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US-China Relations Evolve Amid Current Events

What’s happening?

Several factors are impacting US-China relations in 2022 and could have lasting effects on US interests. Beyond existing points of tension—like Hong Kong, Taiwan, prosecution of Muslim Uyghurs, and the South China Sea—current factors include:

  • Trade deals. This week, US Deputy Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi announced China’s failure to meet commitments for a two-year trade deal that expired in late 2021. The deal committed China to increase its US farm, manufactured goods, energy, and services purchases by $200B over 2020-2021. According to Reuters, China only reached 60% of this target.
  • The Russia-Ukraine Conflict. China has sided with Russia as the Russia-Ukraine situation escalates, criticizing US and NATO actions. Later this week, Putin and Xi Jinping are set for an in-person meeting ahead of the Olympics—a move that The New York Times describes as a “public display of geopolitical amity between the two powers.”
  • Beijing Winter Olympics. China has accused the US of coordinating a campaign to sabotage the Olympics by compensating athletes to criticize China and perform poorly. The United States has participated in a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics but denies a coordinated campaign involving athletes.
  • Economic espionage. This week, FBI’s Director Christopher Wray went public about the escalation of Chinese espionage in recent years. According to Wray, the FBI launches two counterintelligence investigations daily to address Chinese spying, saying that “[t]here is no country that presents a broader, more severe threat to our innovation, our ideas, and our economic security than China does.” COVID vaccines, computer chips, energy technology, and smartphones are all examples of targeted innovations.
  • Influence in the Middle East. As the United States curbs its Middle East presence, China is fostering its relationships in the region to trade resources and collaborate on technology and security matters.

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What’s the impact?

President Biden has threatened the Kremlin with sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine. An economic and political alliance between Russia and China could diminish the impact of these sanctions and significantly change the geopolitical landscape of a potential war. 

Additionally, Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Carnegie Moscow Center, says that “a major security crisis in Europe will suck up a lot of oxygen that Team Biden needs to address China.”

China’s Middle East ties could have significant impacts on US economic interests. Ongoing tensions in US-China trade disputes could also amplify sanctions on all sides and disrupt global markets.

According to the global law firm ​​Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, evolving sanctions may also complicate US, UK, and EU relations: “The UK and EU may complicate the picture by updating their own sanctions regimes on China, which may not necessarily echo the US approach and may also differ between the EU and the UK.”

How can OSINT help?

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) has gained precedence within US intelligence functions. Open sources now account for 80% of the data used to generate reports in the Defense Intelligence Agency. Public sources like social media, news, and the deep and dark web are necessary to assess foreign actors and inform policy.

As US-China relations evolve, these sources can illuminate:

  • Emerging narratives from Chinese state media
  • Trends in public sentiment from populations of interest
  • Developments in trade relations, economies, and technology
  • On-the-ground activities of interest, like military maneuvers

Relevant data sources in regions of interest are required for this use case. Specialized OSINT tools like the Echosec Systems Platform ensure that intelligence teams have the data coverage required to avoid information gaps. They also streamline analysts’ workflows so they can provide timely insights for these coverage areas.

If your intelligence team assesses global information environments, they may be overlooking data sources in specific geographies. Book some time with our team to learn more about regional OSINT sources and find out if you’re missing critical data.