Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

China is exporting authoritarianism globally, and the West is losing the old tools to stop it

November 22, 2017

Xi Jinping’s recent speech was of vast importance to the future of world power  CREDIT: ANDY WONG/AFP

By William Hague
The Telegraph
20 NOVEMBER 2017 • 9:30PM

In Zimbabwe and beyond, our best hope is to reform our own politics to set an example worth following

One of the minor successes of my time as Foreign Secretary was that I managed never to meet Robert Mugabe, despite having to sit only feet away from him at the UN General Assembly. A predecessor, Jack Straw, was severely embarrassed after shaking his hand and was reduced to the much-derided excuse that it had happened in a darkened room.

Since I was required to meet many of the world’s despotic, power-crazed autocrats, giving Mugabe a miss was a relief. He has demonstrated once again the truth that while the power of government to do good is limited, its ability to cause harm is infinite, bringing poverty and hyper-inflation to a country rich in natural resources and human talent.

A predecessor, Jack Straw, was severely embarrassed after shaking his hand and was reduced to the much-derided excuse that it had happened in a darkened room.

Since I was required to meet many of the world’s despotic, power-crazed autocrats, giving Mugabe a miss was a relief.

He demonstrated once again the truth that while the power of government to do good is limited, its ability to cause harm is infinite, bringing poverty and hyper-inflation to a country rich in natural resources and human talent.

READ MORE:
Resignation of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe read out to cheers
New Zimbabwe leader could be enforcer known as the Crocodile
The main players in Zimbabwe’s political crisis
.

 

For now Zimbabwe celebrates, but questions remain.

MIKE HUTCHINGS/REUTERS

For now Zimbabwe celebrates, but questions remain.

 

Now he has finally been dragged from the presidency, Zimbabweans will be entitled to a moment of hope – that their country can be led in a different way, consistent with democracy, freedom and prosperity.

Many of the bravest of them have struggled for that for decades. The UK and the rest of the Western World can help them.

We have long had ready a worked out plan to give major aid once the country is free of corruption, embezzlement and tyranny.

Yet we have to recognise that our own efforts to support a more democratic Zimbabwe will be based on hopes rather than decisive influence, and that there, and in many other countries, there are powerful forces who either tolerate authoritarian leadership or seek it.

Former British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

LUKE MACGREGOR/ REUTERS

Former British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

GOING TO CHINA, RATHER THAN WASHINGTON

Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has played a full part in the incompetent and blood-soaked story of the last 37 years.

Significantly, before the military chiefs ordered the tanks to roll last week, it was from Beijing that they apparently sought a green light, rather than London or Washington.

Zimbabweans are thrilled to see Mugabe gone. There are fears, however, about the man who is set to replace the dictator.

If so, the Chinese leadership gave the right answer, but it is a sign that external power over African affairs is steadily moving in their direction and away from the West.

All over Africa, there are foreign ministries, presidential palaces and infrastructure built with help from China.

There is nothing wrong with that in principle, except that such aid comes with few qualms about poor governance, absence of democracy and serious violations of human rights.

The US doesn't seem to care as much about spreading democracy under President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

The US doesn’t seem to care as much about spreading democracy under President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The age in which we westerners could assume that more countries would naturally adopt systems of government similar to our own is over, and the age in which we could require some of them to do so is coming to an end as well.

Turkey is a key example of this, moving in just a few years from seeking to demonstrate the standards of a European democracy to caring little about the remonstrations of the West as authoritarianism takes hold.

And after Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little chance of the United States invading many other places to build a freely governed nation from scratch.

The man considered most likely to replace Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s next president.

THE SPREAD OF MINI CHINAS

In Britain, we all take comfort in Churchill’s maxim that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”, and we share a lazy confidence that others will always find this to be so.

But for the first time since the end of the Cold War, some of the most powerful figures in the world are prepared to challenge this thinking.

The military asking China for permission to overthrow Mugabe marks a turning point in the world order.

JASON LEE/REUTERS

The military asking China for permission to overthrow Mugabe marks a turning point in the world order.

The speech of Chinese president Xi Jinping last month to the Communist Party Congress was of vast importance to the future of ideas and power in the 21st Century.

Not only did he declare that China would be ready to take “centre stage” in world affairs by the middle of the century, with “world-class” armed forces, he also argued that “socialism with Chinese characteristics… offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”.

In other words, the Chinese model of one-party state-led capitalism, with tight ideological control and the use of the new digital economy to enforce citizens’ loyalty, is ready for export to other nations.

After nearly 40 years with an iron grip on power over Zimbabwe, 93-year-old president Robert Mugabe has resigned. Correspondent in Harare Aislinn Laing describes the scenes on the streets there.

What is more, those nations can avail themselves of it without having to bow to the lectures of westerners about governance, rights and debt repayments.

The way will be open to dictators breathing more easily.

In a quarter of a century we will have gone from US presidents being messianic about spreading democracy, to a re-born communism ready to grow again and a US president not exactly motivated by the march of freedom.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson hails Robert Mugabe’s resignation as a chance for Zimbabwe to push for free and fair elections next year.

MUGABE’S SLOW-MOTION FALL A TEST

This does not mean that all is lost. There are African nations that have entrenched their democratic habits and even insisted on them among their neighbours, as the intervention of west African countries in The Gambia showed.

But as more power passes to the East, the ability of what we used to call the “free world” to bully tyrants with sanctions, embargoes or the threat of invasion is receding.

And battered by globalisation and populism, with Russia highly active in fomenting discord within western electorates, our trust even in our own democratic institutions is diminishing.

So what do we do? Of course, we have to strengthen our ability to protect ourselves from both military and cyber attack.

Crucially, however, a reduced ability to lead by muscle and force means we have to lead all the more by the power of example.

If you can’t make people do what you want, you have to rely even more heavily on inspiring them to do it anyway.

That means that if others reduce their standards of respect for human rights, we must refuse to do so.

Most importantly, we have to renew the health of our own democracies.

It will need a radical change to the regulation of social media, forbidding political advertising and foreign influence, and requiring greater balance and diversity in the news.

The persistent feeding of prejudices and prevalence of “fake news” are serious threats to free political choice.

The slow-motion fall of Mugabe, then, is not just a satisfying conclusion to an agony in a faraway country.

It will be another test of which ideas are gaining ground in a gathering struggle – one in which we will need to reform ourselves to win.

– The Daily Telegraph

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2017/11/20/china-exporting-authoritarianism-globally-west-losing-old-tools/
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The Varied—and Global—Threats Confronting Democracy

November 20, 2017

As China and Russia proffer alternatives, the U.S. system shows signs of strain

Image may contain: 1 person

Just over a year has passed since Election Day 2016, and a special counsel plus three congressional committees continue to struggle to figure out whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to help tip that election.

That is a hugely important question, of course. But the danger in focusing on it too much is that the country could lose sight of a broader and more pernicious reality: Whatever Russia did last year amounted to an attack on American democracy. Worse, that is only one of several ways the democratic model is under threat.

William Burns, a career foreign service officer who served as both ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary of state, sees “a conflict of ideas and models” playing out on the world stage. Both Russia and China are holding up what Mr. Burns calls their “authoritarian managed economic models” as alternatives to democracy.

Moreover, to the extent that the U.S. itself sometimes seems not to take its own democratic ideals seriously, or fails to make them work well, it can actually help erode the appeal of a system that has long served as an international beacon of hope.

In short, the democratic model is under threat on three fronts. Let’s look at them in turn:

China: President Xi Jinping used a recent Communist Party Congress to cement his own power, reduce the potential for internal challenges from other figures and establish a kind of cult of personality built around a constitutionally blessed school of “Xi Jinping Thought.”

That all thwarted democratic impulses and cemented Mr. Xi’s personal control, while solidifying his vision of an economy built on big and strong state-owned enterprises. He also declared that he intends for the resulting economic strength to make China a “great power” at the center of international affairs.

Xi Jinping is arguably the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. What’s behind his rise and how long will he remain in power? Photo: Reuters

Implicitly, at least, Mr. Xi also is creating an authoritarian model for others to follow. “What’s interesting to me, at least, is the extent to which Xi, in ways I can’t remember in the last 40 years or so, is holding up the Chinese model as an example,” says Mr. Burns. That has particular importance in Asia, where other nations watch China closely.

Russia: President Vladimir Putin is busy dismantling notions of real democracy in Russia. He’s widely expected to seek and win a fourth six-year term as president next year, and he served as prime minister during the only four years since 2000 he hasn’t been president.

Moreover, he has created a new National Guard, headed by his former chief bodyguard, to protect the country’s leaders from unspecified threats, and has just proposed increasing its power. That sounds like a kind of modern-day Praetorian Guard.

At the same time he is thwarting democratic trends at home, Mr. Putin seems determined to discredit the Western democratic model on the world stage. His intelligence services appear to have meddled in elections in, among others, France, Britain and Montenegro, and engaged in campaigns to sow discord in political systems elsewhere.

Clint Watts, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation counterterrorism expert now at George Washington University, says Russia began inserting itself into the American presidential campaign in the summer of 2015, with an apparent goal of weakening Democrat Hillary Clinton, then the odds-on favorite to be the next American president.

Only later, it appears, did the Russians decide that Donald Trump was the candidate they wanted to help win, he says. Throughout, though, the Kremlin had a broader goal: weaken the image of the U.S. by using covert social-media campaigns to stoke social and cultural divisions and make democracy look messy and unstable.

The U.S.: His critics charge that Mr. Trump exhibits some authoritarian tendencies of his own, and his occasional disparaging remarks about “rigged” democratic institutions seem to suggest that. The fact is, though, that the American system of checks and balances—a hallmark of the democratic model—remains strong and vibrant.

Yet there are reasons to worry about the health of the American model. Current leaders seem unable to find their way to consensus or even compromise on the biggest issues of the day, which can breed voter despair and disillusionment.

Demographic trends also are straining the American model. Because of the way the Electoral College works, two of the past three presidents first won office while losing the popular vote. And David Birdsell, dean of the school of public and international affairs at Baruch College, notes that by 2040, about 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states. They will have only 30 senators representing them, while the remaining 30% of Americans will have 70 senators representing them.

That’s the way the system works, of course. But there will be growing need for enlightened leaders who can show it actually does work for all.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-variedand-globalthreats-confronting-democracy-1511193763

 

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget — Amid Erdogan Spat With NATO — Turkey’s commitment to democracy and human rights questioned

November 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticised by the EU for mass arrests in the country following the failed 2016 coup

BRUSSELS (AFP) – An EU 2018 budget deal was announced Saturday that cuts funds destined to Turkey, citing doubts about Ankara’s commitment to democracy and human rights.German Chancellor Angela Merkel had led calls for a cut to the funds, which are linked to Turkey’s stalled bid to join the bloc, following mass-scale arrests in the country since the failed July 2016 coup.

MEPs and member states have agreed to reduce the “pre-ascension funds” by 105 million euros ($124 million) and froze an additional 70 million euros of previously announced spending.

In a statement, lawmakers said “they consider the deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights worrying”.

Turkey has dismissed more than 140,000 officials since the coup attempt, and arrested another 50,000, including opposition politicians, academics, journalists, activists and EU citizens.

The German government has warned its citizens against travelling to Turkey as they risk “arbitrary” arrest.

“We have sent a clear message that the money that the EU provides cannot come without strings attached,” said Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan, the lead rapporteur for the budget.

Europe had pledged 4.45 billion euros in pre-accession spending for Turkey from 2014 to 2020, but only 360 million euros has been allocated so far.

Ankara’s application to join the EU is effectively frozen, as several European leaders have criticised the hardline response to the thwarted bid to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year.

Overall, the 2018 budget calls for 160 billion euros of committed spending for ongoing programmes and 145 billion in payments expected for the year, increases of 1.3 percent and 7.8 percent from 2017.

The agreement still needs to be formally adopted by the EU Council, representing member states, and the European Parliament.

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Nato apologises to Turkey after Erdogan and Ataturk appear on ‘enemy chart’

Turkey withdraws 40 soldiers from Nato drill at joint warfare centre in Norway, in protest at incident

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in front of posters of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Nato has apologised for depicting them as ‘enemies’
 Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in front of posters of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Nato has apologised for depicting them as ‘enemies’ Photograph: AP

Nato’s secretary general has apologised to Turkey over military exercises in Norway during which Turkey’s founding leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, were reportedly depicted as “enemies”.

Erdoğan said Turkey withdrew 40 soldiers participating in the drills at Nato’s joint warfare centre in Stavanger, Norway, in protest at the incident and criticised the alliance. “There can be no such unity, no such alliance,” he said in an address to his ruling party’s provincial leaders.

Details of the incident were sketchy. Erdoğan said Ataturk’s picture and his own name were featured on an “enemy chart” during the drills.

The individual who posted the material was described as a Norwegian civil contractor seconded by Norway, and not a Nato employee.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement saying: “I apologise for the offence caused.” He said the incident was the result of an “individual’s actions” and did not reflect the views of the alliance.

He added that the individual was removed from the exercise and an investigation was underway. “It will be for the Norwegian authorities to decide on any disciplinary action,” Stoltenberg added. “Turkey is a valued Nato ally, which makes important contributions to allied security.”

Stoltenberg apologised again at the Halifax international security forum in Canada. He said he had already spoken to Turkey’s defence chief and that it “won’t create any lasting problems, and I think it’s already behind us”.

Norway’s defence minister, Frank Bakke-Jensen, also expressed his concerns about the incident. “The message does not reflect Norway’s views or policies and I apologise for the content of the message,” Bakke-Jensen said.

The joint warfare centre is a multinational Nato unit based in Stavanger, 300km south-west of Oslo. According to its website, it has a staff of 250 made up of civilians from 11 Nato member states, including Turkey.

In March, the Norwegian government caused fury in Turkey by granting political asylum to five Turkish officers based in Norway who had refused to return home after the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The five officers said that they feared being arrested and tortured.

US Joins EU calls on Cambodia to ‘undo’ opposition party ban

November 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The US joins a chorus of condemnation from the European Union and activists after the ruling that effectively allows Hun Sen’s party to run in next year’s polls uncontested

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States Thursday demanded Cambodia reverse its ban on the country’s main opposition, warning the dissolution of the party would strip 2018 elections of legitimacy.Washington hit out after Cambodia’s Supreme Court, effectively controlled by strongman premier Hun Sen, outlawed the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and banned more than 100 of its politicians, accusing the party of plotting to overthrow the government.

The US joined a chorus of condemnation from the European Union and activists following the ruling that essentially allows Hun Sen’s party to run uncontested in next year’s polls.

The verdict is the culmination of a strangling of dissent in Cambodia, with CNRP president Kem Sokha jailed for treason in September as part of a crackdown that has also seen media outlets shuttered, journalists jailed and activists harassed.

The United States blasted Thursday’s ruling as a setback for democracy in Cambodia, calling for the government to “undo its recent actions against the CNRP (and) release imprisoned CNRP leader Kem Sokha.”

In a statement, the White House said leaders must also “allow opposition parties, civil society and the media to maintain their legitimate activities.”

“On current course, next year’s election will not be legitimate, free, or fair,” the statement said, adding the US would pull support for Cambodia’s National Election Committee.

The US has previously rejected Cambodia’s allegations of American involvement in plotting to oust the government as baseless.

Although US President Donald Trump met with Hun Sen at a regional summit last week, the US leader did not comment on the brewing political crisis.

– EU rebuke –

Washington’s condemnation came after the European Union said next year’s elections have been stripped of credibility with the CNRP pulled from the race.

“A situation in which all parties, including the CNRP, their leaders and their supporters are able to carry out freely their legitimate functions, must be swiftly restored,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement.

It warned that “respect of fundamental human rights” is a prerequisite of Cambodia’s duty-free access to the bloc’s markets.

Cambodia largely relies on trade with the US and EU to bolster economic growth following a savage civil war that ended in 1975.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who defected, has ruled the country since 1985 and says he has brought much-needed peace and stability to the impoverished nation.

But he is also accused of squeezing out his rivals through well-timed crackdowns and dubious court cases.

Analysts say he has been emboldened by financial backing from Beijing, which has lavished the country with investment that has made it less dependent on aid from Western democracies.

A government official said Friday the decision to dissolve the CNRP — the country’s only viable opposition party which nearly unseated Hun Sen in 2013 elections — was in line with the law.

“It is regretful that the US official stance was made without consideration of the evidence and the court ruling,” Huy Vannak, an Interior Ministry undersecretary of state, told AFP.

He said he hoped the US and the EU would continue working with Cambodia, adding that the CNRP sought to “destroy” the country.

– ‘Unjust’ –

The CNRP said it still considers itself a legitimate party and plans to stand in next year’s election, even though more than half its 55 lawmakers have fled the country.

Rights groups slammed Thursday’s ruling, with HRW saying the decision signalled the “death of democracy” and Amnesty International calling it a “blatant act of political repression”.

Observers say the current climate of repression is harsher than previous clampdowns, with Hun Sen foregoing even the pretense of respecting human rights and a free press.

In addition to assaults against the CNRP, his government has shut down a series of outspoken NGOs and independent news outlets, including the respected Cambodia Daily.

In Cambodia’s sleepy capital Phnom Penh, life returned to normal Friday for some residents too scared to protest the verdict delivered at Thursday’s heavily-guarded trial.

“Most people don’t support the court’s decision but I just stay quiet,” tuk-tuk driver Ly Huor told AFP, vowing to vote next year.

“It’s very unjust. It’s like they are robbing the will of the people.”

burs-jv/kaf

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Cambodian opposition party dissolved by Supreme Court, as Hun Sen clears path to 2018 “election”

November 16, 2017

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen waits to attend the Independence Day celebrations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia CREDIT: HENG SINITH/AP

By Agence France-Presse

Cambodia’s Supreme Court has ordered the country’s main opposition party be dissolved, in one of the biggest blows yet to democratic aspirations in the Southeast Asian state.

The verdict Thursday, which was widely expected, is seen as the latest move by authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen to remove threats to his power ahead of elections next year.

The government accused the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party of involvement in a plot to topple the government and asked the judiciary to dissolve it.

 Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and outdoor

Party officials have denied the charges, saying they are politically motivated.

Hun Sen, a firebrand former Khmer Rouge fighter who has held office for 32 years, had already promised a guilty verdict would be delivered on Thursday.

The case against the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s main opposition party, could see over 100 politicians banned from office for five years.

That would be a crushing blow to a movement that has been battered by legal attacks since it nearly unseated Hun Sen in the last national election in 2013.

Scores of riot police were deployed outside the Phnom Penh court early Thursday as the hearing began, though there were no signs of protests.

Government lawyers took several hours to present their case before the panel of nine judges – whose president Dith Munty is himself a member of Hun Sen’s ruling CPP party.

They accused the CNRP of teaming up with the US and other foreign forces to plot a revolution – allegations Washington and rights groups have dismissed as bogus.

‘Resist the pressure’

Lawyers showed video clips of CNRP leaders urging supporters in 2013 to join protests over that year’s poll, which the party said was stolen from them due to election fraud.

“They incited anger in order to hold mass demonstrations to topple the legitimate government,” government attorney Ly Chantola told the court.

“The US is behind (the plot) and associations or NGOs funded by US gave them ideas,” he added.

In September CNRP leader Kem Sokha was detained and charged with treason over the same accusations – a dramatic arrest that sent more than half of the party’s 55 lawmakers fleeing into exile out of fear.

In this March 30, 2017, file photo, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Kem Sokha prays during a Buddhist ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the attack on anti-government protesters in 1997, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In this March 30, 2017, file photo, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Kem Sokha prays during a Buddhist ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the attack on anti-government protesters in 1997, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia CREDIT:  AP

On the eve of the Thursday’s court hearing US-based Human Rights Watch urged judges to “resist government pressure” to dissolve the embattled party.

“Although the Supreme Court is effectively an organ of the ruling party, it has a historic chance to show some independence and uphold the rule of law,” said HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams.

The watchdog warned that Hun Sen was on his way to turning the nation into a “de facto one-party state”.

In anticipation of the ruling, his government had already passed legal amendments that allow election authorities to redistribute seats or local posts held by a dissolved party.

The hardman premier, who ultimately defected from the Khmer Rouge and helped drive the regime from power, has a long history of undercutting his rivals through well-timed crackdowns and dubious court cases.

But observers say the current climate of repression is harsher and longer-lasting than previous clampdowns, with Hun Sen foregoing even the pretence of leading a free democracy.

In addition to assaults against the CNRP, his government has in recent months shut down a series of outspoken NGOs and independent news outlets – including the respected Cambodia Daily.

Use of ‘keyboard armies’ to manipulate media has gone global, report says

November 14, 2017

AFP

© Freedom House | Online manipulation and disinformation tactics affected elections in at least 18 countries this year, including the US, according to the 2017 Freedom on the Net report.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-11-14

More governments are following the lead of Russia and China by manipulating social media and suppressing dissent online in a grave threat to democracy, a human rights watchdog said Tuesday.

A study of internet freedom in 65 countries found 30 governments are deploying some form of manipulation to distort online information, up from 23 the previous year.

These efforts included paid commentators, trolls, “bots” — the name given to automated accounts — false news sites and propaganda outlets, according to the 2017 “Freedom on the Net” report by human rights group Freedom House.

The report said online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States.

“The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russia but has now gone global,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating.”

Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project, explained such manipulation is often hard to detect, and “more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking.”

The organization said 2017 marked a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as a result of these and other efforts to filter and censor information online.

China is worst, again

Freedom House said China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for a third straight year, due to stepped-up online censorship, a new law cracking down on anonymity online and the imprisonment of dissidents using the web.

Other countries also increased their efforts to censor and manipulate information, the report said.

This included a “keyboard army” of people employed and paid $10 a day by the Philippine government to amplify the impression of widespread support of a brutal drugs crackdown, and Turkey’s use of an estimated 6,000 people to counter government opponents on social media.

Meanwhile, as Russia sought to spread disinformation to influence elections in the US and Europe, the Kremlin also tightened its internal controls, the report said.

Bloggers who attract more than 3,000 daily visitors must register their personal details with the Russian government and abide by the law regulating mass media — while search engines and news aggregators are banned from including stories from unregistered outlets.

The study also found governments in at least 14 countries restricted internet freedom in a bid to address content manipulation. In one such example, Ukraine blocked Russia-based services, including the country’s most widely used social network and search engine, in an effort to crack down on pro-Russian propaganda.

“When trying to combat online manipulation from abroad, it is important for countries not to overreach,” Kelly said.

“The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary. Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline.”

Freedom House expressed concern over growing restrictions on VPNs — virtual private networks which allow circumvention of censors — which are now in place in 14 countries.

It said internet freedom also took a hit in United States over the past year.

“While the online environment in the United States remained vibrant and diverse, the prevalence of disinformation and hyperpartisan content had a significant impact,” the report said.

“Journalists who challenge Donald Trump‘s positions have faced egregious online harassment.”

British PM to Russia: ‘We know what you are doing’

November 14, 2017

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has strong words for Russia: 'We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed' https://t.co/AB4s1k5n2y

Updated 10:03 PM ET, Mon November 13, 2017

(CNN) — UK Prime Minister Theresa May has strong words for Russia over what she called its attempts to “weaponize information” to sow discord and undermine Western institutions.

“We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed,” she said on Monday. “Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.”
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In a speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, May accused Moscow of meddling in elections and planting fake news stories as part of “sustained campaign of cyberespionage and disruption.” Since its annexation of Crimea, May said Russia had fomented conflict in eastern Ukraine, violated airspace of European countries, and hacked the Danish ministry of defense and the German Parliament.
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“The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise,” she said. “So we will take the necessary actions to counter Russian activity. But this is not where we want to be — and not the relationship with Russia we want.”
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Her criticism comes amid mounting allegations that groups linked to Russia or the Kremlin itself meddled in elections and referenda, including BrexitCatalonia’s independence vote, and the 2016 US presidential election. Her comments are in stark contrast to President’s Donald Trump’s recent comment that he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials of interfering in the 2016 US presidential elections.
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May said that even as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it remains committed to maintaining Europe’s security through strong economic ties with allies and NATO. Such relationships will protect against security threats from Russia, she said.
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“That is why we are driving reform of NATO, so this vital alliance is better able to deter and counter hostile Russian activity. It is why we have stepped up our military and economic support to Ukraine. It is why we are strengthening our cybersecurity and looking at how we tighten our financial regimes to ensure the profits of corruption cannot flow from Russia into the UK,” she said.
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She cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent comment that “when a state fails to observe universal rules of conduct and pursues its interests at any cost, it will provoke resistance and disputes will become unpredictable and dangerous.”
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“I say to President Putin, I agree. But it is Russia’s actions which threaten the international order on which we all depend,” she said. “We do not want to return to the Cold War, or to be in a state of perpetual confrontation.”
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International order faces other threats from regions where “the absence of strong states” has created instability and conflict, such as the Middle East.
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“We see the spillover effects of this instability in the challenge of mass migration and humanitarian crises in countries like Yemen,” she said.
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She urged European and American allies to join the UK in stepping up efforts to contain and solve conflicts. She called attention to Yemen, Libya and Iraq and called for continued work toward a two-state solution in the Middle East peace process.
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“As part of this, while we will stand firm in our support for the Iran nuclear deal, we are also determined to counter destabilizing Iranian actions in the region and their ballistic missile proliferation, working with the US, France and Germany in particular,” she said.
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“It is in all of our interests to get this right: to bring long-sought stability to the Middle East, ensure these growing economies can play their full role in the global system, and reinforce a rules-based international order.”
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United States has to keep pace with China and its economic power plans

November 10, 2017
United States has to keep pace with China and its economic power plans
© Getty Images

The Chinese Communist Party Congress, which recently concluded in Beijing, gave President Xi Jinping a second five-year term and embraced his ambitious plans to turn the country into a global superpower. While it will take time for China to match U.S. military capability and surpass the United States in the overall size of its economy, the strides it has made in driving international economic development in strategically important parts of the world are at once impressive and alarming. It is impressive because it entails hundreds of billions of dollars invested in critical infrastructure such as roads, railroads, port terminals, and power plants. It is alarming because with that development comes increased economic and political influence, the ability to dominate, if not control, access to economic markets, and hostility towards Western values.

Indeed, Xi makes the argument that China offers a new model for development that does not require a country to imitate Western values. One must assume that means that deals can be “negotiated” behind closed doors rather than through open and transparent bids, and that there is no pressure on host governments to move toward more political or economic freedom for their citizens. As Xi has said, “It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence.” Yet, the day a host government agrees to let the Chinese build a huge infrastructure project in their country, which the Chinese will finance and the host country will pay over time, is not a day of independence, but rather a day of long-term debt dependence on China.

The centerpiece of the strategy is the “One Belt, One Road” initiative launched by Xi four years ago. It is focused primarily on connecting and integrating the economies of China and its Eurasian neighbors. Since inception, it has expanded to include some 60 countries in Asia and Europe and has been augmented by the economic corridor of China, Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar, and the economic corridor between China and Pakistan The latter consists of infrastructure project commitments totaling $57 billion. Although the United States has struggled to maintain a productive relationship with Pakistan, particularly given their strategic importance as a nuclear power, the breadth and depth of Chinese investment in Pakistan over the last few years cannot help but diminish U.S. influence in that pivotal country.

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China also has moved aggressively into Africa. At the present time, China is Africa’s number one trading partner, its number one infrastructure financier, and its number one source of foreign direct investment growth, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Company. There are currently more than 10,000 Chinese firms operating on the continent, over 30 percent of which are in manufacturing, and roughly 90 percent are privately owned Chinese businesses. Some 89 percent of the employees are local Africans. So their Africa strategy is about more than just infrastructure projects, large state owned enterprises, and exporting Chinese workers. It is also about dominating economic markets, often at the expense of U.S. and European firms.

Some may take comfort in the fact that the West has won the battle of political ideologies and that few, if any, nations aspire to adopt a communist system. However, in the global marketplace of today, money talks and economic strength is a critically important soft power tool. If China were merely engaged in a benign effort to expand its own economy, increase trade, and address the enormous need for investment in the developing world, it would represent a challenge to the West, but not necessarily a threat. However, Xi’s description of a “new era” in which he “sees China moving closer to the center stage,” backed up by a “world class” military, sounds more like a threat than a challenge, particularly for those who value freedom and democracy, and work for open, transparent, and competitive markets.

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The question is how best to contain and compete with China’s plans for economic expansion. It is not to imitate or replicate its development approach, but rather to dramatically modernize and upgrade our own economic diplomacy and development toolkit, and work much more collaboratively with our allies in Europe and Japan. A new economic development strategy led by the United States should play to our strengths of entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and private capital investment. It should rely more on encouraging and enabling private sector investment than on foreign assistance.

The U.S. government agency with the responsibility for what is called development finance is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Although it makes money every year, this agency should be replaced with a new development finance corporation that consolidates various programs spread across different parts of the executive branch. It should have the same tools as its European and Asian counterparts. With the same tools for facilitating private capital investment in high risk developing countries, the United States should lead an initiative to leverage and blend financing with our European and Japanese allies to provide the scale necessary to compete with China.

The United States should also work more closely with the multilateral development banks that share our commitment to private sector driven economic growth and level playing fields for competitive markets. When the United States reduces its support for those institutions, the Chinese are happy to fill the void. This is no time to retreat, or think small. If we want to maintain a level of influence in the world commensurate with our economic and military might, we must engage quickly and smartly.

Robert Mosbacher Jr. is chairman of Mosbacher Energy Company. He was the ninth president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

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Jailed Hong Kong democracy activists win last chance to appeal

November 7, 2017
Pro-democracy activists take part in a protest on China's National Day in Hong Kong, China, Oct. 1, 2017.

Pro-democracy activists take part in a protest on China’s National Day in Hong Kong, China, Oct. 1, 2017.

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court on Tuesday allowed three jailed young activists, who spearheaded pro-democracy protests that brought much of the Chinese-ruled city to a halt in 2014, a final chance to appeal against their sentences.

Hong Kong’s appeals court jailed Joshua Wong, 21, Alex Chow, 27, and Nathan Law, 24, in August for illegal assembly, a ruling that angered rights activists who fear creeping interference by Communist Party rulers in Beijing in the former British colony.

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(From left) Activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung appear at the High Court. Photo: Dickson Lee

The three are serving six, seven and eight-month jail terms, respectively but have been released on bail.

The trio helped lead the largely peaceful “Umbrella Movement” that blocked major roads for 79 days in 2014, demanding Beijing grant Hong Kong full democracy.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997, allowing freedoms not enjoyed on mainland China that include an independent judiciary but not a fully democratic vote.

In a short hearing on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal granted the trio leave to appeal, with the case to be heard on January 16 with the three to remain on bail until then.

The next legal steps will likely be scrutinized closely, with the jailings having shaken confidence in Hong Kong’s vaunted rule of law.

Pro-democracy activists Alex Chow, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law walk out of the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong, China November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Wong, Chow and Law were sentenced last year to community service for unlawful assembly. However, Reuters reported that Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen had overruled other senior colleagues to re-open the case and push for a harsher sentence that eventually led to their imprisonment.

“I know the world is having their eyes on us to see whether the judges, our legal professionals, will restore the confidence of our jurisdiction. Or whether it will smash the confidence of the people, not only in Hong Kong but also around the world,” Chow told reporters.

“The verdict given in the future will matter a lot and will redefine whether our constitution – the Basic Law – will value civil liberties more or control stability as claimed by the government.”

U.N. human rights experts urged Hong Kong to respect the rights of the trio, including the legal right to peaceful assembly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong is a party.

“We fear that if their sentences are upheld, this will have the effect of stifling the expression of dissenting opinions, the right to protest and the overall work of human rights defenders,” David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Michel Forst, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a joint statement from Geneva on Monday.

“We call on the Hong Kong authorities to respect the independence of judicial powers and the rule of law.”

On Saturday, China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament formally extended a law banning disrespect of the national anthem to cover Hong Kong, another example of a move that critics have said undermines the Chinese-ruled city’s freedoms.

Study: Nearly Half of Millennials Would Rather Live Under Socialism Than Under Democracy

November 5, 2017

A joint survey by the research firm YouGov and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that nearly 45 percent of millennials would prefer to live in a socialist society, compared to the 42 percent of millennials who said they would rather live in a capitalist one.

Seven percent of millennials took it a step further, responding that they would rather live in a communist society.

Compared to the rest of the population, the percentage of millennials who would rather live in a socialist society over a capitalist one is ten points higher than the general population surveyed.

“Millennials now make up the largest generation in America, and we’re seeing some deeply worrisome trends,” Marion Smith, executive director of the foundation told Fox News. “Millennials are increasingly turning away from capitalism and toward socialism and even communism as a viable alternative.”

In contrast, more than half of baby boomers surveyed responded that they favored capitalism and only 26 percent of boomers supported socialism.

The study also found that one in five Americans in their 20s consider ex-Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin a heroic figure and more than a quarter of those polled thought highly of former dictators Vladimir Lenin and Kim Jong Un.

The survey asked more than 2,000 people about their views regarding socialist and capitalist political systems.

The poll explains that many Americans feel this way about socialism and communism because they are not familiar with its definition. Seven out of ten Americans reported that they do not know the definition of communism and how it differs from socialism.

The same amount of people surveyed also underestimated how many people have been killed under communist regimes.

Lenin, for example, killed 90 million innocent people that included Roman Catholic priests and others who challenged Bolshevik ideology under his watch.

The media have also contributed to this ignorance among Americans about the truth behind communism. The New York Times, for example, featured pieces celebrating or defending it in a section of the paper called “Red Century,” a series of editorials about the 100-year anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

The outlet ran a piece hailing Lenin as an environmentalist and published puff pieces on Communist Party officials in the series.

“This troubling turn highlights widespread historical illiteracy in American society regarding socialism and the systemic failure of our education system to teach students about the genocide, destruction, and misery caused by communism since the Bolshevik Revolution one hundred years ago,” Smith said.