January 20, 2022

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Iran and China, the Totalitarian Twins

16 min read

Keith Krach, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment

Wall Street Journal

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

Iran’s foreign minister recently said his government is negotiating with China for a 25-year “strategic partnership” involving a reported $400 billion in Chinese investment. Cue the media circus. Global headlines heralded the deal as a “major pact” that presents a “bold challenge” to the U.S. Not so fast.

For starters, this is a deal between two dishonest regimes that pride themselves on propaganda. The scale and feasibility of the deal deserve healthy skepticism. We should doubt Beijing’s capacity to fund $400 billion of Iranian infrastructure. To put it in perspective, China has invested less than $27 billion in Iran in the past 15 years—and that was before Covid-19 hit China’s economy. At best, this deal is a framework for cooperation.

The purported deal also faces popular outrage among the Iranian people, who have zero interest in their country becoming a Chinese client state. Speculation is swirling that the deal includes oil concessions to Chinese companies, basing rights for China’s military, and long-term leases of Iranian islands—all entirely believable given China’s long history of predatory, neo-imperial deals. China’s proposed military support to Iran, which both countries are keeping under wraps, may already violate the United Nations arms embargo. The Iranian regime’s crisis of legitimacy with its people will only worsen if the deal moves forward.

There are other reasons the deal is unlikely to proceed as reported. Many Chinese state-owned enterprises, particularly in the energy sector, can’t afford the financial hit of U.S. sanctions incurred by entering the Iranian market. On top of this risk, Iran’s economy is deeply corrupt and controlled largely by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated foreign terrorist organization. These two factors make any return on investment far from certain.

Suffice to say the deal is overblown. Yet it reveals something about each nation and why the two have found each other now.

For Iran, this partnership is born of desperation. Because the regime has been severely weakened, in part by U.S. sanctions, the mullahs are willing to do a deal with a predatory power so long as it gains access to capital. The regime is willing to romance the Chinese Communist Party even while it imprisons Uighur Muslims in indoctrination camps. In doing so, the mullahs are breaking with their spiritual father and founder, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who in 1981 summed up the global aspirations of his newly founded Islamic Republic: “We wish to cause the corrupt roots of . . . communism to wither throughout the world.” He called on his followers to “destroy” communism. Has Khomeini’s revolution died at the age of 41?

As for China, its eagerness to boost the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and anti-Semitism is the latest in a series of moves that show Beijing as an irresponsible actor. Beijing hid the initial outbreak of Covid-19, attempted to profit from the resulting pandemic through “facemask diplomacy,” cracked down on Hong Kong and instigated a bloody border war with India.

The China-Iran partnership also lays bare the common threads that connect the two. Both governments are revolutionary relics known for lawless behavior, duplicity, bullying, domestic oppression and thought control, coercive economic practices and grave human-rights abuses. It was only a matter of time before these totalitarian twins found each other in a “strategic partnership.” Now the world must develop and carry out strategies to counter them, especially Beijing.

The good news is the world is waking up to the risks of doing business in Iran, and U.S. companies increasingly understand the costs of doing business with China.

In Iran, more than 100 major foreign companies have withdrawn from the market or canceled investments since the U.S. reimposed sanctions in 2018, leading to tens of billions of dollars in lost investment. Iran’s regulatory structures are so corrupt that even well-intentioned companies can’t know if they are facilitating terrorism. This is why the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force recently blacklisted Iran, which refuses to stop terror finance and money laundering.

In China, foreign companies for years have endured parasitic joint ventures, blatant thievery of intellectual property, a world-wide bullying spree and the collection of private and proprietary information to be exploited for China’s commercial advantage. No longer.

China’s attempt to portray itself as a misunderstood and well-intentioned global partner is failing. Businesses are diversifying supply chains away from China and keeping critical technology out of the hands of the Communist Party. Through Huawei, the party is attempting to export its 5G surveillance state, complete with mobile-app appendages such as WeChat and TikTok.

With its decision last week to ban Huawei’s equipment from its 5G network, the U.K. joined a growing list of countries that are reasserting their national security and economic interests. Huawei’s deals with telecommunications operators around the world are evaporating as democracies such as Japan, Australia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, Estonia, Romania, Denmark, Latvia and the U.S. prohibit its unacceptably risky equipment. In recent weeks, Telco Italia, Telefónica and the three big telecom companies in both Singapore and Canada have also banned Huawei equipment.

The Trump administration’s determination to expose China and Iran and hold them accountable has helped make this success possible, and the U.S. will continue leading the way. We have recently imposed restrictions on American semiconductor technology going to Huawei and introduced the 5G Clean Path initiative to keep U.S. diplomatic systems from moving information over Huawei equipment. We have also imposed sanctions on more than 1,000 individuals and entities tied to the Iranian regime, depriving Tehran of billions in revenue that it would have spent on terrorism.

We are making the case that smart economic policy is sound national-security strategy, and our friends and partners around the world are heeding this call in an unprecedented way. The world is moving on to more-trusted partners that share our values, and this movement will continue to gain speed. This is very good for all nations that value freedom and security.

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  • Decennial Census: Bureau Should Assess Significant Data Collection Challenges as It Undertakes Planning for 2030
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In March 2020, the Census Bureau (Bureau) delayed the start of field data collection because of COVID-19 safety, and then revised several operational timelines in response to the pandemic and Department of Commerce (Commerce) decisions. Nationally the Bureau reported completing more than 99 percent of nonresponse follow-up cases (households that have not responded to the census) by October 15, 2020. The Bureau attributes the use of technology as among the reasons it completed the work by this date. The Bureau, however, had lower completion percentages ranging between 94 and 99 for 10 local geographic areas, in part because of natural disasters and COVID-19. For example, according to the Bureau, in Shreveport, Louisiana, short-term closures stemming from the hurricane impacted data collection for 82,863 housing units. As a mitigation strategy, the Bureau shifted the Shreveport operation to telephone enumeration and brought in more than 1,200 enumerators from travel teams. Despite these efforts, the Bureau was unable to complete 22,588 cases in Shreveport before data collection ended. For these cases the Bureau will need to rely on alternate methods including imputation, which draws data from similar nearby households to determine whether a housing unit exists, whether it is occupied, and, if so, by how many people. In addition to the challenges brought on by natural disasters, the Bureau encountered other difficulties during nonresponse follow-up, such as, the inability of supervisors to reassign open cases in a timely fashion. GAO found that census field supervisors did not have the authority to reassign cases and had to wait for the field manager to make those reassignments. Bureau officials told GAO it would consider the reassignment of cases as it moves towards planning for the 2030 Census. To monitor nonresponse follow-up, the Bureau used quality control procedures, such as real-time monitoring of enumerator activities by supervisors and training assessments. However, GAO found the Bureau did not have proper controls in place, allowing some enumerators to work without having passed the required training assessment. The Bureau agreed that additional controls were necessary. The Bureau planned to count individuals living in group quarters, such as skilled-nursing and correctional facilities, between April 2, 2020, and June 5, 2020, but revised those dates to July 1, 2020, through September 3, 2020. The pandemic made it difficult to count group quarters. For example, Bureau staff found it challenging to locate a point of contact at some group quarters because facilities were closed due to the pandemic. Bureau officials told us that in December 2020 they decided to re-contact more than 24,000 out of approximately 272,000 group quarter facilities to collect data, and that imputation would be used to count individuals at the remaining facilities still reporting a zero population count. The Bureau is updating plans to assess operations and identify resulting lessons learned from the 2020 Census. As part of its planning for 2030, it will be important for the Bureau to assess the impact of the 2020 late design changes and the operations' challenges that arose. Why GAO Did This Study The 2020 Census was conducted under extraordinary circumstances. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related Commerce decisions, the Bureau made a series of late changes to the design of the census. As GAO previously reported, these changes introduced risks to the quality of data that the Bureau provides for congressional apportionment and redistricting purposes. GAO was asked to review the Bureau's implementation of the 2020 Census. This report assesses the Bureau's implementation of the: (1) nonresponse follow-up operation, (2) group quarters enumeration, and (3) plans to assess those operations. To address these objectives, GAO conducted a series of surveys of all 248 census offices during the collection of data for those operations. GAO also monitored the cost and progress of operations and interviewed census field supervisors for each operation.
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  • Chief Engineer and Greek Ship Owner and Operator Charged with Concealing Deliberate Pollution and Failing to Report a Hazardous Condition
    In Crime News
    Empire Bulkers Ltd., Joanna Maritime Limited and Chief Engineer Warlito Tan were indicted today in New Orleans for violations of environmental and safety laws related to the Motor Vessel Joanna, a Marshall Islands registered Bulk Carrier.
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  • [Protest of Contract Award]
    In U.S GAO News
    A firm protested the award of a contract by a firm which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) hired to operate a computer complex. The protester contended that: (1) it should not have been excluded from the competitive range; (2) the acceptance of the awardee's proposal effected a material change in the solicitation; and (3) neither NASA nor its contractor obtained a Delegation of Procurement Authority from the General Services Administration prior to issuing the request for proposals and contracting with the awardee. The contractor stated that the protester's proposal was unacceptable because it lacked technical information, was deficient, and could not be evaluated. The protester stated that it should have been included in the competitive range because its proposal took no exceptions to the technical requirements. In addition, it contended that it should not have been excluded for informational deficiencies because the solicitation cautioned offerers against submitting elaborate proposals. GAO found that the contractor's decision to exclude the protester from the competitive range was reasonable. Although the solicitation cautioned against overly elaborate proposals, this did not excuse offerers from discussing their proposals in detail. GAO found that Federal regulations required neither NASA nor its contractor to obtain a Delegation of Procurement Authority. Finally, GAO did not find it necessary to resolve the question of the awardee's cost proposal because, even if the allegation were correct, the protester would not have been entitled to an amendment dealing with cost proposals since it was excluded from the competitive range on the basis of its technical proposal. Accordingly, the protest was denied.
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  • Electronic Health Records Technology Vendor to Pay $18.25 Million to Resolve Kickback Allegations
    In Crime News
    A national electronic health records (EHR) technology vendor based in Watertown, Massachusetts, athenahealth Inc. (Athena), has agreed to pay $18.25 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by paying unlawful kickbacks to generate sales of its EHR product, athenaClinicals, the Justice Department announced today.
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