October 24, 2022
Over the weekend, Xi Jinping of China secured a third term as the general secretary of the Communist Party, strengthening his grip on China and shifting the country away from the shared power system it had moved toward over the past decades. Other strongmen, including North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Russian president Vladimir Putin, were among the first to congratulate him.
Today, the U.S. government appeared to fire a shot across Xi’s bow when the Department of Justice made a big public announcement of charges against 13 Chinese operatives in three different criminal cases. The charges included the alleged obstruction of a criminal prosecution in the U.S. against a Chinese telecommunications company (understood to be Huawei).
In what seemed a reminder of the power of U.S. intelligence, U.S. officials made it a point to emphasize first of all that Chinese operatives believed they had bribed a U.S. official to do their bidding, while in fact, the U.S. officer was a double agent working for the FBI. This appeared to be a statement to the Chinese government about the capabilities of U.S. intelligence, but it also reinforced the idea of the strength of our intelligence capabilities in the face of recent stories that the former president took secrets about Iran and China with him to Mar-a-Lago when he left office.
The officials at the announced press conference reiterated a theme. “Today’s complaint underscores the unrelenting efforts of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] government to undermine the rule of law,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace. “We will always act decisively to counteract criminal acts that target our system of justice.” Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen added: “The Department of Justice will not abide nation-state actors meddling in U.S. criminal process and investigations, and will not tolerate foreign interference with the fair administration of justice.”
FBI director Christopher Wray said: “The mission of the FBI is to protect both the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States—and this case represents a threat to both…. [I]ntelligence officers from the People’s Republic of China threatened not just the proceedings of our criminal justice system but the very idea of justice itself. A threat to justice is a threat to the foundation of our free society, and the FBI remains constantly vigilant and committed to protecting the U.S. from these threats.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland added: “[T]he government of China sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights. They did not succeed.”
In other news about foreign affairs, the U.S., France, and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement yesterday saying that they “reiterate our steadfast support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression. We remain committed to continue supporting Ukraine’s efforts to defend its territory for as long as it takes.”
Earlier that day, the defense ministers of each of those countries spoke to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “at his request.” They rejected Russia’s recent “transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” saying the world sees that assertion as a “pretext for escalation,” and they reject it as such. The countries continue to share a “determination to continue supporting Ukraine and the Ukrainian people with security, economic, and humanitarian assistance in the face of President Putin’s brutal war of aggression.”
That statement was the backdrop for a letter from 30 of the progressive members of the Democratic Party to President Joe Biden today, apparently urging him to “pursue every diplomatic avenue” with Russia to find a solution to the war “that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine.” They wrote “as legislators responsible for the expenditure of tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in military assistance in the conflict.”
Some observers have seen in this document pressure on Biden to change his approach to supporting Ukraine, but the letter reads as if it champions his approach. It cheers on Biden’s “commitment to Ukraine’s legitimate struggle against Russia’s war of aggression” and applauds his avoidance of direct military conflict with Russia, which would “lead to ‘World War III, something we must strive to prevent.’” It notes the difficulty of engaging with Russia “given its outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its decision to make additional illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory,” and agrees that it is not America’s place to make decisions about Ukraine without the leadership of the Ukrainians.
But it urged Biden—a man steeped in foreign affairs, who has made diplomacy central to his foreign policy—to “make vigorous diplomatic efforts” to find a “rapid end to the conflict.” In short, the letter seemed to be a way before the midterms to assure progressive voters on the one hand and conservative voters on the other, both concerned about the financial cost of supporting Ukraine, that Democrats are mindful of the costs of the Ukraine defense and are trying to find solutions. But the letter was widely interpreted as a call for concessions to Putin, and by this evening, some of the congress members who had signed it felt obliged to reaffirm their support for the administration’s Ukraine policy.
Democratic leaders have made their position on Ukraine and democracy clear. Tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made a statement before attending the First Parliamentary Summit of the International Crimea Platform, which Ukraine established in 2021 to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty and to which she was invited by Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky and by Ruslan Stefanchuk, speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, known as the Rada. Representatives of more than 50 nations are at the meeting in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, to support Ukraine.
Pelosi said she was proud to meet with Stefanchuk “to convey the Congress’ bipartisan and bicameral commitment to the fight being waged by the heroic people of Ukraine…. As Putin escalates his appalling atrocities against civilians, we reaffirm this truth: Crimea is Ukraine, Russia’s unlawful occupation of all Ukrainian territory must end, and Russia must be held accountable for its crimes.”