, but every passing week simply confirms Brexit as a grotesque act of self-harm. 
The rest of the continent has rediscovered economic growth.
Unemployment is falling and investment rising.
Greece no longer threatens to collapse the eurozone.
The migration crisis has subsided.
There are strong hopes in Paris and Berlin for a reinvigoration of the Franco-German relationship.
In short, Europe no longer feels like a continent flat on its back.
 As for European democracy, the populists have been held at bay.
For all the imperfections, successive crises have also shown the peculiar resilience of democratic systems. 
Chucking out the rascals is a safety valve.
Angry though they might be, voters are not clamouring for curbs on individual freedom or yearning for despotic rule.
What is needed now is for Europe to recover confidence in its values and institutions.
The oft-rehearsed argument between those certain that China will soon rule the world and others sure that it will collapse under the collision of rising living standards and political repression is a silly one. What can be sensibly be said is that China has plenty of hurdles yet to jump before it realises Xi’s dream.
Party rule rests on a fragile bargain — economic prosperity in return for the absence of freedom.
One of the striking features of authoritarian regimes is their brittleness. 
They are unassailable until the moment they break.
 Where Beijing is right is that the relationship between China and Europe will be as important as any in shaping geopolitics during coming decades.
The belligerent isolationism of Trump’s foreign policy is unlikely to survive beyond his presidency, but it is a fair assessment that his successors in the White House will draw tighter lines around America’s international commitments.
 So the focus of geopolitical attention will shift from the littoral states of the north Atlantic to what the late Zbigniew Brzezinski once called the “axial supercontinent” of Eurasia.
This is the vast space over which China would like to hold sway during the second half of the 21st century.
The EU has a choice: it can be supplicant, partner or roadblock.
 Europe is rich, technologically advanced and educationally sophisticated.
“One belt, one road” is an offer it can refuse. 
At the very least it can set its own terms for the relationship.
If China wants connectivity it must open up its own economy; if it wants to be an investment partner, it should observe European standards and norms. 
All that is required of EU nations is a modicum of confidence and shared resolve. 
 Europe has taken a battering.
China’s rise has been amplified by western disarray.
Geopolitics, though, is a long game.
Not so long ago the US called itself the indispensable superpower.
Beijing is not immune from such hubris.
China may be at the gates, but Europe should feel no obligation to bow to Beijing.

Chinese Golem

China’s long arm of influence stretches ever further
By Ishaan Tharoor

For more than a year, Americans have fretted over the extent to which Russia influenced the outcome of last year's presidential election. 
A special counsel probe into Russian meddling continues to roil politics in Washington and may yet ensnare more figures linked to the Trump administration
The specter of Kremlin collusion has darkened U.S.-Russia diplomatic relations; the proliferation of Russian "bots” on social-media platforms such Facebook and Twitter has led to difficult reckonings within U.S. tech and social media companies.
But, in the longer term, U.S. strategists may be less worried about the influence of Moscow abroad than that of Beijing. 
On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) convened a hearing on the “Long Arm of China,” focusing on China's capacity to launch influence operations abroad to gain leverage over democratic rivals. 
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

“We have a lot of discussion of Russian interference in our elections, but the Chinese efforts to influence our public policy and our basic freedoms are much more widespread than most people realize,” Rubio told my colleague Josh Rogin ahead of the session.
The discussion was timely. 
On Tuesday, as you may have read in yesterday's edition, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a ban on foreign political donations, citing “disturbing reports about Chinese influence.” 
These include the allegations surrounding Sam Dastyari, a Labor Party senator “accused of endorsing China’s controversial actions in the disputed South China Sea, against his party’s platform, in return for support from donor Huang Xiangmo,” as The Post's Simon Denyer wrote
He has given Huang advice on how to evade Australian surveillance and has unsuccessfully tried to pressure Labor’s deputy leader not to meet a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist in 2015.
On Wednesday, attention in Australia centered on a Chinese letter calling on Australian Chinese to vote against the ruling Liberal Party; its origins, though murky, appeared to have some connection to an agency within the Chinese Communist Party. 
Australia and New Zealand have so far allowed foreign donations. 
But the growing clout of China, which retains huge economic interests in the Antipodes, is causing alarm.
In its own annual report to Parliament, Australia's domestic intelligence agency warned of Chinese influence posing “a threat to our sovereignty, the ­integrity of our national institutions, and the exercise of our citizens’ rights.” 
In September, a comprehensive report by New Zealand academic Anne-Marie Brady on Chinese soft power there — including Chinese patronage networks reaching into the political elite and the use of the country's dairy farms to test Chinese satellites — shook up New Zealand's election campaign.
China is, of course, a world power, and it is natural for it to cultivate extensive ties in foreign lands. Chinese investments and other soft-power influences have factored into election campaigns in developing countries as diverse as Zambia, Peru and Nepal
In many cases, China's interests are primarily economic. 
As new studies point out, its cultivation of foreign assets follows rather traditional lines: making connections through people-to-people exchanges, wooing the political elite with generous gifts and hospitality, and using partnerships with local universities and its vast network of Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes to influence attitudes about China abroad.

China is investing in more powerful surveillance software and other tools to restrict dissent on the Internet. 

But Rubio and others warn of a more dangerous ideological edge to China's international agenda. They argue that as China creates an increasingly sophisticated online police state at home — built on maximizing surveillance and censorship — it is intensifying efforts to explore other countries' vulnerabilities. 
“In an era of hyperglobalization, the regimes in Russia and China have raised barriers to external political and cultural influence at home while simultaneously preying upon the openness of democratic systems abroad,” wrote the researchers for a new report from the National Endowment for Democracy that focuses on the “sharp power” of authoritarian regimes.
“The Chinese government has spent tens of billions of dollars to shape norms, narratives, and attitudes in other countries,” said Shanthi Kalathil of the National Endowment for Democracy, speaking at Wednesday's hearing.
Chinese authorities also appear to be deepening their monitoring of their citizens on foreign soil. “China’s influence campaign appears to have extended further in Australia,” wrote Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations
“China’s state security forces have engaged in a campaign to monitor Chinese nationals, including many students there — even warning them not to offer any criticism of Beijing lest their relatives in China be harmed.”
In his Dec. 10 article, Rogin wrote: “China’s overriding goal is, at the least, to defend its authoritarian system from attack and at most to export it to the world at America’s expense.”
On Wednesday in Washington, Rubio said the emerging Chinese strategy “directly threatens our most deeply held values and our national interest.” 
He added: “Chinese leaders are engaged in the long game. And it is something that policymakers in the United States and our like-minded allies must take seriously.”
With Trump in office, however, there is little sign that the United States has a long game of its own. Trump's trip to Asia this year was marked by its policy incoherence as well as Trump's inability to extract any meaningful concessions while being feted in Beijing.
“The problem for Australia is that China’s willingness to use coercion to achieve its dream of renewed greatness is becoming a defining feature of its foreign policy,” wrote Alan Dupont, founder of the Cognoscenti Group consultancy, in the newspaper the Australian
“With the U.S. in self-declared retreat from its global leadership role and lacking a coherent Asia policy under Donald Trump, there are diminishing external constraints on Chinese behavior and ambitions.”
Brady, the New Zealand academic, argued that what is taking root has less to do with Beijing's particular agenda than the complacency of democracies. 
“It'd be the same if it was any country,” she told the New Zealand Herald. 
“It's not about China, but it's our country and our democracy where we value freedom of speech and association. It's our right to choose our government.”