Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

Hong Kong’s street protests are over, but the fight over free speech has just begun

December 16, 2014


Scenes from the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, which lost its major camps in police clearance operations in previous weeks. Photo: Bloomberg

By Heather Timmons

The Umbrella Movement’s pro-democracy protests have only widened the divide between Hong Kong’s largely pro-Beijing local news coverage and a few pro-democracy media outlets. The protests have also shown that many of the city’s citizens—particularly its digital-native youth—vastly prefer an independent press.

As pro-Beijing factions ramp up self-censorship and pressure journalists to toe the party line, Hong Kong’s next big democracy fight is likely to be over the freedom of the press.

Even before the protests started, the Chinese government lectured Hong Kong’s media on the need to increase coverage of anti-Occupy Central protests (often led by apparently pro-government toadies), while pressuring advertisers who supported pro-democratic publications.As the protests got underway, more than 20 journalists were physically assaulted by anti-Occupy protesters and police.

The sad slide of Hong Kong’s press freedoms.The only thing this has changed with the Umbrella Movement is that the erosions of Hong Kong’s freedom of expression have grown much starker.(Reporters Without Borders)

Free speech isn’t the only consideration—Hong Kong’s media market is also potentially lucrative. Advertising spending in Hong Kong increased 9% in 2013, to $5.56 billion, and about one-third of that went to newspapers and television.

Harassment—and huge traffic—for Apple Daily

By the time the Umbrella Movement began, the Apple Daily, a pro-democracy tabloid, was one of the few local outlets that could boast being fully free of self-censorship or more overt pro-Beijing editorial meddling.

In the two months since, Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon and the tabloid’s editor, was pelted with rotten pig organs and his paper’s delivery trucks were blocked by pro-Beijing demonstrators. On Dec. 10, Lai announced that he was stepping down from his role as editor-in-chief, after being arrested during the clearing of the main protest site.

The paper’s website faced a near-constant onslaught of DDOS attacks—attempts by hackers to take down a site by overloading it with traffic—since the protests began.  Mark Simon, a commercial director for the tabloid’s parent company, Next Media, who is often described as Lai’s “right hand man,” told Quartz he was forced to send his wife and kids back to the US after a campaign of harassment by pro-Beijing news outlets. Their photographers were shadowing his family, including his 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, as they went to church and school—even snapping pictures at his son’s baseball game. “They harass you and make your life uncomfortable,” Simon said.

Yet as the protests raged, Apple Daily’s website traffic has been phenomenal, far outstripping any other news outlet in Hong Kong. The most-watched non-music YouTube video in Hong Kong in 2014 was Apple Daily’s live coverage of the protests, which racked up 3.4 million views—equivalent to about half the city’s population.

Whether Apple Daily can translate that traffic into additional advertising revenue remains to be seen—especially since HSBC and other companies have pulled ads from the tabloid under pressure from Beijing.

 The SCMP wins readers in HK, but loses in Beijing

The South China Morning Post, historically one of the most respected papers in Asia, also benefited from the protests as its audience grew. The paper has been accused of leaning increasingly Beijing-ward of late. But when the protests began, the newspaper started an outside-the-paywall live blog that offered comprehensive, rigorous, and balanced coverage of the Umbrella Movement unfolded—sometimes in stark contrast with its editorial page’s anti-protest rhetoric.

Some journalists in Hong Kong, both inside and outside the paper, believe that balanced coverage came in part because Wang Xiangwei, SCMP’s editor and a former member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, was on vacation when the protests began. Wang told Quartz he was insulted by the insinuation. “I have been deeply involved in SCMP’s excellent coverage on Occupy no matter where I am,” he said. 

Umbrella Movement coverage helped the SCMP’s website hit a traffic record for the month of September, and its daily unique visitors sometimes tripled as the protests got underway. The paper also added 50,000 Twitter followers in the first week of the protests, according to an internal memo distributed to staff.

But the SCMP’s protest coverage rattled Beijing: the SCMP’s Chinese-language site,, has been blocked in mainland China since the protests began. On the mainland, Hong Kong protest coverage was first censored entirely, and then focused only on the problems the protests caused, and the SCMP’s comprehensive outlook didn’t fit the approved storyline.

Anti-protester coverage was also doled out by pro-Beijing Hong Kong papers like the Oriental Daily. Given other options, the Hong Kong’s residents decided to mostly ignore these news outlets. Here’s a newsstand on October 3:

The public no longer likes public TV

Hong Kong’s state-run station TVB is the main free source of television news in the city, but its Beijing-friendly stance has earned it the nickname “CCTVB”— a play on the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. The protests brought the issue to a head: after TVB edited out details from its report on a videotaped police attack on a protester, 57 of its journalists risked their jobs by signing a letter of protest. Hundreds of viewers reportedly lodged complaints about what they considered to be TVB’s biased and inaccurate protest coverage.

The station’s stance may also be costing it viewers—TVB’s annual “gala” broadcast last month had the lowest ratings in 17 years, and the station is now up against a new online-only television channel that promises not to talk down to Hong Kong’s youth.

 Social media and independent websites trump the mainstream news

Blogs and websites that weren’t necessarily focused on hard news before the protests covered them extensively, like Hong Wrong and Coconuts, and often provided more in-depth coverage than mainstream news outlets.

And despite the ominous developments for freedom of the press, the Umbrella Movement was a watershed moment for social media, as protesters flocked to apps and social networks that largely defy the ability of government censors and corporate owners to control the flow of information.

That includes citizen journalism on Twitter and Facebook, widespread use of messaging apps—including those like FireChat that don’t even require an internet connection—and even the re-purposing of apps that weren’t even designed to share news, like Evernote. The huge range of options also made it possible for professional journalists at pro-Beijing outlets to report on the sly.

 Hong Kong’s intractable divide

When China regained control of Hong Kong, it vowed in its treaty with Britain to preserve freedom of speech, as enshrined in the region’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. The language is unambiguous:

Article 27: Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.

That promise has been undermined in recent years, which have been particularly grim ones for journalistic freedom—the Hong Kong Journalists Association called them the “darkest for press freedom for several decades” (pdf, p.2). And the overall media landscape has indisputably tilted heavily toward pro-Beijing news outlets, even as opposition to the mainland’s encroachment on Hong Kong civil liberties has increased.

Now that the protest encampments have been dismantled, the immediate tensions in Hong Kong may recede for a time. But the fundamental disconnect between Hong Kongers’ demand for unfettered news and the mainstream outlets’ largely pro-Beijing stance will only grow more stark.


 (Includes links to articles on Hong Kong from 2 prior weeks)

Arrest of 3 American teens illustrates Islamic State’s ‘slick’ cyber allure

December 9, 2014

Zarine Khan, right, and Shafi Khan, parents of Mohammed Hamzah Khan, listen to a reporter’s question after a Oct. 9 hearing in Chicago for their 19-year-old son, who is accused of trying to join Islamic State militants in Syria. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

By Kevin Sullivan
The Washington Post

Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, rose before dawn on Oct. 4 to pray with his father and 16-year-old brother at their neighborhood mosque in a Chicago suburb.

When they returned home just before 6 a.m., the father went back to bed and the Khan teens secretly launched a plan they had been hatching for months: to abandon their family and country and travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.

While his parents slept, Khan gathered three newly issued U.S. passports and $2,600 worth of airline tickets to Turkey that he had gotten for himself, his brother and their 17-year-old sister. The three teens slipped out of the house, called a taxi and rode to O’Hare International Airport.

Khan was due at work at 6:30 a.m. at a local home-supply store, so he knew his parents wouldn’t miss him when they woke up. The two younger siblings bunched up comforters under their sheets to make it look like they were asleep in their beds.

Their plan was to fly to Istanbul, then drive into Syria to live in the Islamic homeland, or caliphate, established by the Islamic State, the militant group that has massacred civilians in Iraq and Syria and beheaded Western journalists and aid workers.

The Khan teens, U.S.-born children of Indian immigrants, each left letters for their parents explaining their motives.

“An Islamic State has been established and it is thus obligatory upon every able-bodied male and female to migrate there,” Khan wrote. “Muslims have been crushed under foot for too long. . . . This nation is openly against Islam and Muslims. . . . I do not want my progeny to be raised in a filthy environment like this.”

His sister wrote: “Death is inevitable, and all of the times we enjoyed will not matter as we lay on our death beds. Death is an appointment, and we cannot delay or postpone, and what we did to prepare for our death is what will matter.”

In their letters, all three teens, who had grown up playing basketball and watching “Dragon Tales” and “Batman,” told their parents how much they loved them and asked them to join them in Syria, but made it clear they would probably never see them again, except in the afterlife. They begged them not to call the police.

In the afternoon, FBI agents knocked on the Khans’ front door, armed with a search warrant.

“For what?” asked the teens’ shocked father, Shafi Khan.

“Your kids have been detained at the airport, trying to go to Turkey,” an agent said.

“We were stunned,” said Zarine Khan, their mother. “More like frozen. We were just frozen.”

Slick propaganda

The Khan teens are part of a growing number of young Americans who are joining or attempting to travel to Syria or Iraq to join the Islamic State.

This year alone, officials have detained at least 15 U.S. citizens — nine of them female — who were trying to travel to Syria to join the militants. Almost all of them were Muslims in their teens or early 20s, and almost all were arrested at airports waiting to board flights.

A senior U.S. official said the government anticipates more arrests. Authorities are closely monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks, where recruiters from the Islamic State aggressively target youths as young as 14.

“Their propaganda is unusually slick. They are broadcasting their poison in something like 23 languages,” FBI Director James B. Comey said in a recent speech, adding that the terrorist group is trying to attract “both fighters and people who would be the spouses . . . to their warped world.”

When the Khan teens reached the airport, FBI officials were waiting for them.

A U.S. law enforcement official said authorities had been monitoring the communications of at least one of the teens, although the FBI has not disclosed how they initially became aware of them.

Hamzah Khan has been charged with providing material support to a designated terrorist organization and faces up to 15 years in prison. At a federal court hearing last month, a judge ordered him held without bail, calling him a flight risk and a danger to the community.

His two siblings, minors whose names have not been made public, were released to their parents but are under investigation and could face charges.

The Justice Department is not eager to prosecute juveniles, but it will do so when they are so radicalized that they pose a potential threat, a senior U.S. official said.

“There are not a lot of good options,” the official said. “You will see more young and juvenile cases in the future.”

In court last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Matthew Hiller said Khan and his two siblings “believe they are religiously obliged to support violent jihad.”

“This was not a spur-of-the-moment trip but rather a carefully calculated plan to abandon their family, to abandon their community, and abandon their country and join a foreign terrorist organization,” Hiller told the judge.

He said Hamzah Khan was “attempting to join an organization that has called for attacks against the United States and has already killed U.S. citizens and is dedicated to genocide.”

But Khan’s lawyer, Thomas Anthony Durkin, told the judge that the government was prosecuting Khan for what amounted to the “thought crime” of rejecting America and supporting the establishment of an Islamic homeland. He said the Khan teens wanted to go live in that homeland but not become fighters, a desire that he said was naive and misguided but not criminal.

Durkin cited a speech President Obama gave in September at the United Nations, where he said the Islamic State’s “propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars and turned . . . young people full of potential into suicide bombers. We must offer an alternative vision.”

“This is the alternative vision we’re getting today: jail,” Durkin told the judge. “If we want to solve this problem, we are not going to solve it by threatening to lock people up forever. . . . We have to find a solution, because these are American children. . . . They are not barbarians. They are our children.”

‘Those are not our teachings’

Khan’s parents, in an interview at Durkin’s Chicago law office one recent evening, said they were bewildered by what their children tried to do.

“What they wrote in those letters is not from us,” Zarine Khan said, her voice rising behind a colorful veil that covered her face, except for her eyes. “Those are not our teachings. That’s not what we believe in. This didn’t even come from our family, friends, neighbors — nobody.”

“We tried to be the best parents we could,” she said. “That’s all I can say — we tried our best. And they are good kids. This thing came out of the blue. We are still trying to figure it out.”

Hamzah Khan grew up in a suburban American home with pretty shrubs out front and a basketball hoop in the back yard. He earned a Presidential Physical Fitness Award in the eighth grade and loved Naruto, the Japanese manga. He volunteered at his local mosque and represented Argentina in the National Model United Nations.

He graduated from a local Islamic high school in 2013 and enrolled last year at Benedictine University, a Roman Catholic school about 10 miles from his home, where he studied engineering and computer science.

Shafi Khan, who came to Chicago from India almost 30 years ago, and Zarine Khan, who followed her husband 20 years ago, said they consider themselves “average” Muslims, no more or less religious than any of their friends and neighbors in Bolingbrook, Ill., a suburb of about 73,000 people southwest of Chicago.

They try to pray five times a day but said they often don’t. Shafi Khan wears a bushy beard and a white knit skullcap, which he said is an attempt to follow the example of the prophet Muhammad. Zarine Khan covers her head and most of her face, which she considers a sign of modesty, not extreme piety.

Like millions of American Muslims, the Khans, who are both U.S. citizens, said they have raised their children to love their country and their religion. Asked if he felt more Muslim or American, Shafi Khan said, “Both.”

Shafi Khan, 48, earned a degree in environmental science from Northeastern Illinois University and has worked for many years as an event planner for a humanitarian aid organization. Zarine Khan, 41, studied genetics and microbiology at an Indian university but gave it up to move to Chicago with her new husband.

They have four children — the three who were arrested, plus a 3-year-old girl — and Zarine Khan has worked for many years as a teacher at a local Islamic school.

The Khans tried to shield their children from unwanted influences. They had a TV when the children were younger, but they had no cable service. The TV was used solely for showing DVDs — mainly cartoons and educational JumpStart programs from the public library.

When Hamzah Khan was about 8 years old, the family got rid of the TV, because by then they had a computer with Internet access, which the parents carefully monitored. The children were allowed to watch cartoons and read news online, but they were not allowed to browse the Internet by themselves. “We didn’t want to expose them to adult stuff,” Zarine Khan said. “We wanted to preserve their innocence. We wanted to channel their intelligence into their studies and to becoming good human beings.”

The children studied at a local Islamic school, which offered a standard U.S. curriculum of English, math and science — but also classes on Islam. The Khans’ daughter, who turned 18 shortly after her arrest, was being home-schooled by her mother so she could graduate early from high school and begin studies to become a physician.

All three Khan children also became Hafiz, which means they completely memorized the Koran in Arabic. Each went to Islamic school through the fourth grade, then spent the next 2 1/2 years immersed in all-day memorization classes, augmented by evening programs to keep up with basics such as English and math.

The memorization process is common among Muslims and is not considered a sign of religious extremism, said Habeeb Quadri, who is principal of the Islamic school Hamzah Khan attended until the fourth grade and who frequently writes and lectures on Muslim youth.

Zarine Khan said the family took many vacations together, driving to Niagara Falls and Connecticut. She said they shopped at Wal-Mart and acted “like any other normal American family.”

“We tried to have them grounded and exposed to everything,” Zarine Khan said. “We tried to give them good morals. But it was not just Islam, Islam, Islam. We tried to expose them to different ideas as well.”

Omer Mozaffar, a Muslim community leader who teaches theology at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Chicago, said many Muslim families appear to have sheltered their children from the culture around them.

He said that since the 1991 Persian Gulf War and especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, some Muslims have felt “under siege” in the U.S. communities where they live. “There’s a defensiveness that compels parents to pull their kids out of everything,” Mozaffar said. “A lot of parents feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do, so they try to isolate their children.”

The process is often called “cocooning” — shielding children from as much American culture as possible by banning TV, the Internet and newspapers and sending them to Islamic schools.

“Parents send them less for the Islamic tutelage and more for the sense of protecting them,” Mozaffar said. “They think ‘American’ equals ‘immoral,’ and there’s a common belief that if it’s more strict, it’s more pious. This is something I have to preach against all the time.”

The result is often that American Muslim children find themselves caught between two worlds. They are American, but they feel their parents and their religious leaders trying to steer them away from American culture.

That can leave them vulnerable to those who promise something better, a place where they are celebrated for their religion. And, recently, that message has often come in the form of the network of anonymous, persuasive recruiters on social media who lure youth to join the Islamic State. Quadri calls them “Sheik Google.”

Letters full of rhetoric

According to Shafi and Zarine Khan and court documents, the Khan children’s “Sheik Google” appears to have been a man with the nom du guerre Abu Qa’qa, whom they met on Twitter.

Hamzah Khan and his sister both had Twitter accounts, which they accessed on their cellphones because their parents closely controlled their Internet use on their home computer.

In court, Hiller, the prosecutor, said the Khan teens intended to meet with Abu Qa’qa when they arrived in Turkey and then travel with him to Syria. Notes found by FBI agents searching the Khan house suggested the teens were ultimately headed for Raqqah, an Islamic State stronghold in Syria.

Khan’s sister went by the Twitter name “Umm Bara” and signed her tweets with @deathisvnear. Prosecutors said that in May, she tweeted about watching an hour-long Islamic State propaganda video called “Saleel Sawarim,” which features photos and videos of beheadings and other gruesome violence.

Hiller told the judge that on May 28, apparently after watching the video, she tweeted that she had reached “The end of Saleel Sawarim,” followed by emoticons of a heart and a smiley face. Hiller described her reaction to the video as “twisted delight,” which he presented as evidence that the Khan teens supported the Islamic State’s violence and intended to participate in it.

Durkin said it was “inflammatory nonsense to say somehow, because somebody downloaded that video, that somehow they’re dangerous to the community.” He said the young woman wrote that her role in the caliphate would probably be to marry a fighter, not become one herself.

The letters the three teens left behind were filled with rhetoric their parents said was so out of character it could only have come from Islamic State recruiters.

“I am . . . obliged to pay taxes to the [U.S.] government,” Hamzah Khan wrote. “This in turn will be used automatically to kill my Muslim brothers and sisters. . . . I simply cannot sit here and let my brothers and sisters get killed, with my own hard-earned money. . . . I cannot live under a law in which I’m afraid to speak my beliefs. I want to be ruled by the Sharia [Islamic law]. . . . Me living in comfort with my family while my other family are getting killed is plain selfish.”

He continued: “We are all witness that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day. I extend an invitation to my family to join me in the Islamic States. True, it is getting bombed, but let us not forget that we didn’t come to this world for comfort.”

Sitting in Durkin’s office while their two younger teens worked on homework in the other room, Shafi and Zarine Khan said they are struggling to understand how their children could write such things. Durkin would not permit interviews with the younger siblings.

The Khans knew that their kids were on Twitter and Kik, a messaging service, but they said they didn’t know they were communicating with strangers overseas.

The evening before the teens tried to fly away forever, Zarine Khan said, she and her daughter sat together putting henna dye on each other in celebration of the upcoming Eid al-Adha holiday.

“I think they were completely brainwashed by whatever online things they were reading,” she said. “I wouldn’t want any parent to go through what we are going through; it’s a nightmare. We just thank God that our kids are with us here, and not over there.”

Adam Goldman in Washington contributed to this report.

Kevin Sullivan is a Post senior correspondent. He is a longtime foreign correspondent who has been based in Tokyo, Mexico City and London, and also served as the Post’s Sunday and Features Editor.

World Internet Conference in China So China Blocks Cloud Services, Thousands of Websites

November 20, 2014


By , The Hollywood Reporter | November 19, 2014

The Chinese government is blocking access to thousands of sites and cloud services in the lead up to tech industry conference, reported the South China Morning Post on Tuesday.

Already trigger happy when it came to blocking websites it didn’t agree with, the state Internet censor has blocked sites and cloud services as disparate as Sony Mobile, retail bank HSBC and The Atlantic. No reasons were given why these sites had fallen foul of the Internet censor and have been pushed outside of the notorious “Great Firewall of China,” although the HSBC website is said to give users a backdoor access to banned site Youtube.

Media speculation suggests that the blackouts are, ironically, in preparation for the World Internet Conference in the small provincial city of Wuzhen. The first of it’s kind to be held in China, the conference will be held from Wednesday to Friday, and will focus on issues such as cyber security, international e-commerce and online anti-terrorism initiatives.

Chinese state media said that up to 1000 people from around the world will attend. Bloomberg is reporting that leaders from local Internet giants, including Alibaba and Tencent, will be in attendance along with executives from LinkedIn, SoftBank and other global tech companies.

Although the rest of China will suffer Internet blackouts to various sites and services, conference attendees will have unfettered access for three days to banned websites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Google’s Eric Schmidt Visits Hong Kong’s Democracy Protesters

November 7, 2014


Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has been an open critic of China’s internet censorship, so it’s probably not surprising he posted a picture of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests on his Instagram account.

The photo, of the main protest site at Admiralty, looks innocuous enough, but it’s still a somewhat unusual move for a public figure these days. Protesters haven’t received much recognition from the many celebrities and business figures from democratic countries passing through Hong Kong—perhaps due to fears of offending China, which now accounts for a sizable hunk of their company earnings, endorsement deals and box office receipts.

One famous foreigner who did openly visit the protests, smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G, quickly repudiated his support for demonstrators after being chided by his mainland Chinese fans. China’s foreign ministry even issued a statement after his visit, warning others away:

Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear. We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support the Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form.

Schmidt, who was in town to promote the book he co-wrote with former Google product manager Jonathan Rosenberg, refrained from making any comment about the protests on Twitter, and doesn’t appear to have been thronged for selfies by the social media-savvy protesters. In any case, unlike Kenny G, Google may not have much to lose—its search engine and services have been blocked in China for months.


Eric was last in Hong Kong in November, 2013. Here is one South China Morning Post report of that visit:

The world’s No 2 economy will stall unless its people can speak freely, Eric Schmidt says

By George Chen
PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 5:28pm


Google chairman Eric Schmidt on Monday urged Beijing to allow its people to think and speak freely if the world’s No 2 economy wants to grow further.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, the search engine giant’s chief spoke of his concern at the mainland’s recent “500 reposts” rule designed to tighten the government’s control of the Internet.

Schmidt, who is visiting Hong Kong as part of a partnership program with the Chinese University of Hong Kong to help grow young entrepreneurs in the city, told the Post that freedom of speech will help the mainland to avoid falling into the so-called “middle-income trap”.

“Google believes very strongly in a free internet. The mainland just passed the law about the 500-reposts thing. Then you will definitely think about it before you write. It’s a problem, (it) means your voice is not fully heard,” said Schmidt.

“My opinion is China wants to avoid the middle-income trap and in order to avoid that, they have to develop the openness, free speech, and the reason is in order to get there, you should have the debates about everything,” he added.

In his latest speech last week about the mainland’s economic growth, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was confident that China would see healthy economic growth and would not fall into a middle-income trap, according to the official Xinhua news agency. The middle-income trap often happens when a country moves from low income to middle income, but find it more difficult to grow further to reach the high-income rank. This can be a stage where social problems occur. South Africa and Brazil are two often cited examples for this typical economic development trap.

“I have a strong opinion and my opinion is there should be freedom of speech to pursue one’s goals for ideas. Our position hasn’t changed,” said Schmidt, adding that restrictions on mainland Internet access, which makes Google’s search and email services unstable, would also hurt the mainland’s academic research.

“I will also observe that if you are here in Hong Kong, and the Chinese government decides to change that, you will miss it. It’s important to stay right upfront. It’s an important aspect for real culture (in Hong Kong),” said Schmidt, referring the importance of the freedom of speech and Internet for both Hong Kong and the mainland.

In early September, Beijing announced that any libellous online post that is reposted more than 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 times could land its author in jail for up to three years. It is the mainland’s first judicial interpretation to control rumours on the Internet. Many political analysts view the legal move as the latest efforts by the Communist Party to ramp up its campaign to rein in the Internet following President Xi’s recent call to “seize the ground of new media”.

Schmidt, who served as Google’s chief executive for about a decade until 2011 when he was named chairman of the technology giant, said China was facing three serious problems and Beijing must act quickly to for sustainable growth.

“The first problem you have is a demographic one – not enough young people and too many old people. The ‘one child’ policy is a terrible mistake. We want more Chinese people not fewer. You need to stop it now. You should have stopped it 10 years ago,” said Schmidt. “In 20 years, the demographic (problem) in China will be more terrible – a very large number of old people, no social security, no good healthcare. You need more young people.”

Schmidt noted the other two problems for the mainland’s economic growth were globalization and automation as other Asian countries including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia move to replace China’s role as the world’s factory over the next 10 to 20 years.

“The third problem is automation. More and more factories will have fewer and fewer people as robots are going to be get smarter. Robots can work 24 hours a day and you can’t do that to human,” he said.

“My simple answer is you (China) have to get all the three things done and that is a very hard challenge,” said Schmidt, adding that Beijing may copy the Hong Kong free trade model it has adopted in Shanghai – where a free-trade zone was launched in October – to other mainland cities. However, policy-making and implementations often take a long time on the mainland, he noted.

“My first question about the free-trade zone (in Shanghai) is if the Internet is open there. The principle is you need to create the innovation space. Hong Kong is the innovation space for the mainland. Mainland can study what Hong Kong does and see how it works but these things in China take time,” he said.

Twitter opening office in Hong Kong despite China ban

November 7, 2014

From the BBC

Social media giant Twitter will open an office in Hong Kong next year

Social media giant Twitter has said it will open an office in Hong Kong in the first quarter of 2015.

The messaging service has been banned from operating in China since 2009 over fears that it could be used to organise protests against the government.

However, Twitter said it wanted to tap into the next phase of its growth in the Asian region by expanding in Greater China.

The office will house sales staff and joins the likes of Google and Facebook.

“Our upcoming Hong Kong office in the first quarter will enable us to pursue strategic opportunities in Greater China, such as China export advertising market, Hong Kong and Taiwan advertising markets, media partnerships, and our new Twitter Fabric integrated with MoPub for mobile developers,” the company told the BBC on Friday.

The opening would be Twitter’s fifth office in the region, with operations already in Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney.

In August, Twitter said it was opening an office in Jakarta, with Indonesia being one of its biggest markets.

“With half of all internet, mobile and social media users worldwide in Asia today, we see many opportunities across the region,” a company spokesperson said.

News of the expansion comes as Twitter reported a disappointing 7% fall in timeline views per user – a closely watched measure of engagement – despite 23% growth in its user base in the third quarter last month.

The company also said its fourth-quarter revenue might fall short of market expectations of $448.8mn (£283mn). New York-listed Twitter shares are down almost 36% this year.

Britain’s spy chief: Facebook, Twitter help terrorists, criminals

November 4, 2014

Britain: New GCHQ director Robert Hannigan accuses some Silicon Valley companies of becoming ‘the command and control networks of choice’ for terrorists

Robert Hannigan takes over as Director at GCHQ

Robert Hannigan (right) took on the role of director of GCHQ (left) last month after a distinguished career as a senior diplomat Photo: Crown copyright

Technology giants such as Facebook and Twitter have become “the command and control networks of choice” for terrorists and criminals but are “in denial” about the scale of the problem, the new head of GCHQ has said.

Robert Hannigan said that Isil terrorists in Syria and Iraq have “embraced the web” and are using it to intimidate people and inspire “would-be jihadis” from all over the world to join them.

He urged the companies to work more closely with the security services, arguing that it is time for them to confront “some uncomfortable truths” and that privacy is not an “absolute right”.

He suggested that unless US technology companies co-operate, new laws will be needed to ensure that intelligence agencies are able to track and pursue terrorists.

His comments represent some of the most outspoken criticism yet of US technology giants by the security services, and come amid growing tensions following leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In an article for the Financial Times, Mr Hannigan said: “I understand why they [US technology companies] have an uneasy relationship with governments. They aspire to be neutral conduits of data and to sit outside or above politics.

“But increasingly their services not only host the material of violent extremism or child exploitation, but are the routes for the facilitation of crime and terrorism.

“However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us.

“GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate on privacy in the digital age. But privacy has never been an absolute right and the debate about this should not become a reason for postponing urgent and difficult decisions.”

Mr Hannigan took on the role of director of GCHQ last month after a distinguished career as a senior diplomat. He was appointed to the role in the wake of the Snowden scandal to help bolster the public profile of the organisation and take a more active role in the debate about its work.

He highlighted the eruption of extremist jihadi material online on websites such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp, and said that terrorists are now able to hide their identities using encryption tools which were once only available to states.

He said that in the past, al-Qaida and its terrorists have used the internet as a place to anonymously distribute material or “meet in dark spaces”.

Isil, however, has taken a much more direct approach, using social networking services to get their messages across in a “language their peers understand”.

He highlighted the production values of videos in which they attack towns, fire weapons and detonate explosives, saying that they have a “self-conscious online gaming quality”.

He said that even the groups grotesque videos of beheadings highlight the sophistication of their use of social media. “This time the ‘production values’ were high and the videos stopped short of showing the actual beheading,” he said.

“They have realised that too much graphic violence can be counter productive in their target audience and that by self-censoring they can stay just the right side of the rules of social media sites, capitalising on western freedom of expression.”

He highlighted the use of popular terms on Twitter to broaden their appeal such as World Cup and Ebola. He said that during the advance on Mosul in Iraq the jihadists were sending 40,000 tweets a day.

Their cause has been helped by Mr Snowden as they copy his high level of encryption, with some programmes and apps even advertised as “Snowden approved”. He said: “There is no doubt that young foreign fighters have learned and benefited from the leaks of the past two years”.

Mr Hannigan said that families have “strong views” about the ethics of companies and do not expect the social networks they use to “facilitate murder or child abuse”.

The Conservatives are pushing for a communications Bill to give the security services greater access to internet communications. The move has been blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Hannigan said: “For our part, intelligence agencies such as GCHQ need to enter the public debate about privacy. I think we have a good story to tell.

“As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creation that is the world wide web, we need a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens.

“It should be a deal rooted in the democratic values we share. That means addressing some uncomfortable truths. Better to do it now than in the aftermath of greater violence.”

Facebook rules state that organisations with a record of terrorist or violent criminal activity are not allowed to “maintain a presence” on the social network or post content in support of terrorist groups.

The company, which has declined to make an official statement, says it already works with law enforcement agencies and will disclose information either in good faith if it will prevent harm or upon court order.

Other US internet companies including Google, Twitter and Microsoft declined to comment.

China’s Web Regulator Admits Many Internet Sites Not Available in China — But the government doesn’t know how that happens…

October 30, 2014


China’s web regulator denies shutting foreign websites

BBC News

Some social media sites used across the rest of the world are blocked in China

The director of China’s internet regulator has admitted that some foreign websites cannot be visited but denied shutting them down.

Lu Wei, who heads the State Internet Information Office, also said his department was planning to strengthen measures to “govern the internet”.

Twitter, Facebook and the New York Times are not accessible in China.

The BBC’s English-language website was blocked earlier this month, joining the BBC Chinese site.

Mr Lu was responding to queries at a press conference on the forthcoming World Internet Conference due to be held in Zhejiang province.

‘Specifying behaviour’

Asked by a reporter why sites such as Facebook had been shut down, Mr Lu replied: “I have never used any of these websites so I don’t know if they have been shut down. But as for situations where some sites become inaccessible, I think it is possible.

“We have never shut down any foreign sites. Your website is on your home soil. How can I go over to your home and shut it down?”

Mr Lu however added that while China was “hospitable”, it could also “choose who can come to our home and be our guest”.

“I can’t change who you are but I have the power to choose my friends,” he said. “I wish that all who come to China will be our real friends.”

Mr Lu added that his department’s measures were “meant to protect China’s national security and China’s consumers”.

“We are going to further strengthen our rule of law, our administration, governance and usage of the internet, and use the law to specify behaviour in the online space,” he added.

China keeps a tight grip on the internet.

Posts about sensitive topics are routinely scrubbed from the popular micro-blogging service Weibo, as seen during the recent Hong Kong protests.

State media said last year that the government employed more than two million people to monitor web activity.

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Flip-Flop: Hong Kong Anger After Kenny G Tweets then Deletes

October 23, 2014

From the BBC

U.S. jazz musician and saxophonist Kenneth Gorelick, known as Kenny G, performs during a concert in Hong Kong as part of his "Rhythm and Romance" world tour in this 9 May 2008 file photo

Kenny G is known for his smooth jazz records which are popular in China

The American jazz musician Kenny G has angered internet commentators in Hong Kong by deleting a social media posting publicising his visit to a pro-democracy protest camp.

He also said in a statement, posted to his Facebook page and official Twitter feed, that he did not support the demonstrators.

Commentators interpret his comments as an effort to avoid a political scandal, which could potentially have cut off access to an extremely large, lucrative market.

The saxophonist, whose real name is Kenny Gorelick, is an unlikely superstar in mainland China.

His smooth jazzy tunes, including the best-selling Songbird and Going Home, are routinely played in airports, hotels and shopping malls.

On Wednesday, the musician paid a visit to the main protest site in the Admiralty district in Hong Kong.

Screenshot of Kenny G's tweet
Kenny G has removed this tweet from his Twitter account

Instantly recognisable with a mane of curly hair, he posed for photos with fans and uploaded a smiling selfie to his Twitter feed.

In the photo, he stands in front of protest posters and flashes a peace sign.

He said he wished for “a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation”.

Although he did not directly express approval for the movement, his visit was warmly welcomed and widely shared on social media.

But, hours after the visit was condemned by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, the musician deleted the selfie from his Twitter feed.

The Chinese government has characterised the civil disobedience movement as an illegal occupation.

BBC China Blog

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We’ll focus on the new and newsworthy, but also use our journalists’ expertise to shine fresh light on China’s remarkable transformations and upheavals.

Most of the posts will be written or filmed by journalists in our main bureau, in Beijing, or in our other bases in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Please let us know what you think and send us your ideas. You can also use #BBCChinablog to keep up to date with our reports via Twitter.

The demonstrators are demanding greater democratic reforms, which they say had been promised by Beijing decades before. China says it has followed Hong Kong law.

In explaining his actions in a subsequent statement, Kenny G said he was not trying to defy the Chinese government.

“Some fans took my picture and it’s unfair that I am being used by anyone to say that I am showing support for the demonstrators,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“I am not supporting the demonstrators as I don’t really know anything about the situation and my impromptu visit to the site was just part of an innocent walk around Hong Kong.”

He added: “I love China and love coming here to perform for over 25 years. I only wanted to share my wish for peace for Hong Kong and for all of China”.

Screenshot of Kenny G's tweet
Kenny G posted his statement on his Twitter account and his Facebook page

Reacting to his statement, an internet poster named Carmel Lee Barros wrote: “Very disappointing and cowardly of you to offer this pathetic clarity. It comes across as if you are protecting your own capitalistic income and your own brand.”

Another commentator called Andy Yip wrote: “Don’t worry Kenny. The money from China will keep coming. The jobs from China will keep coming, because you are exactly the type of people they like…people with no souls.”

Celebrities, both in China and outside the mainland, do have to pay attention to how they are perceived by the Chinese government in Beijing.

One wrong remark, and they may be banned from performing or appearing in adverts.

Hollywood actress Sharon Stone was forced to apologise after commenting in the wake of the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake that it was “karma” for Chinese policy toward Tibet.

Taiwanese singer Chang Hui-mei, popularly known as A-mei, speaks during a tourism promotional event in Hong Kong, 26 September 2006
Taiwanese singer Chang Hui-mei was banned from performing in China in 2000

Her statement was issued by the cosmetics company Christian Dior, which had been featuring the star in advertisements in China. Her films were also reportedly banned from cinemas in China and Hong Kong.

And in 2000, Taiwanese singer Chang Hui-mei, better known as A-Mei was banned from performing in China after she sang at the inauguration of pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian. The ban was lifted several years later.

Singers Bjork and Bob Dylan have also been periodically banned from performing in mainland China.

Chinese actor Jackie Chan gestures during a press conference held at the opening of the Chinese Film Festival 2014, in Bucharest, Romania, Sept. 11, 2014. (EPA/ROBERT GHEMENT)


Husband factor: Why women in China are afraid to discuss the Hong Kong protests

October 22, 2014

On China: This week, a new generation of educated women took a leading role in talks between Hong Kong leaders and pro-democracy protestors. But, in mainland China, the situation couldn’t be more different – with women retreating into traditional roles, says Yuan Ren

Chinese New Year 2014: Many women will be considered 'leftover' because they're 27 and unmarried

Women in mainland China have little idea what’s happening with their Hong Kong counterparts

At the peak of Occupy Central campaign, throngs of young women braved the rainy weather, an onslaught of pepper spray and incidents of harrassment to take part in Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution”.

Hong Kong, formally part of China, has long enjoyed a global status comparable to London and New York. It’s home to some of the most accomplished women in the world, many of who work in its prosperous financial sector. Yet despite this, the citizens of Hong Kong’s have never had a full democracy – not even under British rule, which ended in 1997.

For the young women occupying Central (the region’s business district), what is within their reach has changed.

According to Professor Angela Wong of The Gender Research Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, this “new generation” of women have benefitted from an education that gives them the same confidence as their male counterparts.

That was never clearer than this week, when tens of thousands of protesters watched the first talk between student representatives and the Hong Kong Government. Women played a key part in the discussion across the meeting table, in the fight for greater political freedom.

Pro-democracy protesters from the Occupy Central movement retreat from a tunnel road after being dispersed by Hong Kong police in Admiralty District of Hong Kong

Pro-democracy protesters from the Occupy Central movement retreat from a tunnel road after being dispersed by Hong Kong police in Admiralty District of Hong Kong Photo: EPA

Ms Lo Hoi Yan, a 30-year-old teacher and Hong Kong resident who took part in the demonstrations, says that gender is irrelevant in this fight for democracy: “For me, it’s my right as a person, not as a sex, to express myself in this way.”

So, it seems extraordinary that the situation in mainland China could not be more different.

As women in Hong Kong take the region’s fate into their own hands and stand should-to-shoulder with men, many of their counterparts in China aren’t even aware that it’s happening.

In recent weeks, I’ve asked many female friends for their thoughts on the Hong Kong protests.

More than half replied perplexed – what on earth was I talking about?

‘Women can be easily swayed’

Ms Li, a 29-years-old student at a top-ranking Beijing university thinks this a conversation that ‘mainland women’ have been excluded from. “You’d be lucky to find two out of ten who know about it,” she says. “Men talk about topics like this among themselves, but not with women.”

Of course, censorship (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all blocked) and the lack of free political expression no doubt stifle open debate in mainland China. Yet, there’s a definite knowledge gap when it comes to women in particular.

And – among those who are aware of the situation – there’s suspicion, too.

Li, who is married to a European, questions whether the women in Hong Kong have fully grasped what they are fighting for: “Young women can be easily swayed by collectivism – I’d be surprised if it’s pure politics that brought them onto the streets,” she says.

Voices such as that of demonstrator Yan have fallen largely to unsympathetic ears. One Chinese friend from university, a woman who works in Hong Kong’s financial district, called the protesters “a bunch of stirred-up students with over-idealised minds”.

“I’d say most Chinese women don’t get into this kind of discussion about politics”, explains Xia, a 28-year-old graduate from a London university and an investment banker in Beijing. “I didn’t know and I don’t care except to say Hong Kong is a very good choice for shopping.”

For others, the blocking of Instagram triggered a burst of interest. “That was the only reason Hong Kong came up in my conversations with other women”, says Ms Wu, a 29-year-old media professional, who studied in the US. “And only in passing – otherwise they really wouldn’t care.”

‘It’s more useful to care about a rich man than politics’

According to a publication in the Journal of International Women’s Studies earlier this year, Chinese women’s participation in political affairs – including involvement in mass organisations, as well as a general interest in media affairs and political knowledge at all levels of society – has seen little growth for the past few decades. Women scored significantly below men on all counts. While the percentage of women in high political office has remained at 21.3 per cent since 1959.


Dr Liu, Deputy Director at the SOAS China Institute in London, thinks that as China gets richer, it may be leavings its women behind: “Economic development has been the sole driver of reform in the last 30-years and women’s status did not feature at all in those objectives.”

The one-child-policy encouraged greater investment in girls – but Dr. Liu thinks that while such reforms created greater employment opportunities for women, they failed to change their overall prominence in China.

Rapid growth and an increasingly materialistic culture have also created new pressures for women. Pointing to sky-rocketing house prices, and the cost of giving birth, Ms Li says that for young women today, “it’s all about ‘self-preservation’ rather than ‘social preservation’”.

China’s income inequality gap now exceeds that of the USA. Men’s salaries have risen high above those of women. In such an environment – where influence and connections dictate social standing – marriage is still seen as the easist route for women to secure financial stability.

“It’s more practical to care about finding a rich man with a car and house, than about world affairs,” says Ms Wu.

A huge obstacle to engaging women in political affairs is gender discrimination. Heavily bound by traditional notions about femininity, participation in public or political activities is often discouraged. The common view remains that a women’s priority is foremost her family. The public space still belongs to the men.

“If you are even slightly aggressive about arguing a political point, people will think there’s something wrong with you. You’ll be laughed at for never finding a husband,” says Wu.

“The rigidity of these ideas can be so overpowering it’s hard for young women to see alternatives for themselves,” adds Dr Liu.

Women have few alternatives

It wasn’t so long ago that women in the mainland were pivotal to demanding political change: in the anti-imperialist revolutions of 1919, women were leading figures in the fight against the feudalism, and again during the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square.

Rapid growth in personal wealth and the pursuit of materialism over the past 30 years of economic prosperity have gone a long way to to silence outward demonstrations of public discontent.

But Professor Wong thinks that women in Hong Kong also have a long way to go in terms of gender equality – despite how things look to the watching world. She says that the success of women in its prosperous financial sector is an illusion and “hides the fact that strong traditional notions exist about women’s role within the family.”

She adds that “there’s been little attempt at translating women’s rights into political or legal terms”.

And while it is true that men made up the majority of representatives around the discussion table on Monday evening, women did make an impact.

Demonstrator Yan, impressed by student representative Yvonne Leung’s performance, viewed her role as being “absolutely critical” to the movement.

Even though such sentiments might fail to resonate with those on the mainland, many here can still appreciate the value of being given a voice.

For 36-year-old Ms Zhao and her peers, ignorance of what’s happening in Hong Kong may hinge on a simple point: “Perhaps if change could come from talking about it here, I too would be interested in the discussion.”

Yuan Ren is a freelance journalist who grew up in both London and Beijing. She can be found tweeting @girlinbeijing

Hong Kong, The uncensored truth: If Beijing ignores its commitments, it will reveal the true character of China’s leadership

October 6, 2014


By L. Gordon Crovitz
The wall Street Journal

Information has been the main currency of Hong Kong since colonial days, when word reached mainland Chinese that if they escaped to “touch base” in Hong Kong, they would get refuge under British rule. Hong Kong became Asia’s first global city thanks to hardworking immigrants who made the most of their open trade, English legal system and free speech.

Hong Kong protesters are driven by hope that a leader selected by Hong Kong voters—as Beijing promised for 2017 before it reneged—can protect their way of life. But as the Communist Party narrows freedoms on the mainland, Deng Xiaoping ’s “one country, two systems” formulation for the 1997 handover entails a widening gap between life in Hong Kong and the rest of China. Without a government to represent them, Hong Kong people had no better choice than to take to the streets.

Mainland China is in an era of brutal suppression. Beijing jails reformers, controls journalists and employs hundreds of thousands of censors on social media. Twitter , Facebook , YouTube and many global news sites are blocked. Instagram was closed down after mainlanders shared photos of Hong Kong people using umbrellas against pepper spray and tear gas.

Posing with a bus covered by protest signs in Hong Kong, Sept. 30. 

Posing with a bus covered by protest signs in Hong Kong, Sept. 30. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images        

Posing with a bus covered by protest signs in Hong Kong, Sept. 30. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

As a financial capital, Hong Kong cannot survive without open access to information. It has more newspapers than any other city in the world. It’s been a window on China since the communist revolution. An unintended consequence of Beijing’s recent crackdown is that expelled foreign journalists now operate from Hong Kong, delivering news of the protests.

The Wall Street Journal’s first overseas edition was launched in Hong Kong in 1976. A running joke among Journal opinion writers is that it’s the only place in the world where our free-market, free-people beliefs are mainstream. Google searches from China are routed to Hong Kong servers so that results can be delivered uncensored.

This year has seen unprecedented physical attacks on journalists in Hong Kong, presumably at Beijing’s behest. China extorted advertising boycotts of pro-democracy publishers in Hong Kong. It forced critical bloggers to close down. Jimmy Lai, founder of the popular anticommunist Apple Daily newspaper, was targeted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, raising doubts about the integrity of the Beijing-controlled Hong Kong chief executive, who oversees the agency.

Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old student whose arrest last month brought hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong’s seven million people to the streets, had earlier sparked a movement that forced Beijing to back down on free-speech issues. In 2012, his Scholarism group successfully fought a mainland edict that Hong Kong schools institute “patriotic education.” In contrast, the Communist Party last year identified seven forbidden topics for schools on the mainland: democracy, universal values, civil society, free markets, free press, criticism of the Communist Party (“historical nihilism”) and questioning of the current regime.

There was concern about the survival of freewheeling Hong Kong as part of China well before the handover in 1997. A memorable Wall Street Journal editorial-board meeting occurred in 1990, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited New York after Journal editorials criticized her for agreeing to give Hong Kong back and failing to offer British citizenship to Hong Kong people.

Thatcher looked at her watch with 10 minutes left in the meeting. “I have just enough time to say what I came here to say,” she said. She defended her policies on Hong Kong and called the editorials “hurtful.” She ended by leaning forward to demand: “Do I make myself clear?”

Years later Thatcher admitted in a BBC interview that she had tried to negotiate continued British administration of Hong Kong and that her handling of the transition was a low point—confirming our suspicions she was defensive because the criticisms were justified.

By breaking the promise that Hong Kong can select its own government, China’s current rulers are violating clear obligations. In the 1980s an earlier generation of Beijing rulers reassured a world nervous about the handover by signing a treaty with Britain promising one-country, two-systems and Hong Kong control over the pace of democracy.

Hong Kong’s fate is to be the world’s window on an unpredictable China. The view is darkening as reformers in Beijing are vanquished by hard-liners, who fear freedom in Hong Kong will encourage mainlanders to demand their own rights. But if Beijing ignores its commitments and closes Hong Kong’s window, it will reveal the true character of China’s leadership.


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