Posts Tagged ‘social order’

Facial Recognition Key To China’s Surveillance State

April 3, 2018

acial recognition technology is taking hold in China, while in Europe it’s considered a sign of a looming surveillance state. DW’s Frank Sieren thinks there might be a happy medium.

Chinese police officer strikes a pose (Getty Images/AFP)

With her symmetric face, her dark uniform and her mirrored sunglasses, this young policewoman looks like an agent from the sci-fi franchise “The Matrix.”  She can see things that others cannot. Her glasses are equipped with a face scanner that can search and identify faces in the crowds at a train station in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou. The glasses are linked to a giant database which enables people to be identified within seconds.

A pilot project in Henan province was considered a success: The authorities say that thanks to the glasses, seven people for whom their was a search warrant were found and arrested and caught a further 35 people who had false identity cards.

The government’s argument is that facial recognition technology will boost security and the economy at the same time. No other country has invested in the technology to such an extent. This is also because there is no major debate about data protection in China. Large parts of the population are not interested in the subject and the censors deal with those who are.

Read more – Does your phone know if you’re sick?

An ideal testing ground

Thus, China is an ideal testing ground for the technology whereby computers create biometric models that are unique for each person. Select companies can access state databases, which are huge in China. There are already 176 million cameras providing huge surveillance of public space, and by 2020 there will be 450 million more. Fingerprinting is also daily practice.

Each Chinese person over 16 has an identification card with biometric data, which can be used as a source for developers and programmers using Deep Learning. This is one of the supreme disciplines of artificial intelligence. It is indispensable for creating good facial recognition software. Algorithms teach themselves what kind of faces exist, how they can be differentiated and what factors, for example light or distorted angles, have to be taken into account to find a clear match.

A picture of DW's Frank Sieren (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl)


DW’s Frank Sieren

China would like to be the global leader in the field of artificial intelligence by 2030. So the government is supporting companies such as Megvii, a startup launched in Beijing in 2011.  It is the first “unicorn” in the branch – a company that’s not older than 10 years but already worth over $1 billion (€813 million).

Not far behind is SenseTime from Hong Kong, a company specialized in video analyses for testing precision in self-driving cars as well as facial recognition, which also rose to “unicorn” status last summer. There’s also CloudWalk, which last year received $301 million from the local government in Guangzhou.

Read more – How do biometric facial recognition systems work?

Beyond surveillance

Facial recognition technology is not only useful for surveillance, as is often thought in the West. It is a much more secure method of authentication than passwords or PIN numbers.

The China Merchants Bank has introduced 1,000 ATMs where all customers need to do is glance at the camera to withdraw money. Developers say that because the scanner calculates and analyzes facial features, the movement of the mouth and muscles, there can be no fraud.

Facial recognition also makes it easier to go through security in a country where there are masses of people on the move. China Southern Airlines has been testing the use of facial recognition technology in the city of Nanyang. People no longer need boarding cards, their own face suffices to pass through the gate. In future, people might not need passports at all.

The technology could also help personalize advertising even more. If you’re looking a bit down, you might receive a message from a suntanning studio offering you a special deal!

Strange applications

As with all new technologies, there are some odd uses, too. In Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage site, facial scanners have been installed in the public toilets to catch paper thieves. If someone uses more than 60 centimeters’ worth of paper within nine minutes, the machine will politely rebuke them.

In Hangzhou, an outlet of the fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken has introduced a biometric paying system. Customers can basically “smile to pay” because their data are linked to the Chinese tech giant Alibaba’s online paying system.

Public humiliation

Other projects might raise an eyebrow in a country which suffered Mao’s Cultural Revolution. During that era, a slogan saying the “masses have sharp eyes” encouraged daily denunciations. At a traffic light in the huge city of Jinan, facial recognition technology is used to record and shame pedestrians who cross the road on red. Photos and videos of the “culprit” appear on public screens. In some cases, employers have been informed of the “crime.”

Such initiatives, along with the government’s planned “social credit” system which will evaluate citizens according to good and bad deeds, might send a chill down the backs of foreign observers in particular.

As with all new technologies, it remains to be seen what will work in the long term. The government and companies now have to convince the population that it will also benefit from facial recognition. When it comes to fighting crime, many Chinese seem to approve its use.

What’s certain is that facial recognition is here to stay – less certain is in what sectors.

Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.



China’s new surveillance state puts Facebook’s privacy problems in the shade

April 3, 2018

By John Pomfret

A security camera overlooks Tiananmen Square in Beijing on March 6. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

When a woman walked to work this month in the bustling Southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen, she, like many millions of other Chinese, jaywalked, cutting across a side street to avoid a detour of hundreds of yards to a crosswalk. What happened next, as documented by the woman, a writer calling herself Mao Yan, was an illustration of a brave new world being born in China.

Two traffic policemen approached the woman and told her that she had violated the traffic regulations of the People’s Republic of China. Eager to get to her job, Mao Yan apologized and pointed out that there was no fencing to block jaywalkers like her. She hoped to get off with a verbal warning. The officers, however, were intent on prosecution. They demanded her identity card, which is issued to all Chinese citizens. When Mao Yan said that she had not brought hers, they asked for her ID number. When she said she had not memorized it, one officer snapped her picture with a camera phone. Seconds later he read out her name, her ID card number and date of birth. Using facial recognition technology, he had identified Mao Yan.

Then Mao Yan heard the clatter of a printer from a nearby police kiosk. One of the officers entered the kiosk and returned with a slip. “It was my first ever traffic citation,” Mao Yan wrote. On the citation was a QR code that she scanned to pay her fine via a messaging app called WeChat that is managed by Tencent, a private Chinese company.

Mao Yan was taken aback by the experience and what she called “the stunning efficiency of the facial recognition technology possessed by our traffic police.” She shared her story with friends, who told her she was lucky that she had not crossed against a light. If she had, police could have put her face, her full name and several digits of her ID card number on a public bulletin board for everyone to see. “Jaywalkers have fewer rights than criminal suspects,” she wrote, pointing out that in Chinese news reports, suspects are often not fully identified and their faces are blotted out.

Mao Yan’s Shenzhen is part of one of the great social experiments of mankind — the use of massive amounts of data, combined with facial recognition technology, shaming and artificial intelligence to control a population via marriage of the state and private companies. Already on the packed highways of Shanghai, honking has decreased. That’s because directional microphones coupled with high-definition cameras can identify and ticket — again, via WeChat — noisy drivers and display their names, photographs and identity card numbers on the city’s many LED boards. On some streets, if drivers stop their cars by the side of the road longer than seven minutes, high-definition cameras identify the driver and, again, issue him or her an instant ticket.

In other parts of China the technology is being used by the state security apparatus to crack down on separatism. In Xinjiang, which has been the site of a separatist movement against Chinese rule, China’s police have established a 21st-century police state through an infrastructure of security technology with high-definition cameras, facial-recognition technology, iris and body scanners at checkpoints, the forced collection of DNA, and the mandatory use of apps that monitor messages on smartphones. The focus of this campaign is the Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group that is mostly Muslim.

But as Mao Yan’s story makes clear, this technology is bleeding into the rest of China, where 95 percent of the population is Han Chinese. And China’s authorities won’t be content with traffic stops. Their goal is behavioral modification on a massive scale. Chinese planners have announced their intention to tap the vast AI and surveillance infrastructure currently under construction to generate “social credit” scores for all of China’s 1.5 billion people. With a high score, traveling, securing a loan, buying a car and other benefits will be easy to come by. Run afoul of the authorities, and problems begin.

Some Chinese businessmen who are benefiting from this massive investment in data have argued that the Chinese are less concerned about privacy than people in the United States. Robin Li, the founder of Baidu, China’s version of Google, which routinely shares its data with the Chinese Communist Party, argued over the weekend that Chinese people don’t care that much about privacy. “The Chinese people are more open or less sensitive about the privacy issue,” said Li, speaking at the China Development Forum in Beijing. “If they are able to trade privacy for convenience, safety and efficiency, in a lot of cases, they are willing to do that.” Ironically, Li’s remarks were released by the Chinese magazine Caixin on the same day that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology for releasing user data to a political consultancy.

In her article, Mao Yan didn’t seem to agree with Li’s optimistic interpretation of the campaign. “Maybe,” she wrote, “it’s intimidation to make everyone afraid.” I think she’s right. Hours after Mao Yan posted her story on China’s Internet, censors took it down.




China’s unwillingness to jettison state-owned enterprises may hold back its dominance over the US

October 27, 2017

China has rejected rapid privatisation of state-owned enterprises in favour of a gradual shift

By Hamish McRae
The Independent


China has chosen continuity in politics, but what does it mean for the Chinese economy?

The Party Congress has ended and the new Politbureau and its Standing Committee were elected on Wednesday. As expected, Xi Jinping remains General Secretary and Li Keqiang remains Premier. The other five members of the PSC are all relatively old, so there is no obvious successor yet to Mr Xi. He has also been elevated to the same position as Mao Zedong in the party constitution, making him in effect the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

From an economic perspective the question is a simple one: does this consolidation of power speed up or slow down the pace of economic reform in China? The country remains on track to become the world’s largest economy, passing the US in the next 10 to 20 years. Indeed, if you calculate the size of the economy in terms of purchasing power parity rather than market exchange rates, it already has.

More of that in a moment. But it faces at least four huge problems: its ageing population; environmental concerns; the need to run down state-controlled enterprises and build up market ones; and the shift from manufacturing to services.

The central government cannot do much about demography, though it has acknowledged the issue and is easing the one-child policy. It has to do more about the second and is already trying to do so, for example by promoting electric cars. As for the last two, this is where policy matters.

State-owned enterprises, and there are about 100 of them, are less efficient than privately owned ones. According to official figures they produce an average return on assets of 2.9 per cent last year, against one of 10.2 per cent for the private sector. That is not entirely the fault of their managers, for they are often directed to do things for the authorities’ social objectives that make them less profitable: for example maintaining employment and investment rather than slimming down when demand falls.

China has rejected rapid privatisation of these companies in favour of a gradual shift, perhaps passing three or four a year into ownership by state-owned holding companies, which can then gradually be sold to the public at some later stage. Why? It wants to retain control of the economy, as it has for the past 40 years.

It is hard not to feel sympathy for this gradual approach, for China has managed to avoid the chaos that engulfed Russia. But a slower transition will probably mean slower growth.

The shift from manufacturing to services is a parallel one. This is not something that countries have much control over. Germany has maintained a somewhat larger manufacturing sector than other G7 economies, but not much. In every advanced economy the shift is taking place, with manufacturing typically between 10 and 15 per cent of GDP. In China manufacturing is still nearly 40 per cent, but was passed by services (now more than 50 per cent) back in 2012.

Services are by their nature different from manufacturing, and in particular harder to fit into a command economy. So the Chinese government’s power over the economy will tend to fall as a result. So there is another dilemma: promote the shift (as for example the Shanghai municipality is doing) and you accept you cede control, or seek to retain control by resisting it.

We know enough about economic development to be pretty sure that giving greater power to the market will lead to faster growth. China is the classic real-world model of this. But social order matters and it may be sensible to go for a slower transformation of the Chinese economy if that enables the country to avoid overly disruptive change.

In any case, China almost inevitably passes the US to become indubitably number one. When? Well, the famous Goldman Sachs BRICs report calculated that this would happen about 2027. More recent work by HSBC suggested it would not be until about 2040. But if it were the earlier date, and were Xi Jinping to have a third term as General Secretary, that would be at the end of his period of office.

At the moment there is a long way to go. Last year, according to World Bank data, the US GDP was $19.6 trillion; China was $11.2 trillion. A lot, good or bad, can happen in a decade. But let’s do the sums. Suppose the US were to grow at 2 per cent compound its GDP in 2027 would be about $24 trillion, and if China were to grow at 7 per cent it would be around $22.5 trillion. So China would not quite be there, but it would snapping at the US’s heels.

Maybe those growth projections are too pessimistic for the US and too optimistic for China, but you can see the prize: be leader of China when it becomes the largest economy in the world. No wonder Xi Jinping would like to stick around.

Women assaulted, bottles hurled at chaotic German town festival — sexual harassment and alcohol-fuelled weekend disturbances

July 17, 2017


© DPA/AFP | Matthias Klopfer (L), mayor of the southwestern German village of Schorndorf, and Aalen police president Roland Eisele give a press conference on July 17, 2017 in the city hall in Schorndorf to comment on disturbances at a local festival

BERLIN (AFP) – German police said Monday several assaults and cases of sexual harassment were reported in alcohol-fuelled weekend disturbances that saw youths rampage through a small town and hurl bottles at police.

No arrests had been made over the alleged harassment, but police were treating as a suspect a 20-year-old Iraqi man and, in a separate case in which a 17-year-old girl was groped, three Afghan asylum seekers aged 18-20.

Police chief Roland Eisele urged other women to come forward if they were abused on Friday or Saturday night during the chaotic scenes that started at a local festival in the southwestern town of Schorndorf, Baden-Wuerttemberg state.

Eisele said “the aggression and escalation of violence” were unprecedented and unexpected in the town of about 40,000 people, located near Stuttgart, and that the local police force had to request backup from other cities.

Police said in a statement that many youths “with migrant backgrounds” were seen in the crowd, but Eisele said that it was impossible to estimate a percentage.

Officers in riot gear moved into a crowd of about 1,000 Saturday night in the town centre to detain a suspect on charges of dangerous physical assault but came under attack as others hurled bottles at them.

Witnesses had reported small groups of youths, some armed with knives or replica handguns that can fire flares and teargas, roving through the medieval town centre, police said.

Several police cars were sprayed with graffiti or otherwise vandalised in the small town also dubbed “Daimler city” because automotive inventor Gottlieb Daimler was born there in 1834.

In a press conference Monday, Eisele evoked the chaos of Cologne’s infamous 2015 New Year’s Eve celebrations when men of North African and Middle Eastern appearance groped and assaulted hundreds of women, sparking widespread public outrage.

He stressed that the rowdy scenes in Schorndorf were less intense than those in Cologne or the riots in the northern port-city of Hamburg before and during the July 7-8 Group of 20 summit, when far-left and anarchist militants burnt street barricades and threw rocks from rooftops.

In Africa, Pope Francis talks poverty, forgiveness, reconciliation

November 25, 2015




Nairobi (AFP) – Pope Francis warned Wednesday that poverty fuels “conflict and terrorism” as he kicked off a landmark first trip to Africa, landing to a rapturous welcome from cheering crowds and traditional dancers.

After joyous celebrations in Nairobi where some greeted Francis in traditional feather headdresses, bright clothes, and beads, the 78-year-old pontiff went to Kenya’s presidential palace to deliver a more sombre message.

“Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust, and the despair born of poverty and frustration,” he said alongside President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“I encourage you to work with integrity and transparency for the common good, and to foster a spirit of solidarity,” he said in comments alluding to the corruption and inequality that blights the country.

Kenyatta called corruption a scourge and said his administration was committed to fighting it. “We sacrifice our people and our environment in the pursuit of illegal profit,” he said.

Days before a key UN climate change summit in Paris, COP21, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics warned the world was facing a “grave environmental crisis”.

“There is a clear link between the protection of nature and the building of a just and equitable social order,” said Francis who has taken on a vocal role in environmental issues.

His message is likely to resonate in Africa where climate change is already felt and where wildlife poaching is rampant.

– ‘More worried about the mosquitoes’-

The pontiff will also visit Uganda and troubled Central African Republic (CAR) before flying back to Rome on Monday.

On a trip fraught with security concerns, thousands of police and troops have been deployed, with key roads closed in the capital Nairobi to ensure the visit is peaceful.

Al-Qaeda’s East Africa branch, the Shebab, have launched a string of attacks against Kenya because they have troops deployed in Somalia.

But Francis said he had come with “joy” to make his first visit to Africa, and played down safety fears, joking he was “more worried about the mosquitoes.”

Over a million people are expected to attend a giant open air mass led by Francis in Nairobi on Thursday, which has been declared a public holiday.

A packed schedule will see the pope visit a Nairobi slum, a shrine to Christian martyrs in Uganda and both a mosque and a refugee camp in CAR. He will make a total of 19 speeches, including one on the environment.

Security chiefs in Kenya and Uganda insist all preparations have been made, although the CAR leg of the trip remains more risky.

Until now, the plans remain in place despite warnings from French peacekeepers that they cannot guarantee the pontiff’s security.

– In John Paul II’s footsteps –

Vatican officials say a last-minute change of programme will only take place if Francis is made aware of a precise threat that could endanger the thousands of believers expected to come and see him, many of whom will be travelling long distances from neighbouring countries.

Francis is expected to use his open-topped Popemobile during the trip, although he rode from Nairobi’s airport in a simple saloon car.

Aides say he is determined to press ahead with his plans, particularly in CAR where he is due to open a “Holy Door” in Bangui’s cathedral 10 days before the start of a Catholic Jubilee Year dedicated to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Francis is the fourth pope to visit Africa, a continent which now counts one in six of the world’s Catholics and whose importance to the Church is set to grow significantly over the coming decades.

Paul VI became the first pope of modern times to set foot in Africa when he visited Uganda in 1969, while John Paul II, dubbed “The African” by a senior cleric, managed to visit a total of 42 countries on the continent during his long papacy.

With the Paris summit due to begin on November 30, there will be particular interest in Francis’s remarks on the environment Thursday when he visits the Nairobi headquarters of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) and Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

In Uganda, he will honour Christian martyrs, celebrating a mass to commemorate the first African saints — 22 young men burned alive in 1886 by royal order because they refused to renounce their faith or become sexual slaves.

China sentences ‘cult’ leader to life in prison amid crackdown

October 31, 2015


BEIJING (Reuters) – China has sentenced the head of what it calls a cult to life in prison on charges including rape and fraud, state news agency Xinhua said on Saturday, continuing a crackdown on what it views as dangerous illegal movements.

After a probe lasting more than a year, a court in the southern province of Guangdong on Friday sentenced Wu Zeheng, founder and leader of the Buddhist-inspired Huazang Dharma group, and fined him 7.15 million yuan ($1.13 million), Xinhua cited the court as saying.

Three others were also sentenced to up to four years in prison for fraud and perverting the course of justice. Wu intends to appeal, according to Xinhua.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan U.S. government commission, says Wu and his followers are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Reuters was not immediately able to locate a lawyer for Wu.

The Huazang Dharma has said on its website, which is blocked in China, that he is a purely religious figure facing cooked-up accusations, and has appealed for international help.

Xinhua previously reported that Wu had already been jailed at least twice, and set up his group in 2010 upon his last release from jail.

“In the name of charity and life science and through inflammatory preaching, Wu lured a growing number of followers who were interested in Buddhism, were suffering diseases or thought association with the cult would ward-off ill fortune, according to the police,” the state news agency said on Saturday.

“Wu slept with many women by saying he could give them ‘supernatural power’. He was also found to have amassed more than 6.7 million yuan in ill-gotten gains, according to the court,” said Xinhua.

China’s officially atheist Communist Party does not tolerate challenges to its rule. It prizes social stability and religious activities must be state sanctioned.

Authorities have gone after what they view as cults, which have multiplied in recent years, and demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Economically Wounded and Paranoid China Seen In Spying Accusations Against Japanese in Beijing — Communist Party really worried about domestic stability

October 17, 2015


Japanese analysts ask whether detention of four residents may be an attempt to divert attention from impending Chinese economic woes

“I’d certainly steer clear of visiting China at the moment.”

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

Japanese analysts ask whether detention of four residents may be an attempt to divert attention from impending Chinese economic woes

The arrest in China of three Japanese and a North Korean defector living in Japan on charges of spying is a heavy-handed ploy designed to distract public attention from Beijing’s looming economic crisis, according to analysts in Japan.

In announcements on September 30 and October 11, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing revealed that it had detained the four, who include a woman in her 50s, since May and that they had been charged with conducting espionage on behalf of Tokyo.

One of the men was detained close to an air base and had apparently taken photos of aircraft through the perimeter fence. The female detainee is reportedly the owner of a language school who had business interests in China and had visited the country frequently.

The Japanese government has denied that the four were working for the country’s Public Security Agency and were spying on Chinese interests.

“Our country has never done such a thing,” said chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga following the second Chinese announcement. He added that China should release all four immediately.

“Beijing has clearly become more sensitive to the activities of foreigners on its soil, but my sense is that these arrests are more of a reflection of the concerns within the Chinese Communist Party over domestic stability,” an analyst with close ties to Japan’s Ministry of Defence told the Sunday Morning Post.

The analyst, who declined to be named, said the Chinese government’s accusations were based on fears that the present economic downturn might be structural rather then merely cyclical and that there was potential for a full-blown financial crisis which could trigger public unrest and calls for political reform.

The Chinese government had, he pointed out, been swift in the past to focus citizens’ attentions on perceived external threats at a time when it felt under pressure on domestic issues.

That sentiment was echoed by Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University.

“The present Chinese government has been widely criticised for carrying out cyberespionage against the United States and Japan,” said Shimada, pointing to the similarities between the technology incorporated in China’s Chengdu J-20 fighter and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

China’s Chengdu J-20 fighter

“The issue was raised when [President] Xi Jinping visited Washington for talks with [Barack] Obama, so now the Chinese want to pretend they are also the victims of espionage by foreign countries,” he added.

Shimada expected Beijing to attempt to “extort economic concessions” from Tokyo for the release of the four detainees, although any agreement may never be made public and China may simply release the four suspects.

Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University, said it was “inconceivable” that four “amateur agents” were dispatched with mobile phone cameras to spy on China’s massive military machine.

“I have to assume that this has been made up by the Chinese authorities,” he said. “What could one person standing outside a military base hope to learn about the secrets of the Chinese military?

“It makes no sense,” he added. “Satellites would gather far better images of what is going on inside a military base.

“There’s no indication these were anything other than people who were being anything more than curious and, possibly, naive in getting too close to Chinese bases at a time of heightened tensions between the two nations and shortly after Beijing introduced new spying laws,” Dujarric said.

The Chinese legislation came into force in November. It incorporates a catch-all clause that cites “any other spying activity”.

“It stretches credulity that these four were James Bond-type agents,” Dujarric added. “But if I was a Japanese planning a holiday, I’d certainly steer clear of visiting China at the moment.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as China’s spying arrests questioned


BBC News

Two Japanese men are being held in China on accusations of spying, China’s foreign ministry has confirmed.

China has not given details, but Japanese media reports said the men had been held since May, one in northern Liaoning province, the other in coastal Zhejiang province.

Speaking at a regular press briefing, Japan’s top government spokesman denied Tokyo spies on foreign countries.

“Our country is not engaged in such activity,” Yoshihide Suga said.

The chief cabinet secretary also declined to comment on reports about the ages and other personal details of the men.

“I’m not going to comment on individual cases,” he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed the detentions, and said China had “notified Japan on the relevant situation”.

The reports, which first appeared in the Asahi newspaper (in Japanese), said one suspect was detained close to a military facility and the other near the North Korean border.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers remarks at the United Nations General Assembly on 28 September
President Xi Jinping has toughened China’s stance towards both internal dissent and foreign espionage. Getty Images

Along with a crackdown on corruption and political opposition, Chinese President Xi Jinping has taken a tough line on national security, creating a new national security commission and strengthening a counter-espionage law.

Reports of the Japanese detentions come not long after news emerged that an American woman, Sandy Phan-Gillis, had been held in China since March, also accused of spying.

Mrs Phan-Gillis was accompanying a US trade promotion trip to the country when she was arrested.

In 2010, four Japanese men were detained in the northern province of Hebei for filming in a military area, during preparations for a bid by Japanese company Fujita to dispose of chemical weapons left in China by Japanese troops in the 1930s.

They admitted the filming but denied they knew they were in a restricted area, and were later released.

While those arrests came at a time of escalating tension between the two neighbours, the latest detentions come amid a relative warming of relations, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meeting President Xi twice since November.

China’s President Xi Jinping looks powerless in the face of economic forces

August 26, 2015


While China’s stock markets plunged in June, the government took a number of steps to actively intervene and stop the slide. On Monday, China shares dropped 9%, with ripple effects quickly felt across the globe, and the slide continued Tuesday morning. So far, the government has not responded as aggressively this time, as some question whether Xi Jinping is equipped to manage the Chinese economy and whether too much attention has been focused on the fight against corruption at the expense of the country’s financial management.

Before Monday’s crash, Michael Forsythe and Jonathan Ansfield of the New York Times wrote:

Mr. Xi has positioned himself as the chief architect of economic policy — usually the prime minister’s job — and has vowed to reshape the economy, exposing himself to blame if growth continues to sputter. At the same time, Mr. Xi is making enemies with an anticorruption drive that has taken down some of the most powerful men in the country and sidelined more than a hundred thousand lower-ranking officials.

Senior party officials are said to be alarmed by the state of the economy, which grew at the slowest pace in a quarter century during the first half of the year, and now seems to be decelerating further. In a sign of its anxiety, the leadership this month implemented the biggest devaluation of the Chinese currency in more than two decades, sending global markets into plunges.

Mr. Xi’s reputation was also dented this summer by panicked official efforts to prop up the Chinese stock market after a sharp dive in share prices. His government had promoted the market as a good investment to the public for months.

[…] “Everyone understands that the economy is the biggest pillar of the Chinese government’s legitimacy to govern and win over popular sentiment,” said Chen Jieren, a well-known Beijing-based commentator on politics. “If the economy falters, the political power of the Chinese Communist Party will be confronted with more real challenges, social stability in China will be endangered tremendously, and Xi Jinping’s administration will suffer even more criticism.” [Source]

Likewise, in Slate, Joshua Keating writes about the confluence of stock market woes with global tensions of which China is at the center:

These ongoing tensions are worrying enough in normal times, but are even more dangerous when China’s leaders feel insecure and challenged by domestic enemies. Which is how they must feel right now. The economic turmoil of the past few weeks has dealt a blow to the image of China’s leaders as competent stewards of the country’s economic rise, and President Xi Jinping looks powerless in the face of economic forces. Reports are already emerging about grumbling within senior ranks of the Communist Party over whether Xi and his advisers are up to the task of managing China’s next economic transition. If Xi feels threatened by a lack of support at home, he could ramp up his purge of potential rivals.

The bigger fear if there’s a long-turn economic downturn is social instability. Under the country’s unspoken post-Tiananmen grand bargain, China’s population hasn’t significantly challenged the autocratic one-party state, so long as the party continues to deliver economic progress and increasing prosperity. This is not to say that Chinese society is entirely harmonious—while the authorities have been adept at managing dissent, the country still sees tens of thousands of “mass incidents” every year, sparked by causes ranging from labor disputes, to environmental degradation, to land seizures. But thanks to steady growth, public anger over economic conditions hasn’t been a major problem over the last 25 years. It could be soon: Chinese investors, who were strongly encouraged by the state-run media to put money in the market during the country’s boom, are already venting their anger online. [Source]

China’s geopolitical role is currently in the spotlight as the country prepares for a major military parade to mark the end of World War II and to showcase Beijing’s power. But the economic troubles threaten to sideline China’s achievements in recent decades. Fergus Ryan reports in The Guardian:

The V-Day celebrations, due to occur on 3 September, are designed to be a showcase of Xi’s power and credibility and are clearly aimed at a domestic audience. But increasingly, when it comes to the economy, his and the government’s credibility are taking a hammering. Beijing’s reputation as skilful and competent economic managers – built up over years of breakneck economic growth – is in tatters after a two-month long stock market rescue operation has faltered.

More so than anywhere else, China’s stock market is disconnected from the economic fundamentals of the country, experts say, but nonetheless the rapid decline shows that market sentiment has fallen off a cliff.

“It is a key moment for China. The equity market in freefall, the banking system increasingly starved of liquidity, rising capital outflows, and a rapidly slowing economy,” Angus Nicholson, of IG Group, wrote in a note on Monday.

Global markets were already reeling from last week’s data, which showed the country’s manufacturing output had dipped to its lowest point since the global economic crisis. Experts say there’s a sense that it no longer matters what the government says or does, as the market is now adjusting to what it believes the reality is. [Source]

Chinese authorities issued notice to state media to censor negative market reports

Authorities have attempted to manage the response to the stock market crash by censoring news and social media posts. Propaganda officials have issued directives to the media on how to report the news, according to the South China Morning Post’s George Chen:

And Baidu search results have been censored as well, according to the Feichang Dao blog and Chen.

Read more about the individuals who are tasked with helping Xi manage the economy, from Bloomberg.
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From Monday, August 24, 2015 and earlier:



When Will China Stop Stock Market Intervention? Regulators Want To Withdraw 1 Trillion Yuan-Plus “Invested for Stability”

July 20, 2015


Speculation over securities regulator’s plans to withdraw rescue funds — “It’s very difficult to have confidence in the market.”

By Daniel Ren in Shanghai and George Chen in Singapore
South China Morning Post

As mainland stock markets scramble to their feet after three weeks of massive falls, investors and analysts wonder how the government will begin to lift its hand after its heavy intervention, with mainland media saying the authorities will be withdrawing its rescue funds.

The speculation came after financial news portal Caijing reported yesterday that the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) was studying how to withdraw the estimated 1 trillion yuan-plus (HK$1.26 trillion) in funds that it had invested to stabilise the market.

The regulator denied the Caijing report.

“The related media was irresponsible for making such a major market-moving report without checks with the supervisory department,” regulator spokesman Zhang Xiaojun said.

Even so, investors and analysts said it was an appropriate time to consider an exit strategy.

Levin Zhu Yunlai, son of ex-premier Zhu Rongji and former chief of China International Capital Corporation, said the government had to come up with a more systemic approach to deal with challenges in the capital market, including how to rebuild investors’ confidence.

“For China’s capital market to function well, we still have a long way to go,” Zhu said at a forum in Singapore yesterday.

In response to a question about the government’s recent actions to stabilise the market, he said: “I don’t think the suspension of the initial public offerings is a good measure.”

The Shanghai Composite Index dropped more than 31 per cent after June 15, with US$3 trillion of market value evaporating within three weeks, prompting Beijing to step in with a series of stabilising measures.

This month, major brokerages, under the CSRC’s directive, set up a 120 billion yuan fund to buoy the index before the central bank gave liquidity support to the China Securities Finance Corporation to replenish stock purchases. Beijing also suspended new listings.

“If they don’t exit in the near future, they will cash out some time later,” Shanghai Shiva Investment hedge fund manager Zhou Ling said. “It’s advisable for the CSRC to consider exit strategies … But it wasn’t politically correct for Caijing to report the news.” Caijing, citing unidentified sources, said the China Securities Finance Corporation – the CSRC-controlled platform that lends money to brokerages for margin financing businesses – was estimated to have borrowed about 1 trillion yuan of shares.

Police are also investigating what the authorities have termed “malicious short-selling”. Analysts said the move showed the top leadership was concerned that the stock market slide would threaten social order.

The Shanghai index has regained 13.8 per cent since July 8 after the CSRC urged parents of listed firms not to sell shares for a period of time while encouraging them to increase holdings in their listed subsidiaries.

But the index opened about 0.8 per cent lower yesterday, an inauspicious sign for retail investors who want the government rescue measures to remain.

“The bad news came just too soon,” retail investor Miao Miao said, referring to concerns about the government’s rumoured exit. “It’s very difficult to have confidence in the market.”



Crackdown on China’s Human Rights Lawyers: 1.3 billion Chinese lose national governance based on law

July 20, 2015


Asahi Shimbun

July 10 is now known as “Black Friday” by people concerned about human rights in China.

On that day, police detained human rights lawyers and activists in various parts of the nation in a large-scale concerted crackdown on people working for the cause.

Chinese authorities have continued the roundup in the ensuing days, interrogating more than 200 people so far. This is an outrageous act that cannot be overlooked.

The main target of the crackdown is Fengrui, a law firm in Beijing. People linked to Fengrui are still being held in custody.

Those who were rounded up in other parts of the nation, such as Hunan province, Shanghai and Henan province, are suspected to have links to Fengrui.

These civil-rights lawyers have been acting as defenders of the rights of ordinary people petitioning the authorities in various cases, including forced evictions from their homes.

The lawyers play an important role for improving the human rights situation in China, and such an attack on these lawyers and activists could cause serious damage to the rights of the entire Chinese public.

Beijing has used the state-controlled media to demonize the law firm as “a criminal organization that has disturbed social order.”

The accusation refers to Fengrui’s use of the Internet to draw public attention to cases of civil rights violations concerning disputes between police and local residents.

According to the government’s logic, all protests against the actions of authorities qualify as “anti-government” activities.

The latest move against civil-rights lawyers came just about two months after Pu Zhiqiang, a widely known human rights lawyer, was formally indicted in May.

Nearly 1,000 human rights activists were detained in China last year, according to some reports.

The administration of President Xi Jinping has been suppressing, with unprecedented harshness, people working for the protection of human rights in the country.

Since China started reforming its economy and opening its door to the outside world, two main forces have been fighting each other for dominance.

One is the newfound power of citizens supported by the rising standards of living and education. While they certainly have a conservative side, Chinese citizens have grown increasingly conscious of their life-related rights and have acquired the ability to take action.

Pitted against the power of citizens is the Communist Party’s political power to suppress dissenting voices in order to protect its one-party rule. This political power has been asserted aggressively by the Xi administration.

China’s 2004 constitutional amendments added a provision stipulating, “The state respects and preserves human rights.” The Constitution also guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and association.

But there is no system in place to ensure that these constitutional provisions are enforced. As a result, they are effectively dead provisions.

Meanwhile, a sweeping new national security law that came into force on July 1 could only reinforce the government’s inclination to restrict the rights of citizens under the pretext of national security. In early July, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein expressed concern about the human rights implications of the new security law.

In a key party conference held last autumn, the Xi administration pledged to promote wholeheartedly national governance based on law.

If what is happening in China is any indication, however, the law here actually means a stick to suppress citizens rather than a shield to protect them.

We are deeply concerned about the prospect that China’s 1.3 billion people will remain trapped in a miserable human rights situation that is far from the rule of law.

–The Asahi Shimbun, July 19


(Contains links to several related articles)


By , Epoch Times and , Epoch Times

If you’re a Chinese lawyer who has accepted a client facing prosecution for his faith, expect obstacles at every turn.

For attorneys who choose to represent practitioners of the persecuted spiritual discipline Falun Gong, interruptions, harassment, court detention, and beating are among the methods used by court and police staff to undermine the legal process. Many Falun Gong trials are conducted in secret; attendance for relatives and friends of the accused is prohibited or limited.

200 Meters to the People’s Court

In a recent episode from Hebei Province in north China, four Falun Gong practitioners, detained illegally for over a year, stood trial on June 19. According to local witnesses, family members of the practitioners planning to attend the trial were greeted by a 200 meters wide (about 218-yard) perimeter outside the entrance to the People’s Court in the city of Sanhe.

Police shoving several women into police cars.  (Photo provided by witnesses)

Police shoving several women into police cars. (Photo provided by witnesses)

At around 8 a.m., police and court bailiffs formed a cordon manned by hundreds of personnel backed up by dozens of vehicles around the court building. On site were officials from Communist Party and the 610 Office, an agency created in 1999 for the suppression of Falun Gong.

Defendants Wang Zhenqing, Wen Jie, Ma Weishan, and Kang Jingtai, all Falun Gong practitioners from Sanhe, were represented by lawyers Wang Yu, Feng Yanqiang, and Hu Guiyun.

When the lawyers tried to enter the courtroom, the police delayed the start of the trial by leading them to different gates of the building and haranguing them over proper documentation. Only at 9:50 a.m. were the attorneys let in.

Seen at the court building directing the law enforcement personnel were Cui Haoquan, Party secretary of a local Communist Party political agency, Guo Lichen, head of Sanhe’s 610 Office branch, and Liu Xiuwen, a political commissar attached to the local police.

Chinese officials Shi Liandong, Gu Zhixue and  Liu Xuewen are seen outside the People's Court in Sanhe, Hebei Province. (Photo provided by witnesses)

Chinese officials who harassed lawyers are seen outside the People’s Court in Sanhe, Hebei Province. (Photo provided by witnesses)

The Trial

Visitors who tried to gain entry to the court were harassed and beaten. Only eight of the defendants’ relatives succeeded in witnessing the trial.

An elderly woman tried to check into the court to sit in on the trial, but was repeatedly questioned about how she had heard about the trial and how she had gotten an invitation. Then the onsite personnel removed her and others from the perimeter.

When a bespectacled man in his fifties attempted to gain entry, the police first misdirected him to a false entrance, then demanded his identification. The man in turn asked the officers for their identification and admonished them for their treatment of Falun Gong.

Four officers responded by beating the man and detaining him for a day.

The defendants had been abducted and held in detention by local Sanhe police since April 2014. That December, they were charged with “using superstitious sects to undermine the implementation of the law.” Such charges are typically levied using Article of 300 of Chinese criminal law, a commonly used statute created in 1999 to facilitate the suppression of Falun Gong, started that July by order of then-Communist Party head Jiang Zemin.

During the trial, dozens of plainclothes police sat in the visitor section with the few relatives allowed in.

When the court was adjourned for a recess, Guo Lichen (the 610 Office chief) and domestic security officers Shi Liandong and Gu Zhixue, entered the courtroom to discuss plans with court officials. Inside sources indicate that Guo even monitored the trial via CCTV.

“Who are you people? Why are you here?” one of the practitioner’s relatives sitting near the plainclothes police in the courtroom asked. “Don’t you know that because of you, family members of the [Falun Gong practitioners] are standing outside?”

The relative went on to criticize the persecution of Falun Gong, whereupon the plainclothes police left the court.

Might Makes Right

Sometimes violence is used to deny a legal defense to Falun Gong practitioners standing trial, as in the recent case of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was hospitalized with multiple injuries he sustained after being beaten by court bailiffs acting on orders of the presiding judge.

On June 18, Wang and two other lawyers represented seven practitioners at a trial held in the city of Liaocheng, Shandong Province, eastern China. The seven had been arrested for distributing fliers about Falun Gong, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, and were being charged with “undermining the implementation of law.”

Initially, Wang’s attempts at defense were repeatedly interrupted by the judge, who called multiple objections on account of Wang supposedly disrupting court order.

“No matter how calm we were, how well we obeyed the rules, the judge just kept interrupting us and calling out objections, as what we said was undesirable,” said one of the defense lawyers, surnamed Chen, in an interview with New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television.

According to Chen, the court was heavily guarded. As the defense made its case, plainclothes police viewing the trial would yell verbal abuses at them.

“The presiding judge had suppressed [Wang’s] speech from the beginning of the trial. He was interrupted four times. There wasn’t any problem with us lawyers. Instead, it was the court undermining the implementation of law,” Chen said.

Finally, the judge demanded that Wang and the others be expelled from the court. When Wang protested, he received a severe beating from several court bailiffs. The three lawyers were detained by the court for the rest of the day and had their belongings, including computers, stolen.

In March last year, authorities in Jiansanjiang of northern China’s Heilongjiang Province detained four prominent rights lawyers who traveled to the city to investigate claims that the Falun Gong practitioners were being held illegally in a “black jail,” or extrajudicial detention center.

They were detained for more than two weeks before being released. Two of the lawyers reported suffering extreme physical abuse while in detention and another described torture while in custody.

Prominent Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, named one of the top 10 lawyers in China by the Ministry of Justice in 2001, was imprisoned several times after defending disenfranchised groups in China, including Falun Gong practitioners. Gao’s last disappearance was in 2009. At the start of 2012, Gao’s brother said he had received a court document saying Gao was being held in Shayar jail in Xinjiang, northwestern China.

Gao Zhisheng suffered extreme physical torture during detention, including electrical shock to his genitals. He was eventually released on Aug. 7, 2014. He is currently under house arrest and is undergoing physical and psychological recovery.