The Secret World of China’s Hackers for Hire | Taiwan’s Theory of the Fight | The Two-State Mirage, and more

Germany Is Failing Ukraine—and Europe  (Anton Hofreiter, Roderich Kiesewetter, and Benjamin Tallis, Foreign Policy)
The alarm calls are coming thick and fast. War could be coming for us. One after another, military chiefs from across Europe are urging publics to get ready. Political leaders, from Britain to the Nordic countries and Baltic States, increasingly emphasize that Europeans need to be prepared for a major war with Russia.
Yet Germany continues its sleepy way along the same path as if nothing is wrong and nothing needs to change. Remarkably, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz still hasn’t said that Ukraine should win its war. Though he knows and talks about the consequences that a Russian victory in Ukraine would have for Europe, he will only say that Ukraine should not lose. That’s a big difference and it shows in Germany’s policy.
Instead of announcing bold new steps to ensure that Moscow’s triumph doesn’t become a reality, Scholz points repeatedly and complacently to the actions his government has already taken, which fall far short of what is needed. Instead of proactively organizing the rapid increase of European support, he passes the buck to the United States.

The Dragon Won’t Bring China a Baby Boom  (James Palmer, Foreign Policy)
China returned to work this week after the weeklong Spring Festival holiday, when the country celebrates the Lunar New Year. 2024 is the year of the dragon, which is often a popular year to have children. Those born in dragon years are considered lucky: that is, unusually successful and charismatic. That belief usually causes a small boost in births across East Asia when the beast comes around in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle.
The traditional belief system that once supported the Chinese zodiac no longer holds much weight, but certain aspects of it stick around—mocked by some people, sincerely believed by others, half-believed by most. Oddly enough, children born in the year of the dragon seem to do better than their peers. For example, they are 14 percent more likely to graduate college, perhaps because their parents believe them to be blessed and invest greater educational resources in them.
However, because of China’s declining birthrate, 2024 is still likely to see fewer births than any previous year of the dragon. In 2011, which fell before a dragon year, China’s birthrate was 13.27 children per 1,000 people. Last year, the figure was just 6.39 children per 1,000 people—a fall so sharp that Beijing is uncomfortable publishing some of the statistics.

Taiwan’s Theory of the Fight  (Tommy Jamison, War on the Rocks)
In 1874, the Japanese Meiji government dispatched a punitive expedition to Taiwan. Its leaders sailed with instructions to exact retribution on indigenous islanders who, in 1871, had captured and executed a group of shipwrecked sailors. Unable to mount any resistance to Japan’s newly acquired steamships, Chinese Qing officials watched helplessly as Japanese forces crossed the sea, landed on Taiwan, and killed dozens of native Taiwanese. Humiliated by the attack, Qing leaders debated the best strategy to prevent future Japanese incursions. Some advocated acquiring “strong ships and powerful cannon” to symmetrically match the Japanese at sea. Others saw in new asymmetric technologies like the torpedo —cheap, concealable, lethal — a means of achieving deterrence by denial. Tempted by both strategies, the Qing built a strategically confused program of coastal defenses and an ocean-going fleet. In 1894, Japan — undeterred — engaged and decisively defeated the Qing at sea and ashore in the First Sino-Japanese War, annexing Taiwan as a colony in 1895.
The basic contours of this Qing-era debate over how to defend Taiwan resonate today — so too do the risks of getting strategic choices wrong. Like Qing officials taking stock of the whirlwind Japanese expansion in the 19th century, Taiwan’s leaders are now at a crossroads, facing down a rising power in the Western Pacific during a period of technological flux and political uncertainty.
In crowded field of work by scholars and officialsexploring Taiwan’s security, Lee Hsi-ming’s Taiwan’s Plan for Victory: An Asymmetric Strategy of Using the Small to Control the Large (2022) stands out as both a theoretical framework for deterrence and a set of concrete proposals for asymmetric resistance against a People’s Liberation Army invasion. Lee, Taiwan’s chief of the general staff from 2017 to 2019, argues for reorganizing Taiwan’s military in a “paradigm shift” away from expensive “traditional” platforms and instead instituting an “Overall Defence Concept” relying on small, mobile, distributable, and lethal weapons to deter a numerically and materially superior People’s Republic of China. If deterrence fails, “overall defense” also promises the tactics and weapons to survive an initial attack and then, Lee claims, defeat an enemy landing force.

The U.S. Is Playing the Wrong Game in the Competition with China  (Christopher A. Preble and William D. Hartung, National Interest)
The current U.S. strategy towards China leans far too heavily on developing plans for how to win a war with Beijing, grounded in a determination to outpace it in both traditional and emerging technologies, from hypersonics to nuclear weapons. And while there is occasional lip service given to the need to cooperate with China on fundamental challenges like curbing climate change and preventing pandemics, far more rhetoric and resources have been devoted to treating relations with China as primarily a military problem.
A better approach would involve finding ways to lower tensions and cooperate even in the face of profound differences on issues like human rights and the military balance in the Western Pacific.
As for the competition with China for influence in the international arena, Washington should take a page out of Beijing’s playbook and rebalance its investments and energy towards economic and diplomatic interactions while at the same time moving toward a smaller but still robust defensive capability. Remaining on the current military course will not only be enormously expensive but will likely spur an arms race and increase the risk of a superpower conflict. U.S. policymakers should rebalance the foreign policy tool kit to meet the challenges of the future rather than clinging to the methods of the past.

The Two-State Mirage  (Marc Lynch and Shibley Telhami, Foreign Affairs)
Israel’s devastating response to Hamas’s shocking October 7 attack has produced a humanitarian catastrophe. During the first 100 days of war alone, Israel dropped the kiloton equivalent of three nuclear bombs on the Gaza Strip, killing some 24,000 Palestinians, including more than 10,000 children; wounding tens of thousands more; destroying or damaging 70 percent of Gaza’s homes; and displacing 1.9 million people—about 85 percent of the territory’s inhabitants. By this point, an estimated 400,000 Gazans were at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations, and infectious disease was spreading rapidly. During the same period in the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians were killed by Israeli settlers or Israeli troops, and more than 3,000 Palestinians were arrested, many without charges.
Almost from the outset, it was clear that Israel did not have an endgame for its war in Gaza, prompting the United States to fall back on a familiar formula. On October 29, just as Israel’s ground invasion was getting underway, U.S. President Joe Biden said, “There has to be a vision for what comes next. And in our view, it has to be a two-state solution.” Three weeks later, after the extraordinary devastation of northern Gaza, the president said again, “I don’t think it ultimately ends until there is a two-state solution.” And on January 9, after more than three months of war, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took up the refrain again, telling the Israeli government that a lasting solution “can only come through a regional approach that includes a pathway to a Palestinian state.”
These calls to revive the two-state solution may come from good intentions. For years, a two-state solution has been the avowed goal of U.S.-led diplomacy, and it is still widely seen as the only arrangement that could plausibly meet the national aspirations of two peoples living in a single land. Establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is also the principal demand of most Arab and Western governments, as well as the United Nations and other international bodies. U.S. officials have therefore fallen back on the rhetoric and concepts of previous decades to find some silver lining in the carnage. With the unspeakable horrors of the October 7 attack and of the ongoing war on Gaza making clear that the status quo is unsustainable, they argue that there is now a window to achieve a larger settlement: Washington can both push the Israelis and the Palestinians to finally embrace the elusive goal of two states coexisting peacefully side by side and at the same time secure normalization between Israel and the Arab world.

Leaked Files Show the Secret World of China’s Hackers for Hire  (Paul Mozur, Keith Bradsher, John Liu and Aaron Krolik, New York Times)
The hackers offered a menu of services, at a variety of prices.
A local government in southwest China paid less than $15,000 for access to the private website of traffic police in Vietnam. Software that helped run disinformation campaigns and hack accounts on X cost $100,000. For $278,000 Chinese customers could get a trove of personal information behind social media accounts on platforms like Telegram and Facebook.
The offerings, detailed in leaked documents, were a portion of the hacking tools and data caches sold by a Chinese security firm called I-Soon, one of the hundreds of enterprising companies that support China’s aggressive state-sponsored hacking efforts. The work is part of a campaign to break into the websites of foreign governments and telecommunications firms.
The materials, which were posted to a public website last week, revealed an eight-year effort to target databases and tap communications in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India and elsewhere in Asia. The files also showed a campaign to closely monitor the activities of ethnic minorities in China and online gambling companies.
The data included records of apparent correspondence between employees, lists of targets and material showing off cyberattack tools. Three cybersecurity experts interviewed by The New York Times said the documents appeared to be authentic.
Taken together, the files offered a rare look inside the secretive world of China’s state-backed hackers for hire. They illustrated how Chinese law enforcement and its premier spy agency, the Ministry of State Security, have reached beyond their own ranks to tap private-sector talent in a hacking campaign that United States officials say has targeted American companies and government agencies.