Chinese-Iranian relations emerged as a topic of discussion this week when a Senate delegation led by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer met with Chinese leaders in Beijing.
Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, said after the meeting that he urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to use his influence with Iran in response to the attacks on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas and was told the message would be delivered.
But Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning that same day declined to answer directly when asked if China would appeal to Iran to restrain Hamas and help seek the release of dozens of Israeli and foreign hostages captured by the group in a surprise attack this past weekend.
Miles Yu, director of the China Center at the Hudson Institute, said Iran and China have an uneasy strategic partnership that was cemented with a $400 million investment deal from China in 2021. The deal calls for China to invest in Iran in exchange for shipments of discounted oil from Tehran.
All seemed well until March, when Saudi Arabia moved closer to joining a China-led Asian security and economic group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Riyadh also announced multibillion-dollar deals to sell its own oil to China.
Mr. Yu said China’s move for closer ties to Iran’s rival Saudi Arabia led the Iranian government to play on Beijing’s paranoia over Taiwan. The Iranians were enraged and called it a betrayal of the recent deal and demanded more Chinese money, he said.
To draw China closer, Iran’s state-controlled media published a newspaper article with a headline stating that Iran supported independence for Taiwan, Mr. Yu said.
That led China to placate Iran, although Foreign Minister Wang Yi in August said China had brokered a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Wang also pledged to firmly back Tehran on “issues concerning core interests.”
Regarding the Hamas attacks, China initially issued a statement that failed to condemn the attacks on civilians but later announced it was “saddened by the civilian casualties caused by the conflict.”
Since the attack began last week, however, China’s government has yet to join the U.S. and other governments around the world in condemning Hamas for the atrocities.
China has also called for a “two-state solution” to the conflict offering the Palestinians an independent homeland, something Beijing rejects when it comes to Taiwan, Tibet, or what Uyghurs in western China call East Turkistan, Mr. Yu said.
“I don’t think the Iranians and Chinese are in high coordination over Taiwan issue, per se,” he said. “Taiwan is far away from Iranian strategic awareness and their thinking and objectives.”
U.S. sailor pleads guilty to spying for China
A U.S. sailor who was recruited to spy for China’s intelligence service pleaded guilty on Tuesday to supplying Beijing with unclassified but sensitive information on a Pacific military exercise and a radar system in Japan, according to court papers in the case.
Petty Officer Zhao Wenheng, also known as Thomas Zhao, of Monterey Park, California, made the plea in a California federal court to conspiracy and bribery. Zhao, 26, worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, near Oxnard, and held a security clearance.
Matthew G. Olsen, assistant attorney general for national security, criticized Chinese intelligence agencies for recruiting Zhao and targeting other military personnel.
“The intelligence services of the People’s Republic of China actively target [security] clearance holders across the military, seeking to entice them with money to provide sensitive government information,” Mr. Olsen said in a statement. “When contacted by his [Chinese] co-conspirator, rather than reporting it to the Navy, the defendant chose greed over protecting the national security of the United States. He is now being held accountable for his crimes.”
Mr. Olson said the case should serve as a warning to others who might be tempted to place money over patriotic duty: “Know that we are committed to identifying you and bringing you to justice.”
Zhao worked for a Navy construction unit and likely had access to information on plans for expanding bases in the Asia-Pacific region as part of a buildup of forces. He was paid by a Chinese intelligence officer more than $14,000 for information he gathered between November 2021 and March of this year.
Court papers stated that the sailor gave the Chinese information and photos on a major exercise in the Indo-Pacific region, most likely the multinational Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, exercise held in 2022. Such information would allow Chinese military intelligence to conduct intelligence gathering on the exercise. Chinese spy ships are frequently spotted during the exercise.
China tasked Zhao to provide the “specific plan” for the exercise and the locations and timing of Navy force movements. The U.S. sailor also supplied the Chinese with details of a radar system on Okinawa called “GATOR storage” that housed the ground/air task-oriented radar, or GATOR. system. The advanced radar provides air defense protection for military personnel, and China likely sought information about the system for use in missile targeting.
Zhao used encrypted internet communications to transmit the information to his Chinese intelligence contact, who was not identified by name or service in court papers.
The Ministry of State Security is the main intelligence service, and the Strategic Support Force military service includes the People’s Liberation Army intelligence arm.
The plea agreement states that Zhao could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. It also states that if Zhao is not a U.S. citizen, he can expect to be deported. Sentencing is set for Jan. 8.
Zhao could be included in a future spy swap, although the U.S. and China have not conducted the kind of spy exchanges that have been carried out with the Soviet Union and later Russia. Chinese state media recently announced that a small number of recruited CIA agents had been arrested on spying charges.
A lawyer for Zhao did not respond to an email request for comment.
Report: Xi rejecting reform communism in favor of Maoism
Under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms that began following Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, the Chinese system allowed the private sector to flourish under the maxim “to get rich is glorious.”
Deng toned down China’s flexible brand of communism by combining Marxist slogans that allowed wealth creation, wrote Diana Choyleva, an economist with the institute’s Center for China Analysis, in a report made public last week.
But Mr. Xi is now renewing Marxist-Leninist ideology that he believes must be followed to maintain social cohesion and produce a state that is “egalitarian” and prosperous, the report states.
“Fighting income and wealth inequality is a noble task, but Xi’s approach has undermined an even more important driver of development over the past 40 years: private entrepreneurial spirit,” the report said.
The report said a key policy shift took place in August 2021 when Mr. Xi added the goal of “common prosperity” to Chinese Communist Party doctrine.
The Chinese leader has conducted a massive purge of officials reaching the most senior levels of the party, with many of those ousted for lavish spending and engaging in corruption. More than 1 million officials have been punished under Mr. Xi’s rule since new rules stressing frugality were imposed in 2012.
Under Mr. Xi, the report says, “to get rich is no longer glorious.”
Mr. Xi tolerates the private sector as long as it supports party and state goals. Wealthy captains of industry such as entrepreneur Jack Ma and others have paid the price with demotions or worse for speaking out on politically sensitive issues.
“Xi’s ideological goal is nonetheless to strengthen Party power in both state-owned and strategically important private enterprises, and to subordinate business decisions to the needs of the Party,” the report said.
The shift in policy has produced major disillusionment among Chinese young people, a discontent that surfaced last year in the “white paper” street protests against the regime’s strict zero-COVID policies and led to anti-Xi and anti-CCP protests.
Mr. Xi’s new frugality approach is undermining the key drivers that produced China’s economic success since 1978.
“Across too much of the Chinese economy, the go-go days of experimentation and growth are over,” the report said. “In this new, more ideology-driven China, everyone must adopt a more timid and cautious strategy — at the risk of derailing the country’s future.”