Germany slams Hungary for blocking EU criticism of China on Hong Kong

Heiko Maas hits out after foreign ministers fail once again to adopt text.

Germany slams Hungary for blocking EU criticism of China on Hong Kong

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday lambasted Hungary for an “absolutely incomprehensible” decision to block an EU statement accusing Beijing of cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong.

EU foreign ministers have been unable to adopt the text even though diplomats said it had already been watered down to get Hungary’s backing. EU foreign policy decisions require unanimity to pass.

“This is not the first time that Hungary has broken away from [the EU’s] unity when it comes to the issue of China,” Maas told reporters after the latest meeting of the bloc’s Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.

The meeting was the second in recent weeks at which foreign ministers failed to adopt conclusions on Hong Kong due to Budapest’s opposition.

“I think everybody can work out for themselves where the reasons are — because there are good relations between China and Hungary,” Maas said, referring to close economic and diplomatic ties between Beijing and Budapest, which is a member of China’s 17+1 business and investment initiative.

“On the substance, we think this is absolutely incomprehensible,” Maas added. “It is important that especially toward China — after the sanctions that have been imposed and also after the sanctioning of EU parliamentarians — the European Union speaks with one voice. Unfortunately, this has been prevented by Hungary.”

Between the two EU meetings, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping. According to China’s foreign ministry, Orbán said Hungary “attaches great importance to its relations with China” and was “glad that bilateral trade has registered positive growth despite the pandemic”. Xi told Orbán that Beijing “highly appreciates” Budapest’s “firm adherence to a friendly policy towards China”.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after Monday’s meeting that he wants to make “a last effort in order to get unanimity” on the Hong Kong conclusions.

“We decided to give one more week of working at the technical-level groups in order to look for a solution that the 27 member states can accept,” Borrell said. He added that if such efforts don’t yield a success then “we have to take positions that don’t reflect unanimity” without elaborating.

Draft Council conclusions, seen by POLITICO, say that the EU “remains deeply concerned” about the implementation of China’s National Security Law (NSL) on Hong Kong. The text says amendments to Hong Kong’s Basic Law “have a significant negative impact on democratic accountability and political pluralism”.

EU countries also vow to “respond appropriately” should there be extraterritorial application of the NSL against “any EU citizen or business”. But the wording is rather soft on what an appropriate response might entail — mentioning, for example, only to “discuss” between EU countries “the implementation of their extradition treaties with the People’s Republic of China when appropriate.”

It appears unlikely that even a new draft would be acceptable to Hungary. One EU diplomat said Hungary’s objection reflected a view that “declarations and conclusions have produced nothing else rather than a further deterioration of relations with China”.

A spokesperson for the Hungarian Representation to the EU said that “there is no change in the Hungarian position” on the China-critical text, and added: “Besides, the issue was not on the agenda of the [Foreign Affairs Council] today.”

There was no discussion or adoption of the text on the Hong Kong conclusions during Monday’s meeting because it had been clear from preparatory discussions that Hungary would maintain its veto, as was the case on Wednesday at a meeting of EU ambassadors where they were tasked with tackling the issue.

Maas said it was crucial that the EU finds a common line on China, as it did in March when it approved sanctions against four Chinese officials involved in running internment camps for hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in the region of Xinjiang.

“If we have a strategy that is coordinated, then our action is much more effective — then we can be much more effective vis-à-vis Beijing on the important things like Hong Kong but also the Uyghurs in Xinjiang,” he said. “That has to be possible. That is in the interest of the European Union and human rights.”

Stuart Lau contributed reporting.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Russian spy unit suspected of directed-energy attacks on US personnel

CIA Director William Burns is now receiving daily briefings on the investigation.

Russian spy unit suspected of directed-energy attacks on US personnel

WASHINGTON — US officials suspect that a notorious Russian spy agency may be behind alleged attacks that are causing mysterious health issues among U.S. government personnel across the world, according to three current and former officials with direct knowledge of the discussions.

Officials do not have a smoking gun linking Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU, to the suspected directed-energy incidents, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly. The intelligence community has not reached a consensus or made a formal determination. However, officials have told lawmakers that they have intensified their investigation in recent weeks to include all 18 federal intelligence agencies, and that it is focused on the GRU’s potential involvement, according to a congressional official briefed on the matter.

A White House spokesperson, who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, emphasized that investigators do not yet know the cause of these incidents or whether they constitute an attack by foreign actors. However, the spokesperson said, these are areas of “active inquiry,” and the National Security Council is working with other agencies to address the “unexplained health incidents.”

“The health and well-being of American public servants is a paramount priority to the Administration and we take extremely seriously reports by our personnel of anomalous health incidents,” the spokesperson said.

Victims of the suspected attacks report symptoms consistent with the “Havana syndrome” incidents of 2016, in which a number of American spies and diplomats experienced residual headaches, loss of balance and hearing, ringing and pressure in the ears, and sometimes long-term brain damage.

The GRU’s suspected involvement, which has not been previously reported, comes as Biden administration officials are working to reassure outraged lawmakers that they are committed to getting to the bottom of the issue and holding those responsible to account. Officials have already sounded the alarm to members of Congress about what they see as an increasing threat of directed-energy attacks on American personnel, POLITICO first reported.

CIA Director William Burns is deepening his involvement in the effort and is now receiving daily briefings on the status of the investigation, according to two people familiar with the matter. Burns has also appointed a senior officer reporting directly to him about those efforts.

The GRU is well-known for its involvement in Russia’s covert operations around the world, including Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and numerous cyberattacks across the West. The U.S. has already found the GRU to be responsible for interfering in the 2016 and 2018 elections through the use of cyberattacks and other means.

The group has a known footprint in each of the locations where the suspected incidents occurred, including in the U.S., and is the only agency within the Russian government that has the technology to pull off such attacks, the people said.

“It looks, smells and feels like the GRU,” said one former national security official involved in the investigation. “When you are looking at the landscape, there are very few people who are willing, capable and have the technology. It’s pretty simple forensics.”

A current official briefed on the probe said GRU agents “are the only ones [we] know have the capability to attack our people like that on our soil.”

Israel and China may also have the technology, but neither country operates in all of the locations where the incidents were reported, or has shown the desire to attack Americans in this way, another former national security official said.

When reached for comment about Burns’ involvement, a CIA spokesperson referred POLITICO to the director’s comments before the House Intelligence Committee last month, during which he said it would be a “very high priority to ensure that my colleagues get the care that they deserve and that we get to the bottom of what caused these incidents and who was responsible.”

In a statement last month, the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee credited Burns — who has been on the job only since March — with a “renewed focus” on directed-energy attacks.

A spokesperson for Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines declined to comment on the expansive nature of the investigation, referring POLITICO to her recent congressional testimony stating that the intelligence community is “taking these incidents very seriously, and is committed to investigating the source of these incidents, preventing them from continuing, and caring for those affected.”

The Pentagon launched an investigation into the incidents late last year after then-acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller spoke to a combat veteran who suspected he had been attacked and was seeking medical attention, POLITICO previously reported.

Miller told POLITICO last week that the suspected attacks amount to “an act of war.”

The incidents have allegedly occurred all over the world, including in Europe, Miami, northern Virginia and near the White House, POLITICO reported.

Russian study of this type of technology dates back to the latter part of the 20th century, when the former Soviet Union opted to pursue “irregular warfare,” where it could counter the United States in “the seams and the gaps,” rather than in the conventional space, the first former official said. Microwave pulse weapons, which use a form of electromagnetic radiation to damage targets, are “the perfect gray zone” weapons because attribution is so difficult, the person said.

While investigators have not determined definitively that these incidents are caused by a specific weapon, some believe any such device would be primarily transported by vehicle, according to the former official and a congressional official. Some could be small enough to fit into a large backpack, and an individual can be targeted from 500 to 1,000 yards away.

Betsy Woodruff Swan and Erin Banco contributed to this report.

Source : Politico EU More   

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