Archive for April, 2017

Estonia Leads the Way in NATO’s Cyberdefense

April 30, 2017

Baltic country’s response to 2007 cyberattacks has put it at the forefront of NATO’s defenses against hacking

Participants work during the Locked Shields 2017 exercise in Tallinn, Estonia.

Participants work during the Locked Shields 2017 exercise in Tallinn, Estonia. PHOTO: INTS KALNINS/REUTERS

TALLINN, Estonia—A hotel conference room in the Baltic republic of Estonia recently became the front line in a rehearsal for cyberwarfare, in an exercise that tested the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s readiness to repel hackers.

Last week, nearly 900 cybersecurity experts from across Europe and the U.S. participated in an event hosted in Tallinn to focus on defending a fictional country against a simulated cyberattack. The defenders faced real-world scenarios: a knocked-out email server, fake news accusing a NATO country of developing drones with chemical weapons, and hackers compromising an air base’s fueling system.

The exercise—dubbed Locked Shields 2017—was unprecedented in complexity, organizers say. And for the Estonian cybersecurity team hosting the event, it marked the 10-year anniversary of cyberattacks that crippled the Baltic nation’s nascent digital infrastructure. The attacks, blamed on Russia, swamped Estonian banking and government websites and threatened to take the country offline.

Since the 2007 cyberattacks, the former Soviet republic of 1.3 million has transformed into one of Europe’s most tech-savvy countries. Its importance to NATO is vast: As well as playing a central role in hosting the alliance’s deterrent force in the Baltic region, Estonia is at the forefront of the alliance’s defenses against hacking.

Following Russia’s alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee ahead of last year’s U.S. presidential election, the urgency has never been greater.

To establish a stronger line of cyberdefense, Estonia established a volunteer body that can be called on to protect the country’s digital infrastructure. The unit’s volunteers donate their free time to regular training, much like a national guard. And they are responsible for defending everything from online banking to the country’s electronic voting system if an attack occurred.

Participants work on their tasks during a live-fire cyberdefense exercise in Tallinn.

Participants work on their tasks during a live-fire cyberdefense exercise in Tallinn. PHOTO: VALDA KALNINA/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

“We have lots of talented people who work in the private sector and we offered them the possibility of working once a week for a more patriotic cause,” said Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former Estonian president who oversaw the creation of the unit. “You basically think of the most dystopian future imaginable and try to defend against that.”

The Russian government consistently maintains that it doesn’t interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, and denies orchestrating cyberattacks. But NATO officials say they have seen an increase in cyberattacks on their networks.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this year there were an average of 400 attacks a month on alliance networks, up 60% from the previous year. He didn’t indicate who may have been behind them.

“Our aim is to give [people] the proper mind-set and capabilities to defend against attacks and to protect the lifestyle we are used to,” said Aare Reintam, one of the organizers of the event.

You basically think of the most dystopian future imaginable and try to defend against that.

—Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves

During the exercise—the eighth in an annual series—teams faced not only simulated attacks on computer software, but also on critical infrastructure. Planners introduced another challenge: fake news. Participants in this year’s exercise had to confront questions from a hostile press.

Organizers hope the experience gives other countries a chance to bolster their own defenses against cyberattacks. The Maryland National Guard has consulted with Estonia over its use of a cyber variant of a national guard. Neighboring Latvia, also a NATO member, implemented the cyber national guard model in 2014.

“We’re not gearing up to go and invade anyone, we’re worried about building up our defensive skill set,” said Rain Ottis, a 36-year-old university professor who is a longtime organizer in Locked Shields. “We have much to protect and much to lose in terms of cyberspace and way of life.”

While the event wasn’t an official NATO training exercise, the alliance had an official presence, and its NATO-accredited hosting center has been praised by Mr. Stoltenberg.

For Estonians, the Russian hacking threat is viewed as real and urgent. Earlier this year, Estonian parliamentarian Marko Mihkelson received an email that appeared to be from NATO, offering a link to what claimed to be an official analysis of a North Korean missile launch.

Mr. Mihkelson, who is chairman of the parliamentary foreign-affairs committee, didn’t click the link. Instead, he flagged the email to cyber experts who said it employed the same malware used last year against the DNC by an alleged group of Russian hackers known as Fancy Bear.

A man stands next to screens during the Locked Shields 2017 event.

A man stands next to screens during the Locked Shields 2017 event. PHOTO: INTS KALNINS/REUTERS

“Their activity in cyberspace is more aggressive, and they’re not even hiding it any more,” the lawmaker said, blaming Russia for stepping up hacking attacks.

Some analysts say Fancy Bear’s use of less-sophisticated phishing attacks that use fake links to compromise system networks is meant not to steal data as much as to announce Russia’s growing cyber presence to Western countries.

“Since 2014 we’ve seen a real shift in Russian operations in which they didn’t really care if they got caught,” said Robert M. Lee, founder and chief executive of cybersecurity company Dragos.

Write to Thomas Grove at


ASEAN Leaders Make China the Big Winner (Anyone Interested in Rule of Law Lost)

April 30, 2017
President Rodrigo Duterte (C) presides over the plenary session among ASEAN leaders, including Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Photos from ASEAN poo

And the winner at the ASEAN summit is… China.

The ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, invalidating Beijing’s nine-dash-line claim in the South China Sea, was the elephant in the room at the 30th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

This was thanks to the summit chair himself, who will likely maintain his love fest with Beijing at the next ASEAN summit in November. It will take another decade before the Philippines chairs ASEAN again. By that time, China would have occupied parts of Palawan and Zambales with the Philippines’ blessing.

What was on the ASEAN agenda was the war on illegal drugs. Not a condemnation of ASEAN chair President Duterte’s vicious war, but support for a strong regional response, and genuine interest from several leaders in taking a page from Dirty Rody’s playbook.

Really, what did Duterte critics expect from ASEAN? It’s an old boys’ club of autocrats with different ideas, to put it mildly, about human rights.

Even Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who attended the summit as her nation’s official representative, refrained from criticizing the host country’s president and ASEAN chair, upholding not human rights but the grouping’s cherished principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

When certain ASEAN leaders opened their mouths during their Manila visit, it was not to express concern about Duterte’s version of a dirty war, but to ask him for pointers on how to go about it.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose government has been executing drug traffickers including foreigners, said he saw “so much in common” with Duterte; the two appear to have hit it off.

With warnings that the Abu Sayyaf and its kindred spirits have been touched by the Islamic State and are now augmenting their kidnapping profits with drug money, ASEAN leaders were undoubtedly all ears when Duterte called for a strong and coordinated regional response to what he said was a growing drug menace.

Last Friday, Widodo reportedly told Duterte: “I believe that you and I are driven by healthy common sense and by love for our people.”

Southeast Asia is the perfect region for the current ASEAN chair.

*      *      *

ASEAN is no stranger to the drug menace. The border regions of three of its member states host the Golden Triangle, Afghanistan’s rival in opium production. The drug menace has fostered deadly violence, corruption and other crimes even beyond the triangle that straddles Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Even Suu Kyi probably acknowledges the gravity of the problem in her country.

Du30 is not the first ASEAN leader to launch a blood-soaked campaign against the drug scourge. In the recent past, Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra cracked down on a booming trade in methamphetamine (their shabu), promising to eradicate the menace in three months. In those three months, 2,275 people were killed in Thaksin’s ruthless war.

Following Thaksin’s ouster, the Thai junta ordered a probe of the drug killings. A special committee concluded that up to 1,400 of the 2,500 fatalities attributed to the campaign had no links to drugs, but failed to establish Thaksin’s direct hand in the deaths.

Duterte might get off in the same way in case he faces investigation when his presidency is over. For all his cussing and public endorsements of short cuts to eliminating the drug menace, Duterte the lawyer is careful to maintain a degree of deniability in the extrajudicial killings attributed to his drug war.

Thaksin’s merciless war did not eliminate the drug problem in his country, but this has never deterred strongmen from adopting an iron hand approach in dealing with the menace.

Civil libertarians should worry that Duterte is actually inspiring other world leaders to take a harder approach to the drug problem and criminality without fear of losing popular support.

Even the leader of the free world seems impressed, ignoring a flood of critical reporting and unflattering commentary on Duterte by the western media. But then that’s Donald Trump, no fan of mass media, Latino narcos and other troublemakers. Trump likes Du30 so much he called and invited the Philippine President to the White House.

*      *      *

Looking on the bright side, that was a seamless summit hosting in Metro Manila, so Duterte is also a winner. Even if he dropped the ball on the South China Sea and is selling out the nation to Beijing, the President was on his best behavior with state guests and proved to be a gracious host. It shouldn’t be too hard for him to grow into a statesman, although he might think, where’s the fun in that?

There was horrid traffic on the eve of the start of the ASEAN summit. But generally, implementing a “stop-and-go” traffic scheme for VIPs instead of blocking off road lanes or entire boulevards for the duration of the event caused minimal disruption. The scheme should henceforth serve as a model for future international hostings in Metro Manila.

Rerouting especially of trucks combined with staggered holidays (from Thursday for government workers, and from Friday for the private sector) also helped. It seemed like the Holy Week break in Metro Manila as people took advantage of the long weekend and went to the provinces.

With the break extended until today for Labor Day, Metro Manila remained relatively empty until yesterday as ASEAN delegates left. One of our editors was pleasantly surprised to have his early morning Air Asia flight from Cebu arrive at the NAIA domestic terminal an unprecedented 20 minutes early.

I didn’t hear of street people being rounded up and hidden from foreign visitors’ sight; people still slept along the Baywalk seawall and Roxas Boulevard bushes every night during the ASEAN gathering. It’s a developing country and it’s silly to try to hide extreme poverty in our midst.

Outside Metro Manila, there were no Abu Sayyaf terrorist bombings or kidnapping of foreigners. But Du30s communist friends in the New People’s Army killed a cop in a raid on a police station in Maddela town in Quirino and, worse, attacked Lapanday facilities in his home city of Davao on the day of the summit. Really, Du30 should see when he’s being jerked around by his so-called friends.

These include those who give him crumbs to back his drug war while grabbing Philippine territory. At the ASEAN summit, Duterte handed them a resounding victory.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, ocean, cloud, outdoor, water and nature
A fisherman at the General Santos Fish Port carries a yellowfin tuna caught in the South China Sea. Fishermen say the fish they catch now are smaller than before.  Credit Adam Dean, National Geographic


FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

No automatic alt text available.

On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

Trump Says China Could Have Hacked Democratic Emails

April 30, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said China may have hacked the emails of Democratic officials to meddle with the 2016 presidential election, countering the view of U.S. intelligence officials who have said Moscow orchestrated the hacks.

In an interview transcript published on Sunday, Trump gave no evidence backing his allegation, first made on the eve of the Nov. 8 presidential election, that China could have hacked the emails of his rivals.

“If you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking,” the president said in an interview with CBS “Face the Nation.” “(It) could have been China, could have been a lot of different groups.”

The hackers roiled the presidential campaign by making public embarrassing emails sent by Democratic operatives and aides to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. One email showed party leaders favoring Clinton over her rival in the campaign for the party’s internal nomination contest.

Trump has been dismissive of the statements by intelligence officials that Moscow hacked the emails to help Trump win the election. During the Sept 26 presidential debate with Clinton, Trump said China was one of many actors that could have been behind the hack, including “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

Like Russia, China is a longstanding cybersecurity adversary of the United States. Trump in recent weeks has softened his criticism of Chinese trade policies as Washington seeks Beijing’s support in diffusing military tensions with North Korea.

Before Trump was elected, he pledged to improve relations with Moscow. Russia has denied any involvement in the hacks. Lawmakers are currently investigating whether Trump’s campaign team had ties with Russia.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrew Hay)

China-built amphibious aircraft takes maiden flight: Xinhua

April 30, 2017


China’s domestically developed AG600, the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, took its maiden flight ahead of schedule on Saturday from the southern city of Zhuhai, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The AG600 was designed to extinguish forest fires and carry out rescue missions at sea, Xinhua said on Saturday, adding that it could also “be used to monitor and protect the ocean.”

The seaplane’s maiden flight comes amid China’s increasing assertiveness to its territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea where it is building airfields and deploying military equipment, rattling nerves in the Asia-Pacific region and the United States.

China is in the midst of a massive military modernization program, ranging from testing anti-satellite missiles to building stealth fighters and the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, to add to an existing one bought from Ukraine.

Xinhua initially reported in March that the AG600 would take its maiden flight in late May.

(Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong; Editing by Ros Russell)

Turkey details grounds for blocking Wikipedia

April 30, 2017

Turkey’s telecommunications authority has said that access to Wikipedia is being barred due to entries alleging the country supports terrorism. It was not clear which specific posts had run afoul of Turkish rules.

Symbolbild Wikipedia (picture alliance/empics/P. Byrne)

Authorities in Turkey offered up an explanation on Sunday for suddenly barring access to the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, saying it was over certain entries that hadn’t been removed from the site.

“Despite all the efforts, the content that falsely claims Turkey’s support for terrorist organizations was not removed from Wikipedia,” Turkey’s telecommunications authority stated in a tweet.

The authority said the content was “not allowed to be edited with accurate information” and that it is not possible to selectively block content on Wikipedia. The entire platform was therefore blocked in Turkey.

The statement added that “Wikipedia editors must do what is necessary” regarding the content.

Offending posts still unclear

The telecommunications authority statement did not elaborate on which specific entries had violated Turkish rules.

Wikipedia posts in English on Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still contain references to criticism about the country’s recent constitutional referendum which would expand Erdogan’s powers.

Ankara fires civil servants, blocks Wikipedia access

On Saturday, Turkey’s private NTV television network, which has been criticized for censoring anti-government content, said the block was put in place over entries “placing Turkey on the same level as the ‘Islamic State'” despite requests to remove the content.

Dating shows banned

Users across the country were shocked on Saturday when they could no longer access the website from within Turkey without using a virtual private network (VPN). TurkeyBlocks, a censorship monitoring group, confirmed that the ban on the site went into effect around 8 a.m. (0500 GMT).

The site contains encyclopedia-like entries on a broad spectrum of topics written in several languages. Anyone can register and propose changes, but the changes can be undone by others.

Turkey also issued a decree on Saturday imposing a ban on popular dating programs on Turkish television channels.

The Turkish government has blocked thousands of websites and has placed restrictions on social media platforms, including YouTube and Twitter. Authorities in Turkey are also able to block specific Twitter accounts.


New Hamas chief to be announced soon

April 30, 2017


© AFP/File | Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza City on March 25, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – The new leadership of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas will be announced in the coming days, officials said Sunday, while it also prepared to unveil a new version of its charter.

Ismail Haniya, until recently head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, said the results of internal elections will be announced “in the coming days”.

A high-ranking Hamas official told AFP that the new leadership will be announced before May 15.

The official said Haniya is likely to be named the new head of the movement, replacing Khaled Meshaal who lives in Doha in exile and has completed the maximum two terms in office.

Hamas runs the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority dominated by president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party controls the occupied West Bank.

On Monday in Qatar, Hamas will unveil a supplementary charter that will formally accept the idea of a state in the territories occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.

Some analysts say the move is a bid to ease Hamas’s international isolation.

The original 1988 charter will not be dropped, just supplemented, and there will be no recognition of Israel, as demanded by the international community.

China targets debt risks — But debt-fuelled growth addiction won’t be easy to rein in — The situation has reached “a level of absurdity in China that the planet has never seen.”

April 30, 2017


© AFP/File / by Dan Martin | China has launched perhaps its most concerted push yet to clean up a toxic brew of unregulated and risky lending increasingly viewed as a threat to global financial stability, but analysts don’t think they mean business

SHANGHAI (AFP) – China has launched perhaps its most concerted push yet to clean up a toxic brew of unregulated and risky lending increasingly viewed as a threat to global financial stability, but do authorities really mean business this time?

Analysts don’t think so.

China’s addiction to debt-fuelled growth powers the steady economic expansion that the ruling Communist Party craves, and it won’t go cold turkey, they said.

“These things come in waves. It’s like ‘well, this time we mean it.’ But to be blunt, I would fully expect them to essentially retreat,” said Beijing University economics professor Christopher Balding.

“At the end of the day, economic growth is the priority.”

Fears are mounting that China is flirting with a potential disaster worse than the US subprime collapse and subsequent 2008 financial crisis, and Japan’s 1990s asset-bubble meltdown and resulting “lost decade.”

The numbers are staggering.

Moody’s Investor’s Service estimated in October that China’s “shadow banking” sector — off-balance-sheet lending that evades official risk supervision — totalled $8.5 trillion, or nearly 80 percent of its GDP. It surged by an additional $297 billion in the first quarter of 2017, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

A poorly regulated asset-management industry that has funnelled cash into risky investments tripled in size in just three years to reach $3.8 trillion last year, according to various estimates.

China had overall debt liabilities equal to 264 percent of GDP in 2016, Bloomberg Intelligence said, yet lending is chugging ahead despite fears of a bubble in the crucial housing sector.

– ‘Absurd level’ –

The situation has reached “a level of absurdity in China that the planet has never seen,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang, research director at J Capital in Beijing.

Without aggressive action, “the top one percent will be multi-billionaires and the rest of the country will be squatting in empty buildings by trash fires and foraging for food”.

The IMF warned this month that Chinese debt crisis could “imperil global financial stability”.

China has vowed to clean house.

New banking regulator Guo Shuqing, installed in March, has issued what official Xinhua news agency called a “regulatory windstorm” of directives this month.

They include measures to strengthen institutional transparency and chronically weak internal controls, tighten balance sheets, halt risky lending, and dispose of bad loans. Big fines have been meted out and corporate figures arrested.

Official heads have rolled too, including the country’s insurance regulator Xiang Junbo, whose tenure coincided with a surge in speculative investments by Chinese insurers. He was sacked this month and faces a likely corruption investigation.

President Xi Jinping upped the ante Tuesday, calling for an all-out effort to tighten supervision, promote transparency, and identify “hidden trouble,” Xinhua said.

The crackdown has rattled Chinese stocks, with Shanghai’s key index sliding nearly five percent since April 11, surrendering all of its gains for the year.

Beijing probably felt it was safe to act now due to unexpectedly strong first-quarter economic growth, analysts said, but it faces a precarious balancing act.

The Communist Party holds its twice-a-decade congress later this year, a politically sensitive event during which the leadership avoids aggressive actions that could imperil all-important economic growth.

Longer-term, China needs steady growth as it transitions from an investment- and export-fuelled economic model to one based on domestic consumption.

“Once economic growth starts to dip below expectations or goes down, regulators will ease up again,” said Chen Zhiwu, a Yale University finance professor.

– Clock is ticking –

Michael Every, Rabobank’s head of Asia-Pacific financial markets research, said China is “having (its) cake and eating it.”

“China wants markets. And it wants stable markets. And it wants less borrowing. And it needs more and more borrowing to grow at the rate it deems necessary. Something has to give,” he said.

China remains well-equipped to manage shocks. The government’s control over banks, foreign exchange and capital flows allows it to browbeat institutions and channel funding to address problems.

It is believed to be considering merging banking, securities and insurance supervision into a new “super regulator” to plug oversight cracks.

But, perversely, its clampdown could be worsening things, driving more money into back-alley deals to avoid the new strictures, say experts who point to the first-quarter surge in “shadow banking”.

The clock is ticking, said Michael Pettis, former head of emerging markets at Bear Sterns.

“At this rate it will take them 10 to 15 years to get to a reasonable level and they clearly don?t have 10 to 15 years,” Pettis recently told Bloomberg Television.

“They may have three years, perhaps four at most, in terms of the debt.”

Corruption in China’s Navy Worries Military Planners

April 30, 2017

Beijing’s unveiling of its first domestically built carrier, Shandong, shows it is on track to dominate the seas in Asia. But history shows hardware is not enough if the military is corrupt


30 APR 2017

China’s launch of a second aircraft carrier – its first domestically built – is a major step in its ambition to make the country a “maritime power”, a status the Middle Kingdom last enjoyed just over 120 years ago.

China is now the seventh country with the capability to build its own aircraft carrier, along with the US, Russia, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, after Wednesday’s unveiling of the home-made Shandong. With two aircraft carriers – the Shandong is set to become operational by 2020 – and a few more under construction, China will soon dwarf all its regional rivals – Japan, India and the self-ruled Taiwan – in naval strength.

Only India can potentially rival China in sea power, with one conventional aircraft carrier in operation and two under construction.

Can Trump do anything to stop a war with North Korea?

China has quickly ascended from a land-based “green army” to become a regional military presence. Its “blue water” navy can project power far beyond its shores, thanks to double-digit increases in defence spending for most years in the past two decades.

The 50,000-tonne conventional Shandong, built along similar lines but slightly more advanced than China’s first carrier Liaoning (a refitted former Soviet-made conventional carrier commissioned in 2012) can carry 24 J-15 fighters and a dozen helicopters. However, there is still a huge gap between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy and the US navy, which has 10 nuclear-powered, 100,000-tonne Nimitz-class carriers, each capable of carrying about 90 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

The 100,000-tonne Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson can carry about 90 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The US has 10 such carriers in operation. Photo: EPA

But more telling than numbers is that the US also has more than 75 years of carrier experience, and well-connected global bases for logistical support. China has only one naval base – in Djibouti, Africa.

The Obama administration pledged to shift 60 per cent of American naval assets to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020 under his “pivot” to Asia plan. US President Donald Trump has vowed to upgrade the US navy’s hardware to build 80 advanced warships to address rising challenges in the region.

A PLA guard at China’s naval base in Djibouti, Africa. Photo: Reuters

China will continue to modernise the PLA navy into an effective fighting force that can safeguard its national interests amid escalating maritime disputes in the region. But military modernisation is not just about hardware – it’s about governance of the armed forces, as the history of the Qing dynasty’s Beiyang Fleet revealed.

At its height in the late 19th century, the Qing navy claimed to have the most powerful fleet in the Far East. Its state-of-the-art Beiyang Fleet had eight of the most advanced German- and British-built cruisers. Yet it was soundly defeated by the Meiji navy during the Sino-Japanese war in January 1895, largely due to rampant corruption. The humiliated defeat resulted in China’s ceding of Taiwan to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

Former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission Guo Boxiong. Last year he was sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery. Photo: AP

The PLA remains haunted by scandal, the scale of which is unseen in any other major military in the world. Nearly 100 generals including two senior military officials, Guo Boxiong (郭伯雄) and Xu Caihou (徐才厚), both vice-chairmen of the all-powerful Central Military Commission, have been ensnared in a recent crackdown on corruption. Last year, a total of 4,885 PLA officers were disciplined, according to official data.

Trump’s one-China affirmation should fool no one – especially China

One can hardly expect officers and soldiers to keep up morale in a corrupt system where promotions are attained through bribes.

While carrier-building is a huge step towards modernisation, the fate of the Beiyang Fleet is a cautionary tale that illustrates the importance of also promoting self-confidence in the PLA rank and file, if Beijing wants to remake its communist-led army into a true “people’s” force.

Cary Huang, a senior writer with the South China Morning Post, has been a China affairs columnist since the 1990s

China taking on Wikipedia with its own online encyclopaedia — “Old political framework” has to be abandoned

April 30, 2017

More than 20,000 scholars involved in country’s biggest publication project

By Stephen Chen
South China Morning Post

Sunday, April 30, 2017, 7:16pm

German interior minister speaks out in favor of ‘Leitkultur’ [‘leading German culture’] for immigrants

April 30, 2017

Germany’s interior minister has presented a 10-point plan on the divisive issue of “Leitkultur” – the idea of establishing dominant German values. Thomas de Maiziere believes this will help integrate immigrants.

Italien Treffen Innenminister zum Thema Migration | Thomas de Maizière (Getty Images/AFP/T. Fabi)

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere shared his plan about the controversial issues of fostering a dominant culture in Germany in the Sunday edition of Germany’s daily “Bild” newspaper, saying he wanted to start a public debate about the subject.

In his guest contribution to the paper, de Maiziere defended the idea of advocating a dominant culture in Germany, stating that strengthening set values under such a “Leitkultur” would ultimately create greater tolerance and that feeling secure in one’s culture would in turn create strength.

Critics of the idea of “Leitkultur” argue, however, that among other things it would serve the purpose of limiting immigration by rejecting those who do not succeed in assimilating. Opponents also say that such a set core of values would automatically lead to cultural clashes, with a “Leitkultur” being treated as inherently superior to immigrants’ native cultures, and that they would therefore be designed to inadvertently limit the spreading of multiculturalism.

A political issue

Christian Democrats start ‘Leitkultur’ debate

The issue of “Leitkultur” has been part of much social and political debate in Germany for some 15 years now. The idea, mainly perpetuated by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party and especially its Bavarian CSU sister-party, supports the view that immigrants to Germany have to assimilate to a set of shared cultural values. Other parties, such as the Green Party and the SPD, Merkel’s partner in her governing grand coalition, reject the idea.

De Maiziere’s comments came as political parties across Germany started to prepare for the general election, which will be held in September.

Germany’s unique position

The minister’s list comprises his personal view of what the cornerstones of German culture are. Mainly focusing on social aspects of everyday life, de Maiziere’s plan touches upon issues that affect all generations, such as the importance of ensuring general education and embracing performance-based rewards in a meritocratic society. “We regard good performance as something that each individual can be proud of,” de Maiziere explained in his guest commentary.

Burka Verbot in Frankreich (DW)

In his commentary, de Maiziere wrote that the burqa was not acceptable in Germany

However, divisive issues like wearing the burqa are also addressed, with de Maiziere commenting that in Germany, “we shake hands, show our faces, and tell people what our names are. We don’t do [the] burqa.”

He also listed that in German culture decisions are made by majority vote while protecting minority rights.

He also stressed the importance of people in Germany respecting its unique place in history, which he says demands its special relationship with Israel and the taking of neutral positions in its overall world-view. De Maiziere added, however, that Germany’s overall western outlook and its defense of European unity were also part of the cultural make-up of the kind of “Leitkultur” he defends.

“German is part of the West. Culturally speaking, spiritually speaking, and politically speaking. And as Germans, we’re also Europeans as well. Our freedom is protected by NATO,” the minister wrote.

De Maiziere went on to explain that Germany appreciated cultural variety, adding that as a country characterized primarily by Christian values, other religions were still always welcome, addressing one of the main points of criticism often cited against “Leitkultur.”

ss/jlw (dpa, KNA, Reuters)