With President Xi Jinping at the helm, the Chinese government doubled down on repression inside and outside the country in 2021, says world report 2022 on human rights. Its “zero-tolerance” policy towards Covid-19 strengthened the authorities’ hand, as they imposed harsh policies in the name of public health.
Beijing’s information manipulation has become pervasive: the government censors, punishes dissent, propagates disinformation, and tightens the reins on tech giants. The once-cacophonous internet is now dominated by pro-government voices that report to the authorities on people whose views they deem insufficiently nationalistic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is aiming to seize control over the internet to curb dissent, which could possibly threaten the Chinese Communist Party*s regime. Xi is heading towards “smart governance” which translates to having an upper hand in social and political control. Smart governance is the realm of cyberspace administration work – the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and cloud computing, with the ultimate goal to transition China*s cyberspace from technical administration to “AI administration.”
However, Vinu Dharunesh J, an associate research fellow writing in Indo-pacific Centre for Strategic Communications (IPCSC) said that one of the largest military conglomerates in the world is seizing control of cyber security in order to eliminate threats that do not exist.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committed to the production and use of technology that controls and surveils its population, according to a congressional commission of the US. In a joint statement to Fox News, Chairman Robin Cleveland and Vice Chairman Carolyn Bartholomew of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that China’s move to use technology as a tool of repression is “politically motivated to sustain the Party”. “The Chinese Communist Party is committed to the production and use of technology that controls and surveils its population. The decision to use these tools of repression is politically motivated to sustain the Party,” the statement read.
Chinese Electronics Technology Group (CETC), a state-owned military conglomerate deployed military-style surveillance – using the Hikvision Digital Technology, and command of networks across China that includes a facial recognition system which is capable of automatically identifying people, also run ethical profiling on them and tracking almost every being in sight of the cameras. This step taken by CETC is to strengthen “national security” as they say it.
Across China, the police are buying technology that harnesses vast surveillance data to predict crime and protest before they happen. The systems and software are targeting people whose behavior or characteristics are suspicious in the eyes of an algorithm and the Chinese authorities, even if they’ve done nothing wrong.
The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.
The Chinese government monitored every corner of Beijing by state-of-the-art surveillance cameras. Facial recognition algorithms matched with images filed away in a secret database could see you in legal trouble for something you did near your front door. A semi-political post made in a private chat could lead to the loss of your job. According to the report in Fox News, surveillance has become a booming business in the world’s most populated country with scores of tech start-ups moving in to meet the market demand with the government’s encouragement. Several human rights activists said that the enterprise has quickly become a critical apparatus for suppression and abuses, especially on minority groups.
Beijing uses a system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), which has the ability to audit entire populations. The system is developed by a state-owned military contractor China Electronics Technology Corporation, IJOP. It is said to have been copied by Chinese military theorists researching how the US military used information technology during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and enhanced from there. “From there, it can rapidly produce names of people classified as “suspicious” — and thus marked for possible detention — purely as a result of their travel patterns abroad, mobile applications installed and key phrases used in bulletins or private messages, sometimes as basic as asking someone else where they can pray,” the report said.
The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.
Joseph Humire, Executive Director for the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), told Fox News that Xinjiang serves as the “central nervous system of surveillance” in China, which is an IJOP that prompts you to enter identifying information, such as when you grow a beard, leave your house, or your blood type, etc. “These apps try to determine your pattern of life, and if Chinese authorities determine any change in your pattern of life, they come to visit you,” he told Fox News. “It is targeting the whole population with the focus on anyone who has independent thinking,” said Xiaoxu “Sean” Lin, a microbiologist and activist/spokesperson for the Washington-based Falun Dafa Association.
It is carrying out high-tech surveillance through Police checkpoints. Facial, iris and license plate recognition. Geofenced travel restrictions. Biometric registration. GPS tagging. Blanket video surveillance. And mandatory communications monitoring. China is reportedly employing a sophisticated facial recognition system that could closely monitor targeted people in a Muslim-dominant province. The network is installed at residents’ homes and workplaces in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in western China, reported Bloomberg. The new face-reading AI technology would alert the authorities if any suspects leave more than 300 meters (984 feet) beyond the designated ‘safe areas’, said the Bloomberg report quoting an anonymous insider. “Many technologies are involved in facial recognition including Facial Action Unit analysis, facial expression recognition, deep neuro network analysis, facial muscle movement recognition, topographic modelling, deep machine learning and supercomputer technologies,” Xiaoxu added.
Chinese authorities claimed in March 2019 that authorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have arrested 13,000 ‘terrorists’ in the province in the last five years, with more than twice that number punished for so-called ‘illegal religious activities’. The detail came in a white paper entitled ‘the Fight against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang,’ issued by the State Council Information Office. Investigations of satellite footage by Bellingcat and the Guardian found that at least 31 mosques and two major shrines “suffered significant structural damage between 2016 and 2018.” Upwards of 1.5 million people forced into re-education camps. Speaking at a conference on the Uyghur crisis in DC in June 2019, student researcher Shawn Zhang said he has identified 98 camps on satellite imagery.
Chinese authorities have collected DNA and other biometric data from the whole population of the Muslim-majority western region of Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch said, denouncing the campaign as a gross violation of international norms. Chinese authorities had earlier ordered all motor vehicles in Bayingol prefecture in far-western Xinjiang to be installed with mandatory satellite tracking devices, the latest tough anti-terror measure targeting the ethnically divided region. “Cars are the main transportation means for terrorists, and are also a frequently chosen tool to carry out terrorist attacks,” the Bayingol traffic police said in a post on its official Weibo microblog account.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published leaked documents detailing China’s coordinated crackdown on the Uighur Muslim minority. One document described how authorities identified 40,557 people who are alleged to have shared banned content via the file-sharing app named Zapya. Zapya encourages users to download the Quran and share religious teachings, the ICIJ reported. China sees Uighurs’ religion as a threat. Zapya allows smartphones to connect to one another without being connected to the web, making it popular in areas with poor internet connection, according to the ICIJ.
The document ordered officials to investigate all 40,557 people “one by one,” and send them to “concentrated training” unless they could prove themselves innocent. It’s not clear how officials accessed the app’s user data. But the Chinese government has the power to demand user data and the contents of private conversations whenever it wants.
According to the Communist Party document, authorities found that more than 1.8 million Uighurs in Xinjiang had downloaded the software between July 2016 and June 2017, and that 40,557 of them are what it called “harmful” people. “Harmful” people include fugitives, criminal detainees, and “unauthorized imams.” The Communist Party tightly controls religion, only allowing people to practise and congregate if their sect is officially sanctioned by the government. China also makes tourists visiting the region install invasive software that downloads their texts and scans their phones for Islam-related content, a joint report by Vice, the Guardian, The New York Times, and German outlets NDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung found earlier in 2019.
Officials in Xinjiang also use a special app to log residents’ personal information, which include political views, use of birth control, and use of electricity at home, as reported by Human Rights Watch this year and detailed in ICIJ’s leaked files. Party officials policing the region also stick QR codes in front of people’s front doors to log personal information about the household and track their whereabouts. What’s new is the breadth of the repression and how the Chinese government is using breakthroughs in technology to increase its effectiveness,” Kelley Currie, a U.S. diplomat.
China’s legislature had passed its first-ever anti-terrorism laws in an effort to address what officials say is a growing threat across the country. It makes it legal for the People’s Liberation Army to take part in counter-terrorism missions abroad, and new measures to create a new counterterrorism agency, provide sweeping powers to security forces including accessing encrypted user accounts. International terrorism has emerged in recent years as a direct threat to Chinese nationals living overseas. As China’s footprint becomes increasingly global its exposure to the risk of terror attacks has increased too.
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and FIDH highlight the serious human rights risks and counter-productive nature of China’s new counter-terrorism law in a new report launched at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Tokyo, Japan. ICT’s EU Policy Director Vincent Metten said: “The sweeping measures introduced in the new law – which have alarmed governments globally – are focused less on preventing terror and protecting China’s citizens, and more on the elimination of dissent and enforcement of compliance to Communist Party policies.
Muslim Uighur minority’s alienation & China’s Anti-Terrorism Campaign
Xinjiang is home to about 10 million Uighur people, who follow Islam and look distinctively different from China’s majority Han people. Hundreds have been killed in Xinjiang in the past few years, mostly in unrest between the Muslim Uighur people, who call the region home, and the ethnic majority Han Chinese. Beijing blames the unrest on Islamist militants. The unrest has fueled a sweeping security crackdown there, including mass rallies by armed police, tough measures that rights advocates say restrict religious and cultural expression, and widespread surveillance. The Chinese government under the leadership of President Xi Jinping expanded its sustained offensive against human rights both at home and abroad in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. Authorities have locked up at least 1 million Uighurs in prison and detention camps.
In December 2016, five people were killed when attackers drove a vehicle into a government building, with police shooting dead the three perpetrators. Violence has continued to flare particularly in the more remote southern regions of Xinjiang, although accounts are difficult to verify independently and exiles and rights groups suspect incidents are underreported.
There has been a severe escalation of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang since October 2013. China’s government says it faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists in energy-rich Xinjiang, on the border of central Asia, where hundreds have died in violence in recent years.
In May 2014, China launched a one-year “offensive” campaign to crack down on terrorism intended to uncover terrorist networks and extremist groups. It entailed increased deployment of military and armed police personnel including surveillance drones. Xinjiang’s security budget is now estimated to total almost $1 billion per year.
The Uighur — who constitute around 45 percent of the population of Xinjiang — have accused China of carrying out repressive policies that restrain their religious, commercial and cultural activities. According to local Uyghur sources, more than 20 Uyghurs were killed and more than 70 were arrested under Chinese forces’ crackdown on Uyghur residents who were protesting against the extrajudicial use of lethal force since the beginning of the Holy Month Ramadan.
Xinjiang is the resource-rich homeland of China’s mostly Muslim Uighur minority, and much of the violence stems from ethnic tensions generated through divisions between Uighur and Han Chinese communities divided by language barriers. Uighurs have become alienated due to cultural oppression, along with immigration by China’s Han ethnic majority, which they say has led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality.
Beijing says the government has helped improve living standards in Xinjiang and developed its economy. The other is the announcement of a new social and economic policy package, including promoting Chinese national “consciousness” among ethnic minorities, boosting employment with a “one household, one job” policy and promoting bilingualism in Xinjiang’s education policy.
Active Defence strategy for Counterterrorism operations abroad
China pursues a broad range of bilateral and multilateral efforts in support of its counterterrorism objectives. This includes the strengthening of cooperation through multilateral organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and its Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure. China also cooperates, including with the United States, on issues such as port security, trafficking in international materials, and money-laundering to help support the development of conditions in the international environment that make it difficult for terrorism to thrive.
Both China and Pakistan are working towards deepening their Counter-terrorism cooperation.The “Friendship-2016” joint anti-terrorism training of the Chinese and Pakistani armies was held at Pakistani national anti-terrorism training center on October 18, 2016. This was the sixth “Friendship” joint anti-terrorism training between the special operations forces of China and Pakistan. Focused on “anti-terrorism combat by special operations units in mountains and urban residential areas”, the training was aimed at exchanging anti-terrorism skills and tactics and sharing experience in the building, training and real combat of the special operations forces.
Chinese Ministry of Defense issued its first policy document in two years, a white paper titled, “Chinese Military Strategy,” which stated that China faces more challenges in terms of national security and social stability. With the growth of China’s national interests, its national security is more vulnerable to international and regional turmoil, terrorism, piracy, serious natural disasters and epidemics, and the security of overseas interests concerning energy and resources, strategic sea lines of communication (SLOCs), as well as institutions, personnel and assets abroad, has become an imminent issue.
Beijing has also expressed concern that Chinese militants are traveling to battlefields in Syria and in Iraq, where China has significant oil interests. There have been reports about close links between Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement, with the Pakistan Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and setting up of training camps in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region.
China has vast energy interests, construction projects and mines in unstable parts of the world, including the Middle East and Africa. The strategic concept of active defense is the essence of the CPC’s military strategic thought, which boils down to: adherence to the unity of strategic defense and operational and tactical offense; adherence to the principles of defense, self-defense and post-emptive strike; and adherence to the stance that “We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked.”
China has already conducted many counterterrorism operations abroad including, sending gunboats down the Mekong River in cooperation with Thailand, Myanmar and Laos in 2011 to combat drug running in the Golden Triangle while its navy has conducted numerous anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa.
The new National intelligence center will be established to coordinate inter-departmental and trans-regional efforts on counter-terrorism intelligence and information. The new law heralds a larger long-term Chinese security influence on countries potentially far from China’s borders, said Christopher Yung, a senior research fellow at the National Defense University in Washington.
New law to target some of Country’s Ethnic Minorities
“In my opinion they’re using the pretext of what is occurring globally as efforts to increase their control over the domestic population,” James Leibold, senior lecturer in Chinese politics at Australia’s La Trobe University, told CNN. “China was using terrorism legislation to target some of the country’s ethnic minorities.”
The white paper also stated, “Taiwan independence” separatist forces and their activities are still the biggest threat to the peaceful development of Cross-Straits relations. Separatist forces for “East Turkistan independence” and “Tibet independence” have inflicted serious damage, particularly with escalating violent terrorist activities by “East Turkistan independence” forces.
China forces used flamethrower to hunt Xinjiang ‘terrorists’
Chinese security forces in the far western region of Xinjiang killed 28 “terrorists” from a group that carried out a deadly attack at a coal mine in September 2015. The PLA Daily said the special forces used flash grenades and tear gas to force the attackers out of hiding, but when those methods failed, a senior officer said: “Use the flamethrower”.
A flamethrower projects a stream of flammable liquid, rather than flame, which allows bouncing the stream off walls and ceilings to project the fire into blind and unseen spaces, such as inside bunkers . The flamethrower is a potent weapon with great psychological impact upon unprepared soldiers, inflicting a particularly horrific death. This has led to some calls for the weapon to be banned. Contemporary flamethrowers can incinerate a target some 50–80 meters (160–260 ft) from the gunner; moreover, an unignited stream of flammable liquid can be fired and afterwards ignited, possibly by a lamp or other flame inside the bunker.
New law to access encrypted user accounts
Under the new bill, telecom operators and internet service providers will provide technical support and assistance, including decryption, to police and national security authorities in the prevention and investigation of terrorist activities. Article 15 states that any ISP “providing telecommunications or Internet service within the borders of the People’s Republic of China must locate its related servers and domestic user data within the borders of [China].” This is being seen as measure to enhance china’s cyber resilience, in response to Edward Snowden’s allegations of global U.S. government surveillance.
The government says that increased online activity by terrorists justifies the new requirements. “Not only in China, but also in many places internationally, growing numbers of terrorists are using the Internet to promote and incite terrorism, and are using the Internet to organize, plan and carry out terrorist acts,” another official, Li Shouwei, said Sunday. China had earlier launched a campaign to get rid of the Internet of audio and video materials that promote, propagate Jihad, terrorism and religious extremism and punishing website servers violating the rules.
But critics worry that it could be used to gain access to proprietary or personal information and may be used to muzzle critics. Internet censorship in China which is already considered extreme due to a wide variety of laws and administrative regulations. In accordance with these laws, more than sixty Internet regulations have been made by the government of China, which have been implemented by provincial branches of state-owned ISPs, companies, and organizations. The governmental authorities not only block website content but also monitor the Internet access of individuals, such measures have attracted the derisive nickname “The Great Firewall of China.”
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