“As a response to the US’s wrongful decision to impose visa bans on Chinese officials, China decides to impose visa bans on Americans who behave badly in Hong Kong affairs”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Monday, at a regular briefing in Beijing.
The announcement marks the latest tit-for-tat escalation in the multi-faceted Sino-US spat and comes on the heels of Mike Pompeo’s Friday threat to ban travel by “current and former CCP officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy”.
Zhao didn’t say who China would target. Likewise, Pompeo did not name individuals.
This sounds petty (and it is), but it underscores the ongoing nature of the ever spiraling dispute between the world’s two largest economies. Although most expect China will be a “punching bag” in the general election, Trump is caught between the necessity of preserving the trade deal and rekindling the “blame China” narrative which was partially responsible for his election in 2016.
John Bolton’s accusations that Trump explicitly tied Chinese farm good purchases to the election, and Trump’s own admission that he held off on sanctioning officials for human rights abuses in the interest of getting the deal done, complicate matters further. The Senate last week passed bipartisan legislation aimed at punishing banks for interactions with Chinese officials associated with the new national security law in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin echoed — checks notes — Trump, on Monday, calling reports that Russian intelligence put bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan “fake news”. That’s according to Zamir Kabulov, Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan.
Dmitry Peskov called the reports “lies”, after Trump suggested, in a tweet, that the story is “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax!”
Trump is facing a potentially severe backlash from Congress, and it’s worth noting that when it comes to military affairs, Lindsey Graham isn’t a guy who is necessarily prone to taking the president’s side, as he does in almost all other matters.
“It’s imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region”, Graham said Sunday. “I expect the Trump Administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports”.
Last year, Graham lashed out at Trump when the White House acquiesced to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s incursion into northern Syria. Subsequently, the senator found himself in a face-to-face shouting match with the Turkish strongman while Trump looked on.
Trump now claims US intelligence told him the reports about the Russian bounties in Afghanistan weren’t credible, and “therefore” he and Mike Pence did not need to be briefed.
Forgive me but that doesn’t seem… well, credible.
Every account published over the past three days describes a meeting during which officials discussed the situation. Over the weekend, the Times provided still more details.
“United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops”, Eric Schmitt, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos reported, citing officials briefed on the situation. “The crucial information that led the spies and commandos to focus on the bounties included the recovery of a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost that prompted suspicions [while] interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019”.
Both the Times and The Washington Post said it’s likely that at least one US soldier was killed in connection with the bounties.
“Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program”, the Post wrote late Sunday, adding that “US forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019”.
It now seems all but assured that Congress will investigate, and you would be completely justified in asking whether this will mushroom into a serious crisis for the president headed into the election.
Trump’s poll numbers have taken a turn for the abysmal and just about the last thing the White House needs is a story that suggests he sold out US troops in Afghanistan — not directly, but in “error of omission” fashion by failing to take immediate action to deter the Kremlin from persisting in the behavior.