China’s President Xi Jinping gives a speech during the 8th Ministerial Meeting of China-Arab States Cooperation Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 10, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO)
China will provide Palestinians with more than $15 million in aid, President Xi Jinping told top Arab officials Tuesday, as Beijing seeks to build its influence in the Middle East and Africa.
The 100 million yuan pledge to Palestinians was made as part of a plan to give Arab states more than $23 billion in lines of credit, loans and humanitarian assistance for economic development.
The money will be earmarked for “projects that will produce good employment opportunities and positive social impact in Arab States that have reconstruction needs,” said Xi, without providing further details.
It is part of a special Chinese program for “economic reconstruction” and “industrial revitalization,” Xi told participants at a China-Arab States forum in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Beijing is also prepared to provide another one billion yuan ($151 million) to countries in the region to “build capacity for stability maintenance,” Xi said, using a term commonly associated with policing and surveillance.
Xi said that Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon would receive $91 million in humanitarian assistance.
Since taking office, Xi has overseen a concerted effort to expand Chinese influence in the Middle East and Africa, including the construction of the country’s first military base in Arab League state Djibouti.
China has already provided vast sums to Arab countries, with Djibouti alone owing some $1.3 billion, according to estimates from the US-based China Africa Research Initiative.
The financial largess has raised concerns both at home and abroad over the vulnerability of poor nations to such massive debt.
Last year Sri Lanka was forced to hand over majority control of its Hambantota port to China after being unable to repay its loans.
Syrian President Bashar Assad addresses the newly elected parliament in Damascus, Syria, on June 7, 2016. (SANA, the Syrian official news agency, via AP)
China has also provided diplomatic support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s seven-year civil war.
At the heart of Xi’s vision is the “Belt and Road” initiative, a $1-trillion infrastructure program billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabrics, spices and a wealth of other goods between Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
The Arab states’ position at the center of the ancient trade route makes them “natural partners” in China’s new undertaking, he said, adding he expected the summit would end with an agreement on cooperation on the initiative.
“Chinese and Arab peoples, though far apart in distance, are as close as family,” he said, describing a romanticized history of trade along the Silk Road.
The project, which has already financed ports, roads and railways across the globe, has spurred both interest and anxiety in many countries, with some seeing it as an example of Chinese expansionism.
“China welcomes opportunities to participate in the development of ports and the construction of railway networks in Arab states” as part of a “logistics network connecting Central Asia with East Africa and the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean,” said Xi.
(WHEN IT COMES TO THE INTERNET THE GOVERNMENT OF CHINA AND PRESIDENT XI JINPING SHOW THAT THEY ARE SCARED TO DEATH OF THE PEOPLE HAVING ANY KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR COWARDLINESS AND CRIMES TOWARD THE PEOPLE, IN THIS SENSE XI JINPING IS NO BETTER THAN NORTH KOREA’S KIM JONG UN, COWARDS, LIARS AND MURDERERS WITH NO INTEGRITY AT ALL.)(OPED BY oldpoet56)
The great firewall of China: Xi Jinping’s internet shutdown
Before Xi Jinping, the internet was becoming a more vibrant political space for Chinese citizens. But today the country has the largest and most sophisticated online censorship operation in the world. By Elizabeth C Economy
In December 2015, thousands of tech entrepreneurs and analysts, along with a few international heads of state, gathered in Wuzhen, in southern China, for the country’s second World Internet Conference. At the opening ceremony the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, set out his vision for the future of China’s internet. “We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber-development,” said Xi, warning against foreign interference “in other countries’ internal affairs”.
No one was surprised by what they heard. Xi had already established that the Chinese internet would be a world unto itself, with its content closely monitored and managed by the Communist party. In recent years, the Chinese leadership has devoted more and more resources to controlling content online. Government policies have contributed to a dramatic fall in the number of postings on the Chinese blogging platform Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter), and have silenced many of China’s most important voices advocating reform and opening up the internet.
It wasn’t always like this. In the years before Xi became president in 2012, the internet had begun to afford the Chinese people an unprecedented level of transparency and power to communicate. Popular bloggers, some of whom advocated bold social and political reforms, commanded tens of millions of followers. Chinese citizens used virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blocked websites. Citizens banded together online to hold authorities accountable for their actions, through virtual petitions and organising physical protests. In 2010, a survey of 300 Chinese officials revealed that 70% were anxious about whether mistakes or details about their private life might be leaked online. Of the almost 6,000 Chinese citizens also surveyed, 88% believed it was good for officials to feel this anxiety.
For Xi Jinping, however, there is no distinction between the virtual world and the real world: both should reflect the same political values, ideals, and standards. To this end, the government has invested in technological upgrades to monitor and censor content. It has passed new laws on acceptable content, and aggressively punished those who defy the new restrictions. Under Xi, foreign content providers have found their access to China shrinking. They are being pushed out by both Xi’s ideological war and his desire that Chinese companies dominate the country’s rapidly growing online economy.
At home, Xi paints the west’s version of the internet, which prioritises freedom of information flow, as anathema to the values of the Chinese government. Abroad, he asserts China’s sovereign right to determine what constitutes harmful content. Rather than acknowledging that efforts to control the internet are a source of embarrassment – a sign of potential authoritarian fragility – Xi is trying to turn his vision of a “Chinanet” (to use blogger Michael Anti’s phrase) into a model for other countries.
The challenge for China’s leadership is to maintain what it perceives as the benefits of the internet – advancing commerce and innovation – without letting technology accelerate political change. To maintain his “Chinanet”, Xi seems willing to accept the costs in terms of economic development, creative expression, government credibility, and the development of civil society. But the internet continues to serve as a powerful tool for citizens seeking to advance social change and human rights. The game of cat-and-mouse continues, and there are many more mice than cats.
The very first email in China was sent in September 1987 – 16 years after Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in the US. It broadcast a triumphal message: “Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world.” For the first few years, the government reserved the internet for academics and officials. Then, in 1995, it was opened to the general public. In 1996, although only about 150,000 Chinese people were connected to the internet, the government deemed it the “Year of the Internet”, and internet clubs and cafes appeared all over China’s largest cities.
Yet as enthusiastically as the government proclaimed its support for the internet, it also took steps to control it. Rogier Creemers, a China expert at Oxford University, has noted that “As the internet became a publicly accessible information and communication platform, there was no debate about whether it should fall under government supervision – only about how such control would be implemented in practice.” By 1997, Beijing had enacted its first laws criminalising online postings that it believed were designed to hurt national security or the interests of the state.
China’s leaders were right to be worried. Their citizens quickly realised the political potential inherent in the internet. In 1998, a 30-year-old software engineer called Lin Hai forwarded 30,000 Chinese email addresses to a US-based pro-democracy magazine. Lin was arrested, tried and ultimately sent to prison in the country’s first known trial for a political violation committed completely online. The following year, the spiritual organisation Falun Gongused email and mobile phones to organise a silent demonstration of more than 10,000 followers around the Communist party’s central compound, Zhongnanhai, to protest their inability to practise freely. The gathering, which had been arranged without the knowledge of the government, precipitated an ongoing persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and a new determination to exercise control over the internet.
The man who emerged to lead the government’s technological efforts was Fang Binxing. In the late 1990s, Fang worked on developing the “Golden Shield” – transformative software that enabled the government to inspect any data being received or sent, and to block destination IP addresses and domain names. His work was rewarded by a swift political rise. By the 2000s, he had earned the moniker “Father of the Great Firewall” and, eventually, the enmity of hundreds of thousands of Chinese web users.
Throughout the early 2000s, the Chinese leadership supplemented Fang’s technology with a set of new regulations designed to ensure that anyone with access to China’s internet played by Chinese rules. In September 2000, the state council issued order no 292, which required internet service providers to ensure that the information sent out on their services adhered to the law, and that some domain names and IP addresses were recorded. Two years later, Beijing blocked Google for the first time. (A few years later, Google introduced Google.cn, a censored version of the site.) In 2002, the government increased its emphasis on self-censorship with the Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for China’s Internet Industry, which established four principles: patriotic observance of law, equitableness, trustworthiness and honesty. More than 100 companies, including Yahoo!, signed the pledge.
Perhaps the most significant development, however, was a 2004 guideline on internet censorship that called for Chinese universities to recruit internet commentators who could guide online discussions in politically acceptable directions and report comments that did not follow Chinese law. These commentators became known as wu mao dang, or “50-cent party”, after the small bonuses they were supposedly paid for each post.
Yet even as the government was striving to limit individuals’ access to information, many citizens were making significant inroads into the country’s political world – and their primary target was corrupt local officials.
In May 2009, Deng Yujiao, a young woman working in a hotel in Hubei province, stabbed a party official to death after she rejected his efforts to pay her for sex and he tried to rape her. Police initially committed Deng to a mental hospital. A popular blogger, Wu Gan, however, publicised her case. Using information gathered through a process known as ren rou sousuo, or “human flesh search engine”, in which web users collaborate to discover the identity of a specific individual or organisation, Wu wrote a blog describing the events and actions of the party officials involved.
In an interview with the Atlantic magazine at the time, he commented: “The cultural significance of flesh searches is this: in an undemocratic country, the people have limited means to get information … [but] citizens can get access to information through the internet, exposing lies and the truth.” Deng’s case began to attract public support, with young people gathering in Beijing with signs reading “Anyone could be Deng Yujiao.” Eventually the court ruled that Deng had acted in self-defence.
During this period, in the final years of Hu Jintao’s presidency, the internet was becoming more and more powerful as a mechanism by which Chinese citizens held their officials to account. Most cases were like that of Deng Yujiao – lodged and resolved at the local level. A small number, however, reached central authorities in Beijing. On 23 July 2011, a high-speed train derailed in the coastal city of Wenzhou, leaving at least 40 people dead and 172 injured. In the wake of the accident, Chinese officials banned journalistsfrom investigating, telling them to use only information “released from authorities”. But local residents took photos of the wreckage being buried instead of being examined for evidence. The photos went viral and heightened the impression that the government’s main goal was not to seek the true cause of the accident.
A Sina Weibo poll – later blocked – asked users why they thought the train wreckage was buried: 98% (61,382) believed it represented destruction of evidence. Dark humour spread online: “How far are we from heaven? Only a train ticket away,” and “The Ministry of Railways earnestly requests that you ride the Heavenly Party Express.” The popular pressure resulted in a full-scale investigation of the crash, and in late December, the government issued a report blaming poorly designed signal equipment and insufficient safety procedures. As many as 54 officials faced disciplinary action as a result of the crash.
The internet also provided a new sense of community for Chinese citizens, who mostly lacked robust civil-society organisations. In July 2012, devastating floods in Beijing led to the evacuation of more than 65,000 residents and the deaths of at least 77 people. Damages totalled an estimated $1.9bn. Local officials failed to respond effectively: police officers allegedly kept ticketing stranded cars instead of assisting residents, and the early warning system did not work. Yet the real story was the extraordinary outpouring of assistance from Beijing web users, who volunteered their homes and food to stranded citizens. In a span of just 24 hours, an estimated 8.8m messages were sent on Weibo regarding the floods. The story of the floods became not only one of government incompetence, but also one of how an online community could transform into a real one.
While the Chinese people explored new ways to use the internet, the leadership also began to develop a taste for the new powers it offered, such as a better understanding of citizens’ concerns and new ways to shape public opinion. Yet as the internet increasingly became a vehicle for dissent, concern within the leadership mounted that it might be used to mobilise a large-scale political protest capable of threatening the central government. The government responded with a stream of technological fixes and political directives; yet the boundaries of internet life continued to expand.
The advent of Xi Jinping in 2012 brought a new determination to move beyond deleting posts and passing regulations. Beijing wanted to ensure that internet content more actively served the interests of the Communist party. Within the virtual world, as in the real world, the party moved to silence dissenting voices, to mobilise party members in support of its values, and to prevent foreign ideas from seeping into Chinese political and social life. In a leaked speech in August 2013, Xi articulated a dark vision: “The internet has become the main battlefield for the public opinion struggle.”
Early in his tenure, Xi embraced the world of social media. One Weibo group, called Fan Group to Learn from Xi, appeared in late 2012, much to the delight of Chinese propaganda officials. (Many Chinese suspected that the account was directed by someone in the government, although the account’s owner denied it.) Xi allowed a visit he made to Hebei to be liveblogged on Weibo by government-affiliated press, and videos about Xi, including a viral music video called How Should I Address You, based on a trip he made to a mountain village, demonstrate the government’s increasing skill at digital propaganda.
Under Xi, the government has also developed new technology that has enabled it to exert far greater control over the internet. In January 2015, the government blocked many of the VPNs that citizens had used to circumvent the Great Firewall. This was surprising to many outside observers, who had believed that VPNs were too useful to the Chinese economy – supporting multinationals, banks and retailers, among others – for the government to crack down on them.
In spring 2015, Beijing launched the Great Cannon. Unlike the Great Firewall, which has the capacity to block traffic as it enters or exits China, the Great Cannon is able to adjust and replace content as it travels around the internet. One of its first targets was the US coding and software development site GitHub. The Chinese government used the Great Cannon to levy a distributed denial of service attack against the site, overwhelming it with traffic redirected from Baidu (a search engine similar to Google). The attack focused on attempting to force GitHub to remove pages linked to the Chinese-language edition of the New York Times and GreatFire.org, a popular VPN that helps people circumvent Chinese internet censorship.
But perhaps Xi’s most noticeable gambit has been to constrain the nature of the content available online. In August 2013, the government issued a new set of regulations known as the “seven baselines”. The reaction by Chinese internet companies was immediate. Sina, for example, shut down or “handled” 100,000 Weibo accounts found to not comply with the new rules.
The government also adopted tough restrictions on internet-based rumours. In September 2013, the supreme people’s court ruled that authors of online posts that deliberately spread rumours or lies, and were either seen by more than 5,000 individuals or shared more than 500 times, could face defamation charges and up to three years in jail. Following massive flooding in Hebei province in July 2016, for example, the government detained three individuals accused of spreading “false news” via social media regarding the death toll and cause of the flood. Some social media posts and photos of the flooding, particularly of drowning victims, were also censored.
In addition, Xi’s government began targeting individuals with large social media followings who might challenge the authority of the Communist party. Restrictions on the most prominent Chinese web influencers, beginning in 2013, represented an important turning point in China’s internet life. Discussions began to move away from politics to personal and less sensitive issues. The impact on Sina Weibo was dramatic. According to a study of 1.6 million Weibo users, the number of Weibo posts fell by 70% between 2011 and 2013.
The strength of the Communist party’s control over the internet rests above all on its commitment to prevent the spread of information that it finds dangerous. It has also adopted sophisticated technology, such as the Great Firewall and the Golden Shield. Perhaps its most potent source of influence, however, is the cyber-army it has developed to implement its policies.
The total number of people employed to monitor opinion and censor content on the internet – a role euphemistically known as “internet public opinion analyst” – was estimated at 2 million in 2013. They are employed across government propaganda departments, private corporations and news outlets. One 2016 Harvard study estimated that the Chinese government fabricates and posts approximately 448m comments on social media annually. A considerable amount of censorship is conducted through the manual deletion of posts, and an estimated 100,000 people are employed by both the government and private companies to do just this.
Private companies also play an important role in facilitating internet censorship in China. Since commercial internet providers are so involved in censoring the sites that they host, internet scholar Guobin Yang argues that “it may not be too much of a stretch to talk about the privatisation of internet content control”. The process is made simpler by the fact that several major technology entrepreneurs also hold political office. For example, Robin Li of Baidu is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory legislature, while Lei Jun, founder and CEO of mobile phone giant Xiaomi, is a representative of the National People’s Congress.
Yet Xi’s growing control over the internet does not come without costs. An internet that does not work efficiently or limits access to information impedes economic growth. China’s internet is notoriously unreliable, and ranks 91st in the world for speed. As New Yorker writer Evan Osnos asked in discussing the transformation of the Chinese internet during Xi’s tenure: “How many countries in 2015 have an internet connection to the world that is worse than it was a year ago?”
Scientific innovation, particularly prized by the Chinese leadership, may also be at risk. After the VPN crackdown, a Chinese biologist published an essay that became popular on social media, entitled Why Do Scientists Need Google? He wrote: “If a country wants to make this many scientists take out time from the short duration of their professional lives to research technology for climbing over the Great Firewall and to install and to continually upgrade every kind of software for routers, computers, tablets and mobile devices, no matter that this behaviour wastes a great amount of time; it is all completely ridiculous.”
More difficult to gauge is the cost the Chinese leadership incurs to its credibility. Web users criticising the Great Firewall have used puns to mock China’s censorship system. Playing off the fact that the phrases “strong nation” and “wall nation” share a phonetic pronunciation in Chinese (qiangguo), some began using the phrase “wall nation” to refer to China. Those responsible for seeking to control content have also been widely mocked. When Fang opened an account on Sina Weibo in December 2010, he quickly closed the account after thousands of online users left “expletive-laden messages” accusing him of being a government hack. Censors at Sina Weibo blocked “Fang Binxing” as a search term; one Twitter user wrote: “Kind of poetic, really, the blocker, blocked.” When Fang delivered a speech at Wuhan University in central China in 2011, a few students pelted him with eggs and a pair of shoes.
Nonetheless, the government seems willing to bear the economic and scientific costs, as well as potential damage to its credibility, if it means more control over the internet. For the international community, Beijing’s cyber-policy is a sign of the challenge that a more powerful China presents to the liberal world order, which prioritises values such as freedom of speech. It also reflects the paradox inherent in China’s efforts to promote itself as a champion of globalisation, while simultaneously advocating a model of internet sovereignty and closing its cyber-world to information and investment from abroad.
Adapted from The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State by Elizabeth C Economy, published by Oxford University Press and available at guardianbookshop.com
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Editor’s Note:To get ahead of new problems related to disinformation and technology, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies, write Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect. This piece originally appeared on ForeignPolicy.com.
Russian disinformation has become a problem for European governments. In the last two years, Kremlin-backed campaigns have spread false stories alleging that French President Emmanuel Macron was backed by the “gay lobby,” fabricated a story of a Russian-German girl raped by Arab migrants, and spread a litany of conspiracy theories about the Catalan independence referendum, among other efforts.
Europe is finally taking action. In January, Germany’s Network Enforcement Act came into effect. Designed to limit hate speech and fake news online, the law prompted both France and Spain to consider counterdisinformation legislation of their own. More important, in April the European Union unveiled a new strategy for tackling online disinformation. The EU plan focuses on several sensible responses: promoting media literacy, funding a third-party fact-checking service, and pushing Facebook and others to highlight news from credible media outlets, among others. Although the plan itself stops short of regulation, EU officials have not been shy about hinting that regulation may be forthcoming. Indeed, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared at an EU hearing this week, lawmakers reminded him of their regulatory power after he appeared to dodge their questions on fake news and extremist content.
The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies.
The recent European actions are important first steps. Ultimately, none of the laws or strategies that have been unveiled so far will be enough. The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies. The EU’s measures are still designed to target the disinformation of yesterday rather than that of tomorrow.
To get ahead of the problem, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect.
To craft effective strategies for the near term, lawmakers should focus on four emerging threats in particular: the democratization of artificial intelligence, the evolution of social networks, the rise of decentralized applications, and the “back end” of disinformation.
Thanks to bigger data, better algorithms, and custom hardware, in the coming years, individuals around the world will increasingly have access to cutting-edge artificial intelligence. From health care to transportation, the democratization of AI holds enormous promise.
Yet as with any dual-use technology, the proliferation of AI also poses significant risks. Among other concerns, it promises to democratize the creation of fake print, audio, and video stories. Although computers have long allowed for the manipulation of digital content, in the past that manipulation has almost always been detectable: A fake image would fail to account for subtle shifts in lighting, or a doctored speech would fail to adequately capture cadence and tone. However, deep learning and generative adversarial networks have made it possible to doctor imagesand video so well that it’s difficult to distinguish manipulated files from authentic ones. And thanks to apps like FakeApp and Lyrebird, these so-called “deep fakes” can now be produced by anyone with a computer or smartphone. Earlier this year, a tool that allowed users to easily swap faces in video produced fake celebrity porn, which went viral on Twitter and Pornhub.
Deep fakes and the democratization of disinformation will prove challenging for governments and civil society to counter effectively. Because the algorithms that generate the fakes continuously learn how to more effectively replicate the appearance of reality, deep fakes cannot easily be detected by other algorithms—indeed, in the case of generative adversarial networks, the algorithm works by getting really good at fooling itself. To address the democratization of disinformation, governments, civil society, and the technology sector therefore cannot rely on algorithms alone, but will instead need to invest in new models of social verification, too.
At the same time as artificial technology and other emerging technologies mature, legacy platforms will continue to play an outsized role in the production and dissemination of information online. For instance, consider the current proliferation of disinformation on Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
A growing cottage industry of search engine optimization (SEO) manipulation provides services to clients looking to rise in the Google rankings. And while for the most part, Google is able to stay ahead of attempts to manipulate its algorithms through continuous tweaks, SEO manipulators are also becoming increasingly savvy at gaming the system so that the desired content, including disinformation, appears at the top of search results.
For example, stories from RT and Sputnik—the Russian government’s propaganda outlets—appeared on the first page of Google searches after the March nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom and the April chemical weapons attack in Syria. Similarly, YouTube (which is owned by Google) has an algorithm that prioritizes the amount of time users spend watching content as the key metric for determining which content appears first in search results. This algorithmic preference results in false, extremist, and unreliable information appearing at the top, which in turn means that this content is viewed more often and is perceived as more reliable by users. Revenue for the SEO manipulation industry is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
On Facebook, disinformation appears in one of two ways: through shared content and through paid advertising. The company has tried to curtail disinformation across each vector, but thus far to no avail. Most famously, Facebook introduced a “Disputed Flag” to signify possible false news—only to discover that the flag made users more likely to engage with the content, rather than less. Less conspicuously, in Canada, the company is experimenting with increasing the transparency of its paid advertisements by making all ads available for review, including those micro-targeted to a small set of users. Yet, the effort is limited: The sponsors of ads are often buried, requiring users to do time-consuming research, and the archive Facebook set up for the ads is not a permanent database but only shows active ads. Facebook’s early efforts do not augur well for a future in which foreign actors can continue to exploit its news feed and ad products to deliver disinformation—including deep fakes produced and targeted at specific individuals or groups.
Although Twitter has taken steps to combat the proliferation of trolls and bots on its platform, it remains deeply vulnerable to disinformation campaigns, since accounts are not verified and its application programming interface, or API, still makes it possible to easily generate and spread false content on the platform. Even if Twitter takes further steps to crack down on abuse, its detection algorithms can be reverse-engineered in much the same way Google’s search algorithm is. Without fundamental changes to its API and interaction design, Twitter will remain rife with disinformation. It’s telling, for example, that when the U.S. military struck Syrian chemical weapons facilities in April—well after Twitter’s latest reforms were put in place—the Pentagon reported a massive surge in Russian disinformation in the hours immediately following the attack. The tweets appeared to come from legitimate accounts, and there was no way to report them as misinformation.
Blockchain technologies and other distributed ledgers are best known for powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum. Yet their biggest impact may lie in transforming how the internet works. As more and more decentralized applications come online, the web will increasingly be powered by services and protocols that are designed from the ground up to resist the kind of centralized control that Facebook and others enjoy. For instance, users can already browse videos on DTube rather than YouTube, surf the web on the Blockstack browser rather than Safari, and store files using IPFS, a peer-to-peer file system, rather than Dropbox or Google Docs. To be sure, the decentralized application ecosystem is still a niche area that will take time to mature and work out the glitches. But as security improves over time with fixes to the underlying network architecture, distributed ledger technologies promise to make for a web that is both more secure and outside the control of major corporations and states.
If and when online activity migrates onto decentralized applications, the security and decentralization they provide will be a boon for privacy advocates and human rights dissidents. But it will also be a godsend for malicious actors. Most of these services have anonymity and public-key cryptography baked in, making accounts difficult to track back to real-life individuals or organizations. Moreover, once information is submitted to a decentralized application, it can be nearly impossible to take down. For instance, the IPFS protocol has no method for deletion—users can only add content, they cannot remove it.
For governments, civil society, and private actors, decentralized applications will thus pose an unprecedented challenge, as the current methods for responding to and disrupting disinformation campaigns will no longer apply. Whereas governments and civil society can ultimately appeal to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey if they want to block or remove a malicious user or problematic content on Twitter, with decentralized applications, there won’t always be someone to turn to. If the Manchester bomber had viewed bomb-making instructions on a decentralized app rather than on YouTube, it’s not clear who authorities should or could approach about blocking the content.
Over the last three years, renewed attention to Russian disinformation efforts has sparked research and activities among a growing number of nonprofit organizations, governments, journalists, and activists. So far, these efforts have focused on documenting the mechanisms and actors involved in disinformation campaigns—tracking bot networks, identifying troll accounts, monitoring media narratives, and tracing the diffusion of disinformation content. They’ve also included governmental efforts to implement data protection and privacy policies, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and legislative proposals to introduce more transparency and accountability into the online advertising space.
While these efforts are certainly valuable for raising awareness among the public and policymakers, by focusing on the end product (the content), they rarely delve into the underlying infrastructure and advertising marketsdriving disinformation campaigns. Doing so requires a deeper examination and assessment of the “back end” of disinformation. In other words, the algorithms and industries—the online advertising market, the SEO manipulation market, and data brokers—behind the end product. Increased automation paired with machine learning will transform this space as well.
To get ahead of these emerging threats, Europe and the United States should consider several policy responses.
First, the EU and the United States should commit significant funding to research and development at the intersection of AI and information warfare. In April, the European Commission called for at least 20 billion euros (about $23 billion) to be spent on research on AI by 2020, prioritizing the health, agriculture, and transportation sectors. None of the funds are earmarked for research and development specifically on disinformation. At the same time, current European initiatives to counter disinformation prioritize education and fact-checking while leaving out AI and other new technologies.
As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats.
As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats. In the United States, the government has been reluctant to step in to push forward tech research as Silicon Valley drives innovation with little oversight. The 2016 Obama administration report on the future of AI did not allocate funding, and the Trump administration has yet to release its own strategy. As revelations of Russian manipulation of digital platforms continue, it is becoming increasingly clear that governments will need to work together with private sector firms to identify vulnerabilities and national security threats.
Furthermore, the EU and the U.S. government should also move quickly to prevent the rise of misinformation on decentralized applications. The emergence of decentralized applications presents policymakers with a rare second chance: When social networks were being built a decade ago, lawmakers failed to anticipate the way in which they could be exploited by malicious actors. With such applications still a niche market, policymakers can respond before the decentralized web reaches global scale. Governments should form new public-private partnerships to help developers ensure that the next generation of the web isn’t as ripe for misinformation campaigns. A model could be the United Nations’ Tech Against Terrorism project, which works closely with small tech companies to help them design their platforms from the ground up to guard against terrorist exploitation.
Finally, legislators should continue to push for reforms in the digital advertising industry. As AI continues to transform the industry, disinformation content will become more precise and micro-targeted to specific audiences. AI will make it far easier for malicious actors and legitimate advertisers alike to track user behavior online, identify potential new users to target, and collect information about users’ attitudes, beliefs, and preferences.
In 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission released a report calling for transparency and accountability in the data broker industry. The report called on Congress to consider legislation that would shine light on these firms’ activities by giving individuals access and information about how their data is collected and used online. The EU’s protection regulation goes a long way in giving users control over their data and limits how social media platforms process users’ data for ad-targeting purposes. Facebook is also experimenting with blocking foreign ad sales ahead of contentious votes. Still, the digital ads industry as a whole remains a black box to policymakers, and much more can still be done to limit data mining and regulate political ads online.
Effectively tracking and targeting each of the areas above won’t be easy. Yet policymakers need to start focusing on them now. If the EU’s new anti-disinformation effort and other related policies fail to track evolving technologies, they risk being antiquated before they’re even introduced.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA ‘SHINE’ NEWS AGENCY)
Chinese vice president pushes for closer partnership with Russia
15:46 UTC+8, 2018-05-27
Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan wrapped up a productive trip on Sunday after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and addressing a plenary session of the 22nd St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
During his stay in Russia’s “northern capital,” he reaffirmed China’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with Russia, called for a global effort against trade protectionism, and suggested that all countries build mutual trust and join hands for common development.
Wang met with Putin on Thursday shortly after arriving in St. Petersburg in his first overseas trip as vice president. The two sides agreed to further boost bilateral cooperation for the benefit of both countries and the world.
In their meeting, Wang conveyed to Putin Chinese President Xi Jinping’s sincere greetings and best wishes, saying that Xi attaches great importance to China-Russia ties and cherishes his friendship with Putin.
The Chinese president, added Wang, looks forward to meeting Putin again to jointly chart the future course of bilateral relations as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is scheduled to hold this year’s summit in June in China.
The heads of state of the two countries have made painstaking efforts for and injected robust energy into bilateral cooperation, continuously steering the China-Russia relationship forward, said Wang.
He pointed out that the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination is of great significance not only to the two countries themselves but to the world at large.
The two neighbors, he said, respect each other, trust each other, cooperate on the basis of equality, and enjoy mutual understanding and support on major international affairs.
In so doing, they have set a model of major-country relations in the current world and made great contribution to safeguarding global strategic stability and building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind, added Wang.
The Chinese vice president stressed that it is a choice both of history and of the people that China and Russia steadfastly pursue development paths that suit their respective national realities.
Now the Chinese people, under Xi’s leadership, are vigorously pushing forward the building of a socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era, said Wang, adding that China’s development is making rapid and remarkable progress.
Meanwhile, the Chinese side firmly believes that under Putin’s leadership, Russia will grow stronger and more prosperous, said the vice president.
China, he added, resolutely supports Russia’s development, and stands ready to carry out strategic and long-term cooperation with Russia, lift the level and quality of bilateral practical cooperation more swiftly, and achieve a deeper integration of interests, so as to bring more benefits to the two nations.
Putin, for his part, asked Wang to convey his sincere greetings and best wishes to the Chinese president, saying he is confident that Xi will lead the Chinese people to new achievements in China’s development.
The Russian leader added that he is looking forward to visiting China and meeting Xi again.
Russia-China ties continue to develop at a high level, he said, noting that political mutual trust is deepening, bilateral practical cooperation is strengthening, the structure of economic and trade relations is witnessing a sizable improvement, cooperation on large projects is speeding up, and exchanges and cooperation in people-to-people areas and at the local level are gathering steam.
Meanwhile, it serves as an important stabilizer in the world that the two countries maintain close communication and coordination as well as mutual support on major regional and global issues, said Putin.
The Russian side, he added, is willing to work with China to further deepen all-around cooperation, cement mutual understanding and support on international affairs, and keep lifting the two countries’ comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination to a higher level.
Addressing a plenary session of SPIEF 2018 on Friday, Wang urged countries around the world to build trust and boost cooperation in order to tackle international challenges and cement the foundation for sustainable global growth.
Pointing out that no single country can cope with today’s challenges alone, Wang said building a trust economy that features equality, mutual trust, mutual benefit, inclusiveness and good faith between enterprises, markets and countries is an effective way to unleash the potential of global growth.
Building trust needs mutual understanding and mutual respect, and it also needs all parties to discover and solve their own problems and consolidate their self-confidence, he said at the event, whose key theme was “Building a Trust Economy.”
The Chinese vice president stressed that politicizing economic and trade issues and picking up the stick of economic sanctions at the slightest provocations will gravely impair market certainty.
No country should blame its own problems on others, and all countries should pursue development paths that suit their own realities and strive for common development through opening up and cooperation, Wang said.
He suggested that countries around the world join forces to chart the course forward with structural economic reforms and innovative development.
He also called for global unity in resisting trade protectionism and safeguarding the stable international economic order, particularly the authority of the multilateral trading regime.
Economic and trade disputes should be handled properly through communication and consultation, and different parties need to take care of each others’ major concerns, Wang added.
China, he said, is forging ahead under Xi’s leadership toward the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation and will steadfastly stick to an opening-up policy that offers mutual benefits.
Other countries, he added, are welcome to take part in China’s economic development, share its market opportunities, and participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, which has now become a new platform for international cooperation.
Hailing Russia as a constructive player in global economic governance, Wang said China highly appreciates the socioeconomic achievements Russia has made under Putin’s leadership and firmly believes that Russia will realize its development goals over the next six years.
He added that with annual bilateral trade approaching US$100 billion, China stands ready to work with Russia to deepen their all-around cooperation, strengthen their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination, and make new contribution to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
Launched in 1997, SPIEF has become one of the leading platforms for global brainstorming on key economic issues facing Russia and the world as a whole, and is now often referred to as Russia’s Davos.
Besides Wang, this year’s event was also attended by Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.
Before leaving for Minsk to continue his two-nation trip, Wang also met with Igor Sechin, CEO of leading Russian oil company Rosneft, and Dmitry Mezentsev, chairman of the Russia-China Friendship Association, among other Russian dignitaries, and inspected the Pearl of the Baltic Sea project, China’s largest non-energy investment undertaking in Russia.
Source: Xinhua Editor: Chen Xiaoli
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Kim Jong Un appears shrewd. China is stronger. And U.S. allies know not to trust Washington.
Albert R. Hunt
Donald Trump thinks he’s a great negotiator, a brilliant bluffer whose gut instincts are so stellar that ignorance of history and refusal to deal with substantive complexities are irrelevant.
That’s why he bragged he’d win the Nobel Peace Prize for his genius in getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Except, of course, it didn’t. It’s good his Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un was canceled. The larger picture in this and other major issues is how the American president is remarkably ill-prepared and uninformed.
Incredibly, he might have been outmatched in the June 12 face-off with the “little Rocket Man,” the untested North Korean tyrant. Analysts suggest Kim “has done his homework,” according to Jung Pak, a Brookings Institution scholar who was the North Korea expert at the Central Intelligence Agency and then for the director of National Intelligence. “He’s apparently well read on the issue and pretty comfortable with the technology,” she said.
Pak wasn’t surprised when Trump, after canceling the summit, said the next day that it might be back on. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim held a surprise weekend meeting. A subsequent session now seems likely.
But there’s little reason to believe a U.S. president who governs by bluster and is interested only in whether he gets credit and looks good would be better prepared for any next round. That’s unsettling.
Clearly, the North Koreans played games and were duplicitous; they always do and always are. It’s a brutal, corrupt regime.
Trump and his sycophants claim it was his toughness that scared Kim and forced him to consider negotiations; they say the president showed resolve and guts in walking away.
More likely, this has been Kim’s long-range plan for several years, as Robert Carlin, a former diplomat and intelligence official who has been to North Korea dozens of times, told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Kim effectively built up his nuclear arsenal, ignoring threats from Trump and others, and giving himself enough leverage to start to backtrack a bit. The regime supposedly dismantled one its nuclear testing sites last week.
Without question, the economic sanctions, begun under President Barack Obama and toughened by Trump, pressured this economic basket case of a country. And more important than Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric was a new South Korean administration willing to deal with its seven-decade-old enemy; a war on the peninsula would topple Kim but at a cataclysmic price.
Trump, being Trump, didn’t have the decency to give the South Koreans advance notice of his plans to cancel the summit. This is a pattern. He surprised our close ally when he impulsively announced he would meet with Kim, though no preparations had been made.
Trump’s hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, eager to sabotage any deal, raised the analogy of Libya, which gave up its nuclear weapons and later, with Western support, was toppled. Vice President Mike Pence weighed in similarly.
“Citing the Libyan example was very counterproductive,” notes Charles Armstrong, a Columbia University professor and Korean scholar. Trump’s clamor about de-nuclearization was a misnomer. Kim might make important concessions, but he’s never going to totally give up his most powerful chip; put yourself in his shoes.
Early last year Trump acknowledged, after China’s Xi Jinping had explained it to him, that the Korean situation was more complicated than he had thought. Unfortunately, the president didn’t seem to learn much, alternately crediting and blaming China for North Korea’s behavior. There is mutual contempt between these two neighbors, but they need each other, a reality reinforced by Trump’s bumbling.
History bores Trump – he seems not to know or care much – and he doesn’t read briefing books. A few months ago in the New Yorker, top aides to former national security adviser H.R.McMaster attested to the president’s shallowness. National security briefings, one former staffer said, had to be boiled down to two or three bullet points, “with the syntactical complexity of ‘See Jane run.'”
The great deal maker has yet to make even a decent deal as president; he hasn’t negotiated anything on health care, immigration or infrastructure, and the trade negotiations with China may be a bust.
In Korea, here’s what his gut instincts, with little knowledge, produced: North Korea is a greater nuclear threat than it was 17 months earlier. Kim Jong Un, depicted then as an irrational roly-poly comic-book figure with weird hair, is seen more as shrewd operative. China’s influence on the Korean peninsula and the region has grown. And as American allies, especially South Korea, painfully learned, Washington is not reliable.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News)
Chinese outrage over ‘ugly’ restoration of Great Wall
CHINESE social media users were in an uproar Friday over restoration of a 700-year-old section of the Great Wall that has been covered in concrete, turning it into a smooth, flat-topped path.
Known as one of the most beautiful portions of the “wild”, restored wall, the eight-kilometer (five-mile) Xiaohekou stretch in northeast Liaoning province was built-in 1381 during the Ming Dynasty.
Photos posted online showed that its uneven, crumbling steps and plant growth had been replaced as far as the eye could see with a white, concrete-like cap.
“This looks like the work of a group of people who didn’t even graduate from elementary school,” said one user of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform. “If this is the result, you might as well have just blown it up.”
“Such brutal treatment of the monuments left behind by our ancestors! How is it that people with low levels of cultural awareness can take on leadership positions?” asked another. “Why don’t we just raise the Forbidden City in Beijing, too?”
Even the deputy director of Liaoning’s department of culture Ding Hui admitted: “The repairs really are quite ugly,” according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The Great Wall is not a single unbroken structure but stretches for thousands of kilometres in sections from China’s east coast to the edge of the Gobi desert.
In places it is so dilapidated that estimates of its total length vary from 9,000 to 21,000 kilometers, depending on whether missing sections are included. Despite its length it is not, as is sometimes claimed, visible from space.
Emergency maintenance was ordered for Xiaohekou in 2012 to “avoid further damage and dissolution” caused by “serious structural problems and issues due to flooding” and was completed in 2014, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said in a statement on its website in response to public and media outcry.
The government body has begun an investigation into the approval, implementation and outcome of the maintenance work, stating that it would deal with work units and personnel found to be at fault severely, “without justifying their mistakes”.
Around 30 percent of China’s Ming-era Great Wall has disappeared over time as adverse natural conditions and reckless human activities — including stealing the bricks to build houses — erode the UNESCO World Heritage site, state media reports said last summer.
Under Chinese regulations people who take bricks from the Great Wall can be fined up to 5,000 yuan ($750), but plant growth on the wall continues to accelerate decay, and tourism, especially to undeveloped sections, continues to severely damage the world’s longest human construction.
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The People Of Russia, China And U.S. Aren’t Enemy’s: Only Our Leaders Are That Stupid
The people of the great country’s of Russia and America have no interest in killing each other. Both of our nations people want the same things, peace, prosperity and security for ourselves and our families. We the people of almost all nations do not want warfare, only Generals, people in the ‘security agencies’, and people who make the war machines want armed conflicts with each other. It is only they and a few ignorant morons in the Kremlin and in the West Wing at the White House who would ever wish such ignorance to exist. The people of Russia and the people of the United States know that there is over a billion people on this planet who hate all of us, but it is not each other! The average citizen of both country’s want a good roof over their heads, enough food for our families, transportation, heat and air conditioning, lights, and the trash to get picked up off our streets at least once a week. It is the job of our governments to provide these things in exchange for their salaries and benefit packages. It is not their jobs to try to cause wars with other nations people for the end results of such stupidity is always the same, a lot of dead innocent civilians.
I knew that from the time the Berlin wall fell in November of 1989 up until the time that President Putin first took office in 1999 that the American politicians and Hollywood movies painting all of Russia, their leaders, and their military as a bunch of incompetent clowns, that they were making a huge mistake. Russia’s former Communist military leaders, and KGB leaders did what all such people do, they threw incompetence and graft destroy their own country’s and imprison their own people. Those who dare disagree with them or point their evil out to the public or their shortfalls end up dead or in prison. Hollywood, our political leaders, and our military leaders just kept stepping all over the pride of the people of the great country of Russia and quite frankly they were doing this same thing toward China. These idiots kept saying that America was the ‘ last remaining super power’ while stomping all over the national pride of these great nations.
Russia, America, and China all have one common enemy and only fools pit us against each other when we all have an enemy that wants everyone in all three of these nations to die as quickly as possible. What appears obvious to me is that none of our top leaders seem to understand the level of the danger they are putting their own people in by dividing their attention away from our real enemy. All three of these nations leaders are making huge mistakes by working against each other when we should all be striving to be working on economic and security partnerships. This common enemy of all the nations on Earth is the religion of Islam. China, Russia, and the United States have all lost thousands of our innocent men, women and children to this religion that is based in pure hate. The President of the great people of China, Mr. XI seems far more interested in expanding his military reach to the east and south when he should know damn well that their real enemy lies at their west and southwest.
This article today though is mostly about the leaders of Russia and America. I am directly speaking about President Putin and President Trump. This paragraph is going to be about President Trump thus saving the end of the article to talk to President Putin. Those of you who follow this blog know that I have followed the career of Mr. Trump since he became the face of greed and hypocrisy. As I have stated several times the opinion that I formed of him ten years or more ago has not changed in that everything he has done as the President has only strengthened that opinion of him. This opinion is that he is and has always been a person of no faith system as his religion, what he worships is himself and he is no friend to any of our three nations. The world suffered through eight years of the war criminal George W Bush now we get a President who is nothing short of a traitor (my opinion/belief).
I would like to finish this article talking about President Putin of Russia. When President Putin first took office in 1999 I understood the Russian people voting in “a strong man”, a man of guts and a strong will. President Putin was able to help the nation to regain its pride and swagger and that is a very good thing but his efforts to spread his ‘military wings’ has been at the expense of the lives and lively hood of the Russian people. If Mr. Putin had retired after those first ten years in office his people would be in much better shape financially than they are today. From the outside looking in it appears that Mr. Putin has been doing his best to revert the country back to having a Communist Dictator, himself. President Putin, just like President Trump, have been working with and cutting deals in the Middle-East. President Putin seems set on backing the Countries of Shiite Islamic Nations and kicking sand in the face of the Sunni Nations. President Trump on the other hand seems to have aligned our policies with the Sunni Islamic Nations. The people of these Islamic believing nations hate the guts of all the Russian and American people. There is no such thing as having any of them as ‘a friend or ally’. I totally understood President Putin’s stance on backing President al-Assad of Syria (Shiite) being that he allowed Russia to have a Naval Base located there. It obviously didn’t hurt that Syria for an Islamic country was quite secular in its makeup. But now that Syria is in this horrible civil war President Putin has become cozier with the Shiite governments of Iraq and of Iran which makes all the Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia very upset.
The leaders of these big three nations had better wake up very soon and decide to come together to combat the terminal cancer which is Islam itself. If the leaders of Russia, China, and America do not wise up and stop trying to show each other who has the biggest cannon they will all three drown in the blood of their own people. The people of Russia, China, and America are not each others enemy, we have no interest in these ‘military games’. From this side of the ocean it appears that President Putin has gone rogue on his own people and is steeling all of Russia’s wealth for himself and his associates. That sounds just like the Republicans and the Democrats here in America. These three leaders, these three governments must work together as trading partners and friends otherwise it is the people of the world, not just our three country’s that will go up in black flag induced smoke.
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Chinese President Xi Jinping presides over a military display by the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the South China Sea. Photo: Xinhua
Are the Chinese mainland and Taiwan headed down an inevitable path to war – one that is likely to see the United States join the fray?
This slow-burning question came to the fore again last week when the mainland launched live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday amid fiery rhetoric from Chinese state media. On Thursday morning, Chinese state media started to post online videos of helicopters and warships firing at targets at sea but Taiwandismissed the exercises as “routine”.
This came after President Xi Jinping had presided over a massive naval parade off Hainan island a week earlier, one that involved 48 warships including China’s sole operating aircraft carrier and more than 10,000 servicemen – the largest such exercise since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.
PLA submarines, naval vessels and fighter jets accompany China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning on exercises in the South China Sea. Photo: Xinhua
The state media said Beijing was sending a loud and clear warning to Taipei and Washington amid heightened tensions caused by Taiwanese leaders’ open advocacy for independence and increased American support for the Taiwanese government.
Over the past few weeks, Chinese officials and state media have ratcheted up the rhetoric against Taipei and Washington, the largest supplier of arms to the island.
Referring to Thursday’s live-fire drills, Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to US, warned in a lecture at Harvard University that China would try every possible means to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen speaks on the telephone to Donald Trump. Photo: EPA
Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office, said any outside forces that attempted to “play the Taiwan card” would find their efforts “futile” and would hurt themselves if they went “over the line”, according to the official China Daily.
The remark was clearly aimed at US President Donald Trump and his administration which in recent months has taken a number of significant steps to warm ties with Taipei. As Beijing and Washington are currently positioning themselves for a possible trade war, Trump’s intention to play the Taiwan card again is even more dangerous because this would further destabilise bilateral ties or even worse, could lead to a real war.
True to Trump’s unconventional and unpredictable presidency, he first started to play the Taiwan card in the transition to the White House when he took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, breaking a nearly 40-year-old diplomatic protocol governing China-US ties.
At that time, Trump made it clear his intention was to use Taiwan as a play to force more concessions on trade from China. His suggestion then was overwhelmingly met with criticism and cynicism almost everywhere, even in Taiwan where it raised concerns that the island could be used as a pawn and discarded easily.
China sees Taiwan as a province and usually reacts strongly to any foreign country having official contacts with the Taiwanese government or sale of arms to the island, particularly from the United States.
Now one year later, Trump’s intention to play the Taiwan card again signals a much broader agenda targeting China. Almost all the moderating voices in his administration have been forced out and replaced by more hawkish officials including the soon-to-be secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the National Security Adviser John Bolton – both of whom are known for tough stances against China and pro-Taiwan views.
Tough on China: US national security adviser John Bolton. Photo: Reuters
In recent months, his administration has approved licences for American firms to sell Taiwan technology to build submarines and signed the Taiwan Travel Act to encourage visits between American and Taiwanese officials. All these have invited protests from China.
A major test will come in June when the American Institute in Taiwan, the US de facto embassy, is slated to move into a new building. There has been growing speculation that Bolton or some other senior US official will attend the ceremony. If that happens, Beijing will regard it as a major provocation.
It is interesting to note that amid the war of words with Washington over trade, some elements in Beijing’s propaganda machine have been using warlike language to give the impression that China will not back down from the trade spat and will fight the US to the very end. That could well be a negotiation tactic, as trade issues are negotiable after all. But from the Chinese perspective, the Taiwan issue is absolutely non-negotiable. It is a clearly marked red line.
The Taiwanese leaders, encouraged by the latest warming signs from Washington, have started to openly advocate independence, which is a major taboo for Beijing and seen as breaking the status quo.
Over the past 40 years, Beijing and Taipei have tried to maintain the status quo in which both sides recognise the island as part of China, even while neither government recognises the legitimacy of the other. Taiwan agrees not to broach independence, in return mainland China does not use force to take over the island. Washington recognises this one-China principle but maintains close unofficial ties with Taiwan and provides the island with arms under the Taiwan Relations Act – a constant source of friction with Beijing.
Taiwanese Premier William Lai. Photo: EPA
This month, the Taiwanese premier William Lai publicly described himself as “a political worker for Taiwanese independence”. Although this was not the first time he has said this, Lai’s latest declaration caused serious worries in Beijing in the context of Washington’s warming ties with Taipei.
The heightened tensions over the Taiwan Strait have come as Xi embarks on his second term as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Last month the national legislature repealed the term limits on the presidency, enabling Xi to rule as long as he likes.
With Xi trying to assert China’s power on the international stage, flexing China’s military muscle in the Taiwan Strait in the name of pushing back against the independence movement is likely to bolster Xi’s support on the mainland.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been trying to assert China’s power on the international stage. Photo: AFP
China’s official line has always been that it will seek peaceful reunification with Taiwan but not rule out using force to take it over. In the past, officials and state media have tended to emphasise the peaceful reunification part – more recently they have highlighted the bit about using force. Moreover, China has never publicly stated a timetable for reunification with Taiwan but some mainland analysts have started to preach the idea that reunification could take place by 2035 or 2050.
These assumptions stemmed from Xi’s landmark report at the Communist Party’s 19th congress in October when he outlined a clearly defined timetable to realise what he called the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation – China would basically become a modern country by 2035 and a world power by 2050.
For an ambitious leader like Xi, reunification with Taiwan has to be an integral part of the dream.
So will the US join the fray if push comes to shove? Many people have mistakenly assumed the Taiwan Relations Act requires the US to come to Taiwan’s defence. In fact, the law contains no explicit guarantee.
Besides, there is a big question over whether the US would risk waging a full-blown war with China over Taiwan. In the short term, if the current trend continues with the US determined to play the Taiwan card – which in turn helps embolden the pro-independence movement in Taiwan – China will probably feel compelled to accelerate its military preparations and increase the frequency of military shows of strength like the one last week. All this means that tensions over the Taiwan Strait will get much worse unless Trump rethinks his plan to play the Taiwan card.
Wang Xiangwei is the former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post. He is now based in Beijing as editorial adviser to the paper
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China says North Korea pledges denuclearization during friendly visit
Ben Blanchard and Joyce Lee
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in this still image taken from video released on March 28, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited China from Sunday to Wednesday on an unofficial visit, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday. CCTV via Reuters TV
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (unseen), in this still image taken from video released on March 28, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited China from Sunday to Wednesday on an unofficial visit, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday. CCTV via Reuters TV
(Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to denuclearize and meet U.S. officials, China said on Wednesday after an historic meeting with President Xi Jinping, who promised China would uphold its friendship with its isolated neighbor.
After two days of speculation, China and North Korea both confirmed that Kim had visited Beijing and met Xi during what China’s Foreign Ministry called an unofficial visit to China from Sunday to Wednesday.
The China visit was Kim’s first known trip outside North Korea since he assumed power in 2011 and is believed by analysts to serve as preparation for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States.
North Korea’s KCNA news agency made no mention of Kim’s pledge to denuclearize, or his anticipated meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump that is planned for some time in May.
Beijing has traditionally been the closest ally of secretive North Korea, but ties have been frayed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and China’s backing of tough U.N. sanctions in response.
China’s Foreign Ministry cited Kim in a lengthy statement as telling Xi that the situation on the Korean peninsula is starting to improve because North Korea has taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks.
“It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim Jong Un said, according to the statement.
North Korea is willing to talk with the United States and hold a summit between the two countries, he said.
“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” Kim said.
Kim Jong Un’s predecessors, grandfather Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il, both publicly promised not to pursue nuclear weapons but secretly continued to develop the programs, culminating in the North’s first nuclear test in 2006 under Kim Jong Il.
The North had said in past failed talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.
Many analysts and former negotiators believe this still constitutes North Korea’s stance on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and remain deeply skeptical Kim is willing to give up the nuclear weapons his family has been developing for decades.
Though billed as an unofficial trip, Kim’s appearance in Beijing contained almost all the trappings of a state visit, complete with an honor guard and banquet at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Kim and Xi also met at the Diaoyutai State Guest House, where Kim Il Sung planted a tree in 1959 that still stands.
State television showed pictures of the two men chatting amiably and Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, getting an equally warm welcome from Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan.
China briefed Trump on Kim’s visit and the communication included a personal message from Xi to Trump, the White House said in a statement.
“The United States remains in close contact with our allies South Korea and Japan. We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea,” the statement said.
A top Chinese diplomat, Politburo member Yang Jiechi, will brief officials in Seoul on Thursday, including President Moon Jae-in, on Xi’s meeting with Kim, according to the presidential office in Seoul.
Kim told a banquet hosted by Xi the visit was intended to “maintain our great friendship and continue and develop our bilateral ties at a time of rapid developments on the Korean peninsula”, according to KCNA.
Xi had accepted an invitation “with pleasure” from Kim to visit North Korea, KCNA said.
However, China’s statement made no mention of Xi accepting an invitation, saying only that Xi pledged to keep frequent contacts with Kim through the exchange of visits and sending special envoys and letters to each other.
China had largely sat on the sidelines as Pyongyang improved its relations with Seoul, prompting worry in Beijing that it was no longer a central player in the North Korean issue, reinforced by Trump’s subsequent announcement of his proposed meeting with Kim in May.
“China is North Korea’s lifeline, so the notion, from a Chinese perspective, that Kim Jong Un couldn’t have these other two meetings before meeting with Xi Jinping, I think the Chinese just thought that is not going to happen,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center in Beijing and the former White House representative to North Korea denuclearization talks from 2007-2009.
Speculation about a possible visit by Kim to Beijing was rife earlier this week after a train similar to the one used by Kim’s father was seen in the Chinese capital, along with heavy security and a large motorcade.
Improving ties between North Korea and China would be a positive sign before planned summits involving the two Koreas and the United States, a senior South Korean official said on Tuesday.
Kim Jong Il met then-president Jiang Zemin in China in 2000 before a summit between the two Koreas in June that year. That visit was seen at the time as reaffirmation of close ties with Beijing.
The secrecy around the visit was not unusual. The later visits of Kim Jong Il to China were only announced by both countries once he had left the country.
(Additional reporting by Christine Kim and Soyoung Kim in SEOUL, David Stanway and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI and Ayesha Rascoe in WASHINGTON, Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait)
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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWS PAPER THE ‘SHINE’)
(THE END OF ANY FREEDOM OF ANY KIND FOR THE PEOPLE OF CHINA THANKS TO XI?)
Constitutional amendment adopted by NPC
01:47 UTC+8, 2018-03-12
2018 Two Sessions
A deputy to the 13th National People’s Congress casts her ballot on a draft amendment to the Constitution at the third plenary meeting of the first session of the 13th NPC in Beijing yesterday.
China’s National People’s Congress, the national legislature, enshrined Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era in the country’s Constitution yesterday, codifying its guiding role.
The amendment, adopted at the first session of the 13th NPC with an overwhelming majority, wrote Xi’s thought into the Constitution’s preamble, along with other guiding theories including Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, and the Theory of Three Represents.
Scientific Outlook on Development has also been incorporated into the Constitution as a guiding theory.
“As an important content of the amendment, the inclusion of Xi’s thought into the country’s fundamental law reflects the common aspiration of the entire Communist Party of China and all Chinese people of various ethnic groups,” said Shen Chunyao, chairman of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the 12th NPC Standing Committee.
“It has been the fundamental theoretical guide for the historic achievements and shifts made in the cause of the Party and the country since the 18th CPC National Congress,” Shen said at a press conference held after the amendment was adopted.
The CPC announced the formation of Xi’s thought for the first time at its 19th National Congress in October, hailing it as “the latest achievement in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and an important component of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Upon conclusion of the congress, Xi’s thought was written into the Party’s Constitution as a new guide to action.
This was the first amendment to the country’s fundamental law in 14 years.
Key concepts, policies and strategies the Thought encompasses were embedded in the Constitution.
Included are a vision of innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all; the five-sphere integrated plan for coordinated economic, political, cultural, social and ecological advancement; the goal of a “great modern socialist country;” and an oath of allegiance to the Constitution.
The amendment has enriched clauses on the patriotic united front, harmonious relations among ethnic groups, and peaceful foreign policies, including the addition of building a community with a shared future for humanity.
The expression that China will “adhere to the peaceful development path and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up” was added to the preamble.
The following sentence was also added in the Constitution to stress the overall CPC leadership: “The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
“The greatest strength of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the CPC,” said Cao Qingyao, an NPC deputy and a district Party chief of southwest China’s Chongqing.
“The revision has enriched provisions concerning upholding and strengthening the overall CPC leadership and is significant to ensuring the Party and the country to forge ahead along the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Cao noted.
Other revisions include adding core socialist values and granting Chinese cities, with subordinate districts, the power to make local laws and regulations.
The people’s congresses and their standing committees in these cities will be able to adopt local laws and regulations under the condition that they do not contradict the Constitution, national laws and regulations, and provincial laws and regulations, according to the amendment.
Supervisory commissions have been listed as state organs in the Constitution, with a section about such organs added to the third chapter, “The Structure of the State.”
Supervisory organs are listed together with administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs of the state, all of which are created by the people’s congresses to which they are responsible and by which they are supervised.
The constitutional amendment included 11 entries related to supervisory commissions, said Zheng Shu’na, vice chairwoman of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the 12th NPC Standing Committee.
The amendment offers constitutional support for supervisory commissions, their duties and powers, as well as the draft supervision law to be deliberated at the session, she added.
Reform of the supervisory system aims to pool anti-corruption resources, enhance the Party’s centralized, unified leadership over the campaign against corruption and form a centralized, unified, authoritative and efficient supervisory network, she stressed.
The establishment of supervisory commissions involves major adjustments of state apparatus, Zheng said.
The NPC has the power to elect the director of the national supervisory commission while the NPC Standing Committee can appoint or remove deputy directors and members of the commission at the recommendation of its director.
Directors of supervisory commissions of all levels will serve the same term as that of the people’s congress of the same level, while the director of the national supervisory commission shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.
As the supreme supervisory organ, the national supervisory commission will oversee local commissions and supervisory commissions at higher levels will lead the commissions at lower levels.
Lawmakers at the session agreed that the constitutional revision, which accords with the aspiration of the Party and the people and has won approval from both inside and outside the Party, is of historic significance for ensuring prosperity and lasting security of both the Party and the country.
A constitutional change is either proposed by the NPC Standing Committee or by more than a fifth of all NPC deputies, and then requires the approval of two-thirds or more of NPC deputies during the annual session.
The People’s Republic of China enacted its first Constitution in 1954. The current Constitution was adopted in 1982 and amended in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2004.
From 1988 to 1999, amendments included reform of land-use rights, a legal status for the private economy, the theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics, replacing the phrase “planned economy” with “socialist market economy,” and incorporation of Deng Xiaoping Theory.
The most recent amendment in 2004 protected private property and human rights, and gave the Theory of Three Represents constitutional authority.
China’s Constitution has been developed along with the people’s practices of building socialism with Chinese characteristics under the CPC leadership, according to Li Shuzhong, vice president of the China University of Political Science and Law.
“The amendment makes the Constitution in keeping with the times by incorporating new achievements, experiences and requirements of the Party and the country’s development as socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era,” Li said.
Source: Xinhua Editor: Zhang Liuhao
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