Tag Archives: Chinese government

Ai Weiwei: “Why Hong Kong can be a new Tiananmen and why Assange is a political prisoner”

The Chinese government is bent on crushing dissent, and Western governments are moving in the same direction. From an interview with Ai Weiwei at repubblica.it:

An exclusive interview with the most famous Chinese artist, dissident and activist on Beijing expanding his power, the European countries “like Italy begging for China’s money”, the death of Europe as we know it, human rights under attack, the comeback of the 1930s and the “total failure of today’s intellectuals”

LONDON. Ai Weiwei, 61, is the most famous Chinese artist and dissident, he is based in Berlin but this week he came to London for a couple of cultural initiatives. Moreover, he met Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder jailed in a London prison and now at risk of extradition. Ai has always been a prominent advocate of Assange’s cause but in this interview done in a West London hotel he talks also about Hong Kong protests, the decay of both Europe and the West, the “total failure” of intellectuals nowadays and why our times are similar to the 1930s.

Mr Ai Weiwei, what do you think about the Hong Kong demonstrations? Are they going to be successful?
“Well, Hong Kong’s demonstrations are very grand scale, it’s very impressive. But I would not measure the demonstration as successful or not. If the demonstration has content or meaning, then a demonstration is always successful. There were over one million people in the streets in Hong Kong. China’s political inference wants to make Hong Kong become another Mainland-controlled territory. According to reports, 90 percent of the people taking part in the demostrations are from 19 to 25 years old. That shows great hope for a new generation of Chinese. And I’m deeply impressed to see young people organizing it on such a scale, but rationally, peacefully and making a continuous effort in trying to protect Hong Kong’s freedom. That is extremely interesting. And also it’s a new lesson for the world to know. There are people who are concerned about China’s brutal violations of human rights, also because China is trying to expand its influence in territories where law, freedom and democracy are established”.

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Google Suppresses Memo Revealing Plans to Closely Track Search Users in China, by Ryan Gallagher and Lee Fang

It’s hard to believe that Google’s motto once was “Do No Evil.” From Ryan Gallagher and Lee Fang at theintercept.com:

GOOGLE BOSSES HAVE forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China, The Intercept has learned.

The memo, authored by a Google engineer who was asked to work on the project, disclosed that the search system, codenamed Dragonfly, would require users to log in to perform searches, track their location — and share the resulting history with a Chinese partner who would have “unilateral access” to the data.

The memo was shared earlier this month among a group of Google employees who have been organizing internal protests over the censored search system, which has been designed to remove content that China’s authoritarian Communist Party regime views as sensitive, such as information about democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

According to three sources familiar with the incident, Google leadership discovered the memo and were furious that secret details about the China censorship were being passed between employees who were not supposed to have any knowledge about it. Subsequently, Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers. Emails demanding deletion of the memo contained “pixel trackers” that notified human resource managers when their messages had been read, recipients determined.

The Dragonfly memo reveals that a prototype of the censored search engine was being developed as an app for both Android and iOS devices, and would force users to sign in so they could use the service. The memo confirms, as The Intercept first reported last week, that users’ searches would be associated with their personal phone number. The memo adds that Chinese users’ movements would also be stored, along with the IP address of their device and links they clicked on. It accuses developers working on the project of creating “spying tools” for the Chinese government to monitor its citizens.

People’s search histories, location information, and other private data would be sent out of China to a database in Taiwan, the memo states. But the data would also be provided to employees of a Chinese company who would be granted “unilateral access” to the system.

To launch the censored search engine, Google set up a “joint venture” partnership with an unnamed Chinese company. The search engine will “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, according to documents seen by The Intercept. Blacklisted search terms on a prototype of the search engine include “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize” in Mandarin, said sources familiar with the project.

According to the memo, aside from being able to access users’ search data, the Chinese partner company could add to the censorship blacklists: It would be able to “selectively edit search result pages … unilaterally, and with few controls seemingly in place.”

That a Chinese company would maintain a copy of users’ search data means that, by extension, the data would be accessible to Chinese authorities, who have broad powers to obtain information that is held or processed on the country’s mainland. A central concern human rights groups have expressed about Dragonfly is that it could place users at risk of Chinese government surveillance — and any person in China searching for blacklisted words or phrases could find themselves interrogated or detained. Chinese authorities are well-known for routinely targeting critics, activists, and journalists.

“It’s alarming to hear that such information will be stored and, potentially, easily shared with the Chinese authorities,” said Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher with the human rights group Amnesty International. “It will completely put users’ privacy and safety at risk. Google needs to immediately explain if the app will involve such arrangements. It’s time to give the public full transparency of the project.”

ON AUGUST 16, two weeks after The Intercept revealed the Dragonfly plan, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the company’s employees that the China plan was in its “early stages” and “exploratory.” However, employees working on the censored search engine were instructed in late July, days before the project was publicly exposed, that they should prepare to get it into a “launch-ready state” to roll out within weeks, pending approval from officials in Beijing.

The memo raises new questions about Pichai’s claim that the project was not well-developed. Information stored on the company’s internal networks about Dragonfly “paints a very different picture,” it says. “The statement from our high-level leadership that Dragonfly is just an experiment seems wrong.”

The memo identifies at least 215 employees who appear to have been tasked with working full-time on Dragonfly, a number it says is “larger than many Google projects.” It says that source code associated with the project dates back to May 2017, and “many infrastructure parts predate” that. Moreover, screenshots of the app “show a project in a pretty advanced state,” the memo declares.

Most of the details about the project “have been secret from the start,” the memo says, adding that “after the existence of Dragonfly leaked, engineers working on the project were also quick to hide all of their code.”

The author of the memo said in the document that they were opposed to the China censorship. However, they added, “more than the project itself, I hate the culture of secrecy that has been built around it.”

The memo was first posted September 5 on an internal messaging list set up for Google employees to raise ethical concerns. But the memo was soon scrubbed from the list and individuals who had opened or saved the document were contacted by Google’s human resources department to discuss the matter. The employees were instructed not to share the memo.

Google reportedly maintains an aggressive security and investigation team known as “stopleaks,” which is dedicated to preventing unauthorized disclosures. The team is also said to monitor internal discussions.

Internal security efforts at Google have ramped up this year as employees have raised ethical concerns around a range of new company projects. Following the revelation by Gizmodo and The Intercept that Google had quietly begun work on a contract with the military last year, known as Project Maven, to develop automated image recognition systems for drone warfare, the communications team moved swiftly to monitor employee activity.

The “stopleaks” team, which coordinates with the internal Google communications department, even began monitoring an internal image board used to post messages based on internet memes, according to one former Google employee, for signs of employee sentiment around the Project Maven contract.

Google’s internal security team consists of a number of former military and law enforcement officials. For example, LinkedIn lists as Google’s head of global investigations Joseph Vincent, whose resume includes work as a high-ranking agent at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Homeland Security Investigations unit. The head of security at Google is Chris Rackow, who has described himself as a former member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s hostage rescue team and as a former U.S. Navy SEAL.

For some Google employees, the culture of secrecy at the company clashes directly with its public image around fostering transparency, creating an intolerable work environment.

“Leadership misled engineers working on [Dragonfly] about the nature of their work, depriving them of moral agency,” said a Google employee who read the memo.

Google did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

 

The great firewall of China: Xi Jinping’s internet shutdown, by Elizabeth C. Economy

Repression of the internet has become more strict under Xi Jingping. From Elizabeth C. Economy at theguardian.com:

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.

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.

Trade Is a Matter of Survival for China, by Jim Rickards

The impetus for everything the Chinese government does to “manage” the economy is political: keeping the Chinese government in power. From Jim Rickards at thedailyreckoning.com:

Many investors are familiar with the fact that President Franklin Roosevelt closed all of the banks in America and confiscated all of the privately-owned gold by executive order in the early days of his administration, which began in 1933.

Presidents since then have seized assets from countries such as Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba and imposed sanctions on Russia and many other countries by executive order.

Yet, relatively few are familiar with the statutory authority for these orders.

The president does not need an act of Congress to support such extreme actions. The laws have already been passed and the president has standing authority to act like a dictator with regard to financial assets.

The first such statue was the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917, TWE. This was used to seize German assets in the U.S. during the First World War. It’s how the U.S. took control of Bayer Aspirin from the German firm Bayer AG.

TWE was the authority FDR used to close the banks and seize the gold. It’s not clear whom FDR considered the “enemy” when he used TWE; probably private gold hoarders. But, in 1977, the Congress enacted an even more extreme version of TWE called the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, or IEEPA.

This is the equivalent of a nuclear weapon when it comes to financial warfare.

IEEPA allows the president to seize or freeze any asset or block any transaction if the president deems it to be necessary in the case of a national emergency.

The problem is that “national emergency” can be defined broadly to include trade imbalances, lost jobs or any other economic adversity. President Trump may now use IEEPA to block a variety of Chinese deals in the U.S. in retaliation for Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property.

With the U.S. using its nuclear option in financial warfare, investors should hope that the Chinese don’t respond in kind.

President Trump may not appreciate the extent to which China will go to protect its interests. Trade negotiations are not the art of the deal, as far as China is concerned. Their goal is national survival.

China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services that people want and need.

It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces an existential crisis if it fails to deliver. The overriding imperative of the Chinese leadership is to avoid societal unrest.

To continue reading: Trade Is a Matter of Survival for China