Posts Tagged ‘Uighurs’

China warns against ‘bullying’ of its citizens — after arrest of a Huawei executive

December 11, 2018


Canada is probably not the new Xinjiang — (Even the Uighurs could agree to that!)


China’s foreign minister warned Tuesday against the “bullying” of any Chinese citizen, amid a diplomatic fracas over the arrest of a Huawei executive on a US warrant in Canada.

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecommunications behemoth Huawei, was on December 1 arrested in Vancouver on US fraud charges related to sanctions-breaking dealings with Iran, infuriating China.

“The safety and security of Chinese compatriots are our priority, China will never sit idly by and ignore any bullying that violates the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a speech in Beijing, without directly referring to the Huawei case.

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“We will fully safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese citizens and return fairness and justice to the world,” he said at the opening of a diplomatic symposium.

The detention has raised tensions following a truce in the US-China trade war, with Beijing summoning both the Canadian and US ambassadors over the weekend.

Meng, who faces a possible extradition to the United States, is seeking her release on bail from a court in Vancouver.

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China has accused Canada of treating Meng in an “inhumane” manner, citing reports in Chinese state-run media alleging she was not given adequate medical care.

Beijing has also claimed that the Chinese embassy was not immediately notified of her arrest.

“The Canadian government did not do this and the Chinese government learned this through other channels,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a daily briefing.

In his speech, Wang also touched on tensions with the US, calling on Washington to stop seeing trade between the countries as a “zero-sum game”.

“Take a more positive look at China’s development, and constantly expand the space and prospects for mutual benefit,” he said.

“There is no need to artificially create new opponents, and an even greater need to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies.”






Ex-Prisoner Says China’s ‘Vocational Training Centers’ a Complete Lie

December 7, 2018
The ongoing repression in China is about “protecting the Chinese Communist Party.”
Uyghur Reveals Chinese Communist Party’s Crimes in Xinjiang

December 6, 2018

China’s claims that Xinjiang’s mass internment camps—where at least one million predominantly ethnic Uyghurs are being held—are “vocational training centres” are completely “fake and made up,” a former Uyghur camp detainee has told The Epoch Times.

Countering claims made by the China’s ruling Communist Party, who in October described the facilities as “free vocational training centers” that make life more “colorful,” the former detainee, Gulbukhar Jalilova, said “they are lying through their teeth,” adding that she “never saw a single classroom.”

Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir told state-run Xinhua news agency that people detained in the camps “will advance from learning the country’s common language to learning legal knowledge and vocational skills.”

Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir

But 54-year-old Gulbukhar said instead of learning vocational skills, “I moved from camp to camp, room to room, and never saw anybody spending any time learning something.”

Gulbukhar, a Kazakhstan national and businesswoman, was held in an all-female camp in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, for just over 15 months before she was released in September this year. She was detained after being falsely accused of transferring $17,000 into a company called Nur. She was released by officials after they said they had been told she was innocent.

She was tricked into traveling to Urumqi after receiving a phone call from her business associate’s daughter. She was told there were “big problems” and that she needed to come to the capital immediately from her home in Kazakhstan. She was arrested upon her arrival.

Uyghur woman Gulbukhar Jalilova who was released from Xinjiang reeducation camp
Businesswoman Gulbukhar Jalilova, 54, a former Uyghur detainee in Xinjiang, China. (Gulbukhar Jalilova)

The CCP’s narrative of providing detainees with “vocational skills” to help with employment does not add up, the 54-year-old said, because the types of women held in camp with her were “very rich, educated people,” such as “businesswomen, doctors, nurses and teachers.”

“They weren’t homeless people or those with no money who needed training—that’s a lie from the CCP,” she told The Epoch Times.

“They could afford to go overseas and then when they came back, they were detained.”

But amongst the claims Zakir made, as the CCP moved to legalize the facilities, is that detainees are offered “practical opportunities,” such as learning about “businesses in garment making, mobile phone assembly, and ethnic cuisine catering.”

The CCP has long justified its measures against Uyghurs, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslim, saying the facilities aim to “educate and transform” those that it deems at risk of the “three evil forces” of “extremism, separatism, and terrorism.”

Uyghurs, alongside other ethnic minorities like the Tibetans, as well as faithful believers who remain outside state control, including house Christians and Falun Gong, have long been targeted by the CCP for transformation through “re-education.”

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV aired a 15-minute segment in October, offering a glimpse into life inside one of the centers—the Hotan City Vocational Skills Education and Training Center.

The “trainees” can be seen reading from large textbooks in the clip and are shown learning various skills such as baking, woodworking, sewing, and cosmetology.

“Whatever the CCP shows on TV and videos—it’s all fake and made up. There are no classrooms. We just sit in our rooms and stare at the wall. The door only opens to punish you, that’s it,” Gulbukhar added.

While China’s state TV footage showed rooms with air conditioning, decorated with bunting and balloons, Gulbukhar said it is a depiction far from reality. Detainees are confined to their rooms, poorly treated, and kept in shackles in overcrowded conditions, she said.

Those in her camp were forced to ingest unknown medicine daily and were injected with a substance every month which “numbs your emotions.” They were also subject to various forms of torture including food and sleep deprivation, physical punishments, while some were even killed, she said.

Chairing a Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) hearing on Nov. 29, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said given the daily realities in communist China, where “Uyghur Muslims are rounded up and interned in camps, Tibetan monks and nuns are forced to undergo political re-education sessions, Falun Gong practitioners are reportedly sent to legal education centers for indoctrination, and Christian believers are harassed and imprisoned,” many observers are describing the current wave of repression in China as “the most severe since the cultural revolution.”

Rubio added he believes the CCP’s motivation behind the escalating crackdown “is an obsessive desire … to create a sort of unified, national identity, which must be stripped of anything that competes with it—ethnicity, religion, ethnic cultural tradition.”

China analyst Dr. Samantha Hoffman from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute added at the hearing that the ongoing repression in China is about “protecting the Chinese Communist Party.”

The CCP’s “concept of what we would call national security I think is better translated as party state security,” she said. “[T]here are dimensions … dealing with the internal struggle for power … and then dealing with everything outside the party; controlling the narrative, controlling the ideological space.

“That means that the state security methods extend far beyond China’s borders and that’s why you see the harassment of overseas Chinese.”

Will Trump Speak Up Against China’s Oppression?

December 1, 2018

In Argentina, President Trump has a chance to confront Xi Jinping on human rights abuses against the Uighurs.

By The Editorial Board

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

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As President Trump prepares to meet his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at the G-20 gathering in Argentina this weekend, tough American tariffs and a broader bilateral trade relationship are at the top the agenda.

But what about concerns that the Trump administration has expressed in the past over Beijing’s repression and mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims? Some of Mr. Trump’s top lieutenants, like Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have called attention to the Uighurs’ plight, but given the president’s fixation on tariffs, he may well decide to hold his fire about the Uighurs to appease Mr. Xi in pursuit of a trade deal. So it’s no surprise that the White House is refusing to say whether the Uighurs will be on the agenda.

The dilemma Mr. Trump faces has some faint echoes from 1989, when President George H.W. Bush had to figure out how to recalibrate relations with China after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Of course, Mr. Trump lacks the experience or subtlety that Mr. Bush — a former director of the C.I.A. and envoy to China — brought to that fraught diplomatic moment.

Mr. Bush “wanted to safeguard the underlying geopolitical relationship,” his secretary of state, James Baker, wrote in October. Still, Mr. Baker added, “The United States could not be viewed as a cynical paper tiger on human rights.”

At that time, China was just beginning the economic reforms that would eventually make it an international force to be reckoned with, and relations with the United States were at a peak. Responding to pressure from Congress and international outrage over the widely publicized Tiananmen Square killings, the Bush administration imposed limited sanctions on Beijing while maintaining dialogue with Chinese officials.

Today, when another, more hostile strategic realignment between Beijing and Washington seems to be underway, there is again an urgent need to address at the highest levels of the American government what have been described as China’s worst human rights abuses in decades. They are largely happening in secret to a group of people who are little known outside China.

Mr. Xi has imposed China’s most sweeping internment program since Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, when more than a million people were killed and millions of others were imprisoned, tortured and humiliated.

As Mr. Pompeo and other senior officials have acknowledged, Chinese officials are forcibly holding hundreds of thousands — perhaps more than one million — Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims in camps across the northwest Central Asian border region of Xinjiang without any formal legal process.

There have been credible reports of torture, starvation and death in the camps. There are, as well, accusations that officials have forced detainees to renounce traditional Islamic practices and swear allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party. On Thursday, CNN reported that a Chinese photojournalist, Lu Guang, had disappeared in China after being seized by authorities in Xinjiang.

Overlaying all of this is a sophisticated surveillance system that uses cameras, biometric data and phone apps to reinforce state control. Officials reportedly have also deployed more than a million Chinese civilians, mostly members of the country’s Han majority, to occupy the homes of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in order to indoctrinate and monitor them. The Uighurs, numbering about 11 million, are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang.

Beijing argues that the crackdown is needed to combat extremism and terrorism on its western frontier and says that many of those detained are common criminals. But Mr. Pompeo has said that Uighur “religious beliefs are decimated.

And Mr. Pence, in a hard-hitting speech in October, lambasted a “new wave of persecution” that is “crashing down on Chinese Christians, Buddhists and Muslims.” He said the Uighurs “endure round-the-clock brainwashing” as part of a “deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith.”

Such rhetoric helped focus more international attention on the campaign of oppression against the Uighurs, but it’s not nearly enough. While Western countries have begun to speak out, where is the outrage from Muslim countries? Why aren’t China’s neighbors demanding an end to the abuses?

The world can ill afford to remain mute, as it did for too long when the generals in Myanmar began unleashing genocide against the Rohingyas, members of a Muslim ethnic group that have been killed by the thousands and forced to flee to Bangladesh.

For several months, administration officials have been discussing whether to impose punitive measures on China over its treatment of Uighurs. In mid-November, lawmakers in Washington introduced legislation that would level sanctions on specific Chinese officials and limit the sales of American technology products to certain Chinese state agencies.

If Mr. Trump refuses to confront Mr. Xi in Argentina and take strong measures against Chinese officials for their mass repression, Congress will be obliged to act.



China will retaliate ‘in proportion’ to any U.S. sanction over Muslim Uighurs, ambassador says

November 28, 2018

China will retaliate “in proportion” if the United States sanctions its top official in the restive region of Xinjiang over alleged human rights abuses, China’s ambassador to the United States said on Tuesday, adding that Beijing’s policies in the region are to “re-educate” terrorists.

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Chinese paramilitary police on patrol in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang. Photograph: Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese Ambassador to Washington Cui Tiankai said in an interview that China’s efforts to combat international terrorism are held to a double standard, comparing Chinese actions in Xinjiang to U.S. troops battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“Can you imagine (if) some American officials in charge of the fight against ISIS would be sanctioned?” Cui said, adding “if such actions are taken, we have to retaliate.”

Cui did not elaborate on specific actions China might take.

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Cui Tiankai

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, academics, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang.

In August, a United Nations human rights panel said it had received many credible reports that a million or more Uighurs in China are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

U.S. officials have said the Trump administration is considering sanctions targeting companies and officials linked to China’s crackdown on minority Muslims, including Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who, as a member of the powerful politburo, is in the upper echelons of China’s leadership.

Cui said that while the United States was using missiles and drones to kill terrorists, “we are trying to re-educate most of them, trying to turn them into normal persons (who) can go back to normal life,” Cui said.

“We’ll see what will happen. We will do everything in proportion,” he said, responding to a question on how China would retaliate to possible U.S. sanctions on Chen.

Cui’s comments are the strongest response yet to U.S. threats on the issue.

Any such U.S. sanctions decision against so senior an official as Chen would be a rare move on human rights grounds by the Trump administration, which is engaged in a trade war with China while also seeking Beijing’s help to resolve a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

U.S. sanctions could be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, a federal law that allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any U.S. assets, U.S. travel bans, and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them, U.S. officials have said.

Chinese authorities routinely deny any ethnic or religious repression in Xinjiang. They say strict security measures — likened by critics to near martial law conditions, with police checkpoints, the detention centers, and mass DNA collection — are needed to combat the influence of extremist groups.

After initial blanket denials of the detention facilities, officials have said that some citizens guilty of “minor offenses” were sent to vocational centers to improve employment opportunities.

At a briefing in Washington on Monday, a Uighur woman, Mihrigul Tursun, 29, told reporters she had experienced physical and psychological torture, including electrocution while strapped to a chair, during 10 months in Xinjiang detention centers.

Tursun, who wept and shook as a translator read her prepared statement, said her three children were taken from her while she was in detention and that her four-month-old son had died without explanation in government custody.

Rejecting Chinese government claims that the detention facilities serve vocational purposes, she said many of the dozens of other women in her cell were “well-educated professionals, such as teachers and doctors.”

Tursun said she witnessed nine women die during one three-month period she spent in detention, including from sickness after being denied medical treatment.

Reuters could not independently verify her account, though numerous former detainees have begun to share similar first-hand details with media. China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tursun’s statement.

Independent assessments of the conditions in Xinjiang are nearly impossible given restrictions on journalists from openly reporting from the region.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called on China to allow monitors in Xinjiang, though Beijing has responded by telling her to respect China’s sovereignty.



Hundreds of scholars condemn China for Xinjiang camps — “Psychological torture of innocent civilians.”

November 27, 2018

Countries must hit China with sanctions over the mass detention of ethnic Uighurs in its western Xinjiang region, hundreds of scholars said on Monday, warning that a failure to act would signal acceptance of “psychological torture of innocent civilians.”

Beijing has in recent months faced an outcry from activists, academics and foreign governments over mass detentions and strict surveillance of the Muslim Uighur minority and other ethnic groups that live in Xinjiang.

In August, a United Nations human rights panel said it had received many credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy” in the region.

Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China’s Xinjiang region. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Representatives from a group of 278 scholars in various disciplines from dozens of countries called on China at a news briefing in Washington to end its detention policies, and for sanctions directed at key Chinese leaders and security companies linked to the abuses.

“This situation must be addressed to prevent setting negative future precedents regarding the acceptability of any state’s complete repression of a segment of its population, especially on the basis of ethnicity or religion,” the group said in a statement.

Countries should expedite asylum requests from Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities, as well as “spearhead a movement for UN action aimed at investigating this mass internment system and closing the camps,” it said.

China rejects criticism of its actions in Xinjiang, saying that it protects the religion and culture of minorities, and that its security measures are needed to combat the influence of “extremist” groups that incite violence there.

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China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi

The country’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said the world should ignore “gossip” about Xinjiang and trust the government.

But after initial denials about the detention camps, Chinese officials have said some people guilty of minor offences were being sent to “vocational” training centers, where they are taught work skills and legal knowledge aimed at curbing militancy.

Michael Clarke, a Xinjiang expert at Australian National University who signed the statement, told reporters that China sought international respect for its weight in global affairs.

“The international community needs to demonstrate to Beijing that it will not actually get that while it’s doing this to a significant portion of its own citizenry,” Clarke said.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Lisa Shumaker


See also:

China is creating concentration camps in Xinjiang. Here’s how we hold it accountable.

Chinese city urges those ‘poisoned by Muslim extremism’, who follow conservative Islam to confess crimes

November 19, 2018

China rejects all criticism, saying that it protects the religion and culture of minorities…

A city in China’s far-western Xinjiang region has ordered people who are “poisoned by extremism, terrorism and separatism”, in contact with overseas terror groups or act in a conservative Islamic manner, to turn themselves in to authorities.

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Those who surrender to judicial organs within 30 days and confess to their crimes will be treated leniently and might avoid punishment, said a notice posted on Sunday on the official social media account of the Hami city government.

Beijing has in recent months faced an outcry from activists, academics and foreign governments over mass detentions and strict surveillance of the Muslim Uighur minority and other ethnic groups that live in Xinjiang.

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China rejects the criticism, saying that it protects the religion and culture of minorities in the region and that its security measures are needed to combat the influence of “extremist” groups that incite violence there.

“All individuals involved in terrorist crimes and poisoned by the ‘three evil forces’ are urged to surrender themselves to the judicial organs within 30 days and to confess and hand over the facts of your crime,” said the Hami city notice.

The notice issued by the municipal “leading small group for stability maintenance” says that actions ranging from being in contact with overseas “terror” groups to conservative Islamic behavior should prompt individuals to turn themselves in.

Advocating that people live their entire lives in accordance with the Koran, stopping other people from watching television, or banning alcohol, smoking and dancing at weddings are listed as behaviors that should warrant informing the authorities.

Indian Muslims hold placards during a protest against the Chinese government over the detention of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang

The list also included openly destroying, rejecting or thwarting the government identification system, as well as rejecting government provided housing, subsidies and cigarettes or booze as being “haram” or forbidden.

Those who turn themselves in on time will be treated leniently, and if the information provides a significant clue, then they might avoid all punishment, the notice said.

In August, a United Nations human rights panel said it had received many credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy” in Xinjiang.

China says it is not enforcing arbitrary detention and political re-education.

Aside from the mass detentions, rights groups also say that the Chinese government has significantly raised limitations on everyday religious observances in the region.

Last month, the region’s capital Urumqi launched a campaign targeting halal products, like food and toothpaste, which are produced according to Islamic law, in order to prevent what it sees as the incursion of Islam into secular life.

(This version of the story has been refiled to fix spelling in paragraph 8, “haram” not “harem”)

Reporting by Christian Shepherd and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry


Hong Kong pro-democracy protest leaders go on trial

November 19, 2018

Three leading Hong Kong democracy campaigners pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges related to their involvement in massive rallies calling for political reform, as room for opposition in the semi-autonomous city shrinks under an assertive China.

The pioneering trio are among nine activists all facing “public nuisance” charges for their participation in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests. The charges are based on colonial-era law and carry jail terms of up to seven years.

Sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 59, law professor Benny Tai, 54, and baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, 74, founded the “Occupy Central” movement in 2013 and joined with the student-led Umbrella Movement which brought parts of the city to a standstill for months, calling for free elections for the city’s leader.

The activists were welcomed outside court by hundreds of supporters shouting: “Peaceful resistance! I wanted real universal suffrage!”

© Reuters / Bobby Yip | Occupy Central pro-democracy movement founders Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man chant slogans outside a court in Hong Kong, China November 19, 2018.

Prosecutor Andrew Bruce argued that the mass protests had caused a “common injury done to the public”, who had been affected by the blockage of major roads.

He accused the trio of taking part in and supporting the demonstration “by way of unlawful obstruction of public places and roads”.

Occupy Central called for the occupation of Hong Kong‘s business district if the public was not given a fair vote for the city’s leader, who is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.

It was overtaken by the student movement that exploded in September 2014 when police fired tear gas on gathering crowds.

The Occupy trio urged people to join what became known as the Umbrella Movement as protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas and pepper spray.

The movement failed to win reform and since then activists have been prosecuted, with some jailed.

‘Chilling prosecution’

Professor Chan gave a farewell talk Wednesday night to a full house of more than 600 people at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he has been teaching for over two decades.

“So long as we are not crushed by imprisonment and trial and do not become overly frustrated and angry, then we will become stronger and we can inspire many more people,” he told the audience, announcing his early retirement from next year.

“Only in the darkest hours, we can see the stars.”

He told AFP that he had prepared for the physical and mental challenges of possible jail time by taking up marathon running.

Chu, who has been unwell but attended Chan’s talk, said the trio had “prepared to walk on this path”.

“We were always willing to be sacrificed in order to wake up the people,” Chu told AFP.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” arrangement since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

It allows far greater civil liberties than on the Chinese mainland, but there are growing fears those freedoms are being eroded.

Ahead of the trial, rights groups had urged authorities to drop what Amnesty International called the “chilling prosecution” of the nine activists, a group that includes lawmakers, student leaders and pro-democracy party campaigners.

Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, warned there would be a “real danger” of more prosecutions for peaceful activism if the case was successful.

Human Rights Watch said the prosecutions raised further questions about how far authorities are trying to “politicise the courts”.

The trial at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court is expected to last 20 days.



(Steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under President Xi Jinping — “We are all Uighurs now.”)

Hong Kong lawyers demand explanation over journalist ban — Beijing is running Hong Kong now

November 16, 2018

Steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under President Xi Jinping — “We are all Uighurs now.”

Hong Kong’s powerful bar association, a group of the city’s top lawyers, has upped pressure on the government to explain the blacklisting of a British journalist in what was widely seen as an unprecedented attack on press freedom.

Victor Mallet, a senior journalist with the Financial Times, was refused a work visa extension and then barred from entering the city as a tourist after he chaired a talk by an independence activist at the city’s press club.

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Carrie Lam and Xi Jinping

The government has refused to explain the decision despite calls from the public and rights groups, and criticism from foreign governments including Britain and the United States.

The effective blacklisting of Mallet comes as concern grows that Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms are disappearing as Beijing tightens its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

In a statement late Thursday the bar association said the rights enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, including freedom of expression, should be respected “whether one agrees with the information or ideas or not”.

“The HKBA considers that the public, both domestically and internationally, is justifiably concerned whether the decisions (over Mallet’s visa and entry to Hong Kong) constitute undue interferences with the right to freedom of expression,” it added.

It urged the government to explain the decisions “so that the public can see if good reasons exist for them”.

Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland, protected by an agreement made before the city was handed back by Britain to China in 1997, but there is growing evidence those rights are being eroded.

A report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission this week said there had been a “steady erosion” of Hong Kong’s autonomy under President Xi Jinping and cited Mallet’s visa denial as an example of challenges to freedom of speech.

“Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s political system, rule of law and freedom of expression is moving the territory closer to becoming more like any other Chinese city,” the report said.

USCC, a congressional body that monitors national security and trade issues between the US and China, also called on the US Department of Commerce to publish assessments of the safety of exporting sensitive technology to Hong Kong.

City leader Carrie Lam denied the accusations in the report, saying it saw the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing with “coloured glasses”, an expression meaning to view something with prejudice.


Western envoys seek meeting on Xinjiang human rights concerns

November 15, 2018

A group of 15 Western ambassadors in Beijing, spearheaded by Canada, are seeking a meeting with the top official in China’s restive, heavily Muslim Xinjiang region for an explanation of alleged rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs.

The envoys are making their request in a letter to Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang’s Communist Party boss, according to a copy of a draft letter seen by Reuters.

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FILE PHOTO: Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) Party Secretary Chen Quanguo attends a group discussion session on the second day of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

The move represents unusually broad, coordinated action by a group of countries over a human rights issue in China, and illustrates the mounting backlash Beijing is facing over its crackdown in the western region.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, academics, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.

In August, a United Nations human rights panel said it had received many credible reports that a million or more Uighurs in China are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”.

China says it is not enforcing arbitrary detention and political re-education, but rather some citizens guilty of minor offences were being sent to vocational centers to provide employment opportunities.

Beijing bristles at criticism of its human rights situation, espousing a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries. China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Tuesday the world should ignore “gossip” about Xinjiang and trust authorities there.

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Wang Yi

It was not clear if the letter had been sent yet or if it contents could be revised. One diplomatic source said it was being passed around for more countries to potentially sign.

Several other diplomats familiar with the letter would only confirm its existence and refused to discuss it further, citing its sensitivity. All of the diplomats declined to be identified.

Many foreign governments have refrained from speaking out over the Xinjiang situation, with diplomats saying countries are fearful of angering China, an increasingly weighty diplomatic player thanks to its economic heft and initiatives such as the Belt and Road infrastructure program.


In the draft letter addressed directly to Chen, who outranks the region’s ethnic Uighur governor Shohrat Zakir, the ambassadors said they were highly concerned by the U.N. findings on Xinjiang.

“We are deeply troubled by reports of the treatment of ethnic minorities, in particular individuals of Uyghur ethnicity, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” the draft reads, using an alternate spelling for Uighur.

“In order to better understand the situation, we request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience to discuss these concerns.”

The letter is copied to China’s Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Public Security and the Communist Party’s international department.

It is not possible to directly contact any senior Chinese leader for comment. The Xinjiang government, ministries of foreign and public security, the party’s international department and party’s spokesman’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China has said Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

The letter carries the names of 15 Western ambassadors, including the Canadian, British, French, Swiss, European Union, German, Dutch and Australian envoys. The other countries’ ambassadors names in the letter are Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, Finland and Denmark.

Four diplomats familiar with the letter and its contents said Canada had taken the lead in its drafting.

Canada’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters, did not comment directly on the letter but expressed deep concern over the reports of detention and mass surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.

“The Minister of Foreign Affairs raised the situation faced by the Uyghurs directly with China’s Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly. Canada regularly raises concerns about Xinjiang with Chinese authorities both publicly and privately, bilaterally and multilaterally, and will continue to do so.”

The EU, British, German, Swedish, Swiss, Belgian, Dutch, Finnish and Norwegian embassies declined to comment on the letter.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the government was concerned about the situation in Xinjiang and officials had conveyed these concerns to China on a number of occasions.

The Irish, Danish, French and Estonian embassies did not respond to requests for comment.

The United States is not represented on the letter, although non-U.S. diplomats say the country has been deeply involved in advocacy on the Xinjiang issue.

“We remain alarmed that since April 2017 the Chinese government has detained an estimated 800,000 to possibly more than 2 million Uighurs, Kazaks and other Muslims in internment camps for political re-education,” a U.S. embassy spokesman said, responding to a question regarding the letter.

“The United States will continue to call on China to end these counterproductive policies and free all those arbitrarily detained. We are committed to promoting accountability for those who commit human rights violations and abuses, including by considering targeted measures against Xinjiang officials.”

The United States has said it is considering sanctions against Chen, other officials and Chinese companies linked to allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.

As influence of AI, big data grows, cyber experts discuss tech safety and trust

November 15, 2018

At international conference in Tel Aviv, experts speak of need to protect public from hazards of algorithm-run lives

A drone exhibit at the 5th International Homeland Security and Cyber Exhibition, Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018.  (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A drone exhibit at the 5th International Homeland Security and Cyber Exhibition, Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Cyber experts on Tuesday called for a new focus on cyber education to train the professionals needed to ensure that autonomous vehicles are safe.

Dr. Jacob Mendel, head of research cooperation with industries at Tel Aviv University’s Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, told a panel at the 5th International Conference and Exhibition on Homeland Security and Cyber that today’s airplanes were so full of electronic parts that it was important to test each one for vulnerability to cyber attack.

Not only were there not enough design engineers with cyber knowledge, he said, but there were insufficient numbers of ‘good hackers’ to test such products out.

“You have to ‘attack’ the device, to use the maximum knowledge we have today to protect it,” he said, calling on production companies to create departments for cyber security alongside those for sales, marketing and engineering.

Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, Germany, warned, “even if you’ve secured your own company, your suppliers and sub suppliers may be exposed. The whole ecosystem needs to be protected.”

A vision of transport in 2030 shown at the 5th International Conference and Exhibition on Homeland Security and Cyber, Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018. Dirk Hoke is seated second from left. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Hoke presented a visual depicting how transport might look in 2030. It showed air taxis and a little girl pointing a remote control at a crate of vegetables being delivered by a drone.

Yochai Corem of Cyberbit -– a subsidiary of the Israeli defense technology company Elbit Systems — called on the government to “push, educate and regulate” cyber education.

Tuesday’s presentations focused heavily on issues of artificial intelligence and human trust in them.

Roey Tzezana, billed as a US-based researcher in futures studies, spoke from California via a tablet attached to a physical robot that moved on the stage.

Tzezana described the growing presence of algorithms in our lives — pieces of code which provide the instructions for artificial intelligence (AI) systems. By connecting algorithms together, artificial neural networks are created.

It was algorithms which decided whether you would get a loan from a bank, which recommended friends and products for you, shaped the behavior of the stock market and determined the prices on Amazon, he said.

Roey Tzezana, a researcher of future studies, speaks from California via a tablet placed on a moving robot at the 5th International Conference and Exhibition on Homeland Security and Cyber in Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018.

“An algorithm is a brainless way of doing things — a set of precise steps that if obeyed mechanically, will lead to a desirable outcome,” he explained.

But today, algorithms were actually ‘learning’ from massive amounts of data. If they saw enough pictures of a beef burger, for example, they would eventually be able to generate their own picture of one.

“As a result of artificial neural networks, we have algorithms that are more effective than humans at deciphering human conversation, recognizing numbers, recognizing faces, and beating even the top human players at Go [an abstract strategy board game].

Tzezana described how Chinese authorities are using facial recognition algorithms in their surveillance systems to identify individuals in a crowd of 60,000 people.

The Chinese government is reportedly forcing Muslim Uyghur citizens from the restive Xinjiang region in the country’s north west to download a surveillance app called JingWang Weishi (‘web cleansing’) that records information about each device and scans it for certain files. If an undesirable file is found, the app sends a message to the phone’s owner with an instruction to delete it.

“Who gave algorithms permission to impact our lives?” Tzezana asked rhetorically. “We did,” he replied, adding that algorithms could also cause mayhem.

In one case in 2012, an electronic trading company, Knight Capital Group, lost more than $450 million in half an hour after a faulty algorithm bought stocks in multiple companies, worth billions of dollars, continuing to pay more and more as the stock prices rose.

In another example, algorithmic pricing on Amazon once pumped the cost of a book about flies to more than $3.5 million.

“Soon, we will be surrounded by algorithms, robots and autonomous cars,” Tzezana said. “An autonomous taxi will chose who to pick up and who not. Your Amazon door lock will lock you in your house if Amazon doesn’t like you.”

This artificial power was already so vast that people were withdrawing their trust and voting with their fingers by abandoning giants such as Facebook, Tzezana claimed.

This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

And in losing trust, they were falling back on gut instincts such as fear, doubt, and xenophobia.

“If you are a company providing services based on data, you must realize that people don’t trust as easily as they did before. They want to know there is someone to trust. They want companies to be more transparent, to be regulated – not necessarily by the government but by the public, by some sort of mediator.”

Russell Roberts, chief information officer for the US Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, noted that machines were “not good in gray areas” and had the biases of their creators built into their learning.

“If you are driving your Mercedes in a few years’ time and a truck crosses you, and there’s a cliff on one side and a family on the sidewalk on the other, the Mercedes will protect you and take out the family,” he said. “You don’t decide.”

“It’s all about networks,” Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheikh told the 5th International Conference and Exhibition on Homeland Security and Cyber in Tel Aviv, November 13, 2018. Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Israel police chief Roni Alscheich said that just as countries were turning to web attacks before activating real armies, so criminals were moving to a cyber world in which they could steal money online without having to physically rob a bank, commit pedophilia without leaving the house and run a casino online rather than risk a police raid.

New challenges faced the force, he said. While collecting online information to catch terrorists had public support, doing the same to catch criminals provoked protest over invasion of privacy, he noted.

The police now had to find which smartphone or computer was used to commit an offense and to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the offender who sat at the keyboard or held the phone while the offense was committed. This was a new form of evidence with which the courts had to become accustomed.

Through engagement with big data, the police had learned to view crime in terms of networks rather than hierarchy, Alsheich went on. By attacking the hubs, they were managing to weaken entire networks.

New methods of big data analysis had led to significant decreases in property crime (down 15 per cent this year compared with 2017) and car theft (down almost 20% last year and a further 18 % this year), he said.

However, complaints about neighbor-related problems such as noise and parking disagreements had risen sharply over the past decade and now accounted for half of all complaints to the police by the public.

Shalom Tower, Tel Aviv (photo credit: Carli Kiene)

Shalom Tower, Tel Aviv (Carli Kiene)

High residential towers were isolating people and driving them to seek social connections on social networks, Alsheich added. Residents of neighborhoods were becoming estranged from one another, less tolerant of those they did not know, and more likely to turn to the police if there was noise from the apartment above.

In response, the police were focusing more on community initiatives, he said.