The threat spectrum

Planet A

The Bank of China will stop funding new coal projects abroad, following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s similar commitment to the UN General Assembly that China will stop building new foreign coal-fired power plants. China, Japan and South Korea, which have collectively funded 95% of foreign-financed coal projects since 2013, have now all pledged to stop financing new international coal projects.

Coal projects once constituted nearly half of China’s Belt and Road Initiative activities in developing countries, but that has reduced in recent years, suggesting that Xi targeted ‘low-hanging fruit’ rather than take a major step. Replacing coal-related investments with greener alternatives would increase China’s portfolio of overseas renewable energy investments and could improve the BRI’s reputation.

However, this development won’t reduce China’s domestic coal usage. China has pledged carbon neutrality by 2060 but still accounts for a quarter of global carbon emissions. It would have to shut down around 600 of its own coal-fired plants to meet the target.

Democracy watch

Germans voted on Sunday in their first election in 16 years without incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel. Preliminary results indicate that the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has emerged as the largest party in the Bundestag for the first time since 2002, with Merkel’s centre-right Christian-democratic alliance suffering its worst electoral defeat in post-war German history.

The dramatic swing towards the SPD has been largely driven by the popularity of its candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who is perceived as the continuity candidate and the next Angela Merkel; according to Politico, ‘Many voters see Scholz, a moderate, as the next best thing to Merkel, whose centrist course has helped make her the country’s most popular politician.’ This also reflects the value German political culture places on stability, consensus building, statesmanship and pragmatic incrementalism.

While Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union could remain in power in a ‘Jamaica coalition’ with the Greens and the Free Democratic Party, the results indicate that Germans have placed their trust in the SPD to take them into the post-Merkel era.

Information operations

On 14 September, several people claiming association with ‘hacktivist’ collective Anonymous leaked more than 180 gigabytes of data stolen from Epik, an internet services company hosting the websites of several far-right organisations, including the Proud Boys, QAnon groups and the Texas Right to Life group. The leak contained decades’ worth of data, including 15 million unique email addresses, names, phone numbers, physical addresses, passwords and purchases of Epik customers and non-customers. The data is being hailed by some as the ‘Panama Papers’ of right-wing groups because of its potential to identify individuals linked to alt-right communities online.

The hackers’ press release shows the breach was politically motivated, signing off with support for #OperationJane, a hacker initiative opposing Texas’s recent anti-abortion law.

While researchers continue to sift through the large dataset, the breach represents a trend in hacktivism and cybercrime where personal data theft is justified by political motives. But this also raises questions about the risks that the uncontrolled use of these tools might pose to individual safety and rights to privacy, and their escalatory potential.

Follow the money

China’s largest property conglomerate, Evergrande, faces default, warning investors of cashflow problems after amassing over US$300 billion in debt and experiencing an 85% drop in share value this year.

The Chinese government hasn’t offered the company a bailout. Instead, it may use this opportunity to continue tightening regulations over the property market, but it will have to take some steps to prevent an uproar by affected homeowners. The property sector is worth 30% of China’s GDP and 40% of its household wealth. China’s central bank has injected over US$70 billion into the banking sector to prepare for Evergrande’s collapse.

If the company collapses, it may not be a global ‘Lehman moment’, but it would have significant potential repercussions on Australia’s largest export, iron ore. Evergrande-associated market panic caused significant fluctuations last week in the iron ore price, which dropped to US$90 per tonne before rapidly increasing to US$108.70. Fluctuating iron ore prices translate to billions for Australia’s GDP, with every US$10 per tonne decrease in the iron ore price equating to $6.5 billion.

Terror byte

A report released by US public policy think tank New America reveals that far-right extremists have killed more Americans in the US than Islamic fundamentalists there since 9/11. In the past 20 years, over a dozen attacks carried out by far-right extremists have killed 114 Americans, whereas jihadist attacks have accounted for 107 across 14 incidents.

Although far-right militants are more prevalent, experts are concerned that their attacks are treated less severely than those of their Islamist counterparts. Consequently, policymakers and intelligence analysts may be poorly equipped to better prevent future attacks.

President Joe Biden’s administration has ramped up efforts to counter white supremacy, characterising it as the ‘most lethal threat’ to domestic security. It has bolstered funding to the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to better identify and prevent attacks, and introduced the country’s first national strategy for countering domestic extremism. These measures may not be enough. Encouraged by the previous administration of Donald Trump, white-supremacist ideology has become embedded in American society and governance, including in law enforcement and defence and in the many state legislatures passing laws designed to limit the voting rights of black and immigrant citizens.