The declared aim of this ambitious plan for a social-credit system is to build a ‘culture of sincerity.’ At this stage in China’s history, it is questionable whether the party-state can build any kind of culture.
Stanley Lubman writes: The Chinese government is taking the first steps in an evolving plan to employ big data to establish a nationwide system of mass surveillance of the entire population. This “social-credit system” would mobilize technology to collect information on all citizens and use that information to rate their behavior, including financial creditworthiness and personal conduct. The local experiments have provoked mixed reactions.
“The Communist Party, since it gained power in 1949, has endeavored to monitor and control the behavior and thoughts of the population. In the era of Mao Zedong it established ‘residents’ committees’ in the cities and ‘village committees’ in the countryside to monitor citizens’ behavior and report to local police. These continue to operate today, if in slightly different forms.”
The declared aim of this ambitious plan for a social-credit system is to build a “culture of sincerity.” At this stage in China’s history, it is questionable whether the party-state can build any kind of culture. The center cannot effectively control local governments, a large share of economic profits is going to the wealthy, corruption remains widespread and neither the economy nor the populace will tolerate the absence of rule of law indefinitely.
The Communist Party, since it gained power in 1949, has endeavored to monitor and control the behavior and thoughts of the population. In the era of Mao Zedong it established “residents’ committees” in the cities and “village committees” in the countryside to monitor citizens’ behavior and report to local police. These continue to operate today, if in slightly different forms.
The current effort to expand control of personal conduct is the latest in a series of moves to control behavior that now include campaigns against corrupt officials, rights lawyers and others whose conduct and actions are considered “subversive” both in person and otherwise—such as in social media.
The new social-credit system may include “black marks for infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules,” according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. The article quotes planning documents stating that the system would “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” It is no wonder that one Chinese human rights-activist is quoted as saying “Tracking everyone that way, it is just like ‘1984’.” (The famous novel published in 1949 by George Orwell imagines a mythical regime that spies on all of its citizens using omnipresent surveillance.)
Current tentative steps to test the new system have raised questions about its implementation and reach. Obvious issues include defining the criteria that would be applied to rate citizens, the government and social institutions that would perform the ratings, and the impact of those ratings on citizens’ business and professional activities and on their lives in general. A key component of the new system will be taking traditional credit-scoring and adding other data points. Sesame Credit, an affiliate of e-commerce titan Alibaba, currently surveys online shopping habits and, if users consent, posts their education levels and legal records. Businesses and some individuals such as lawyers, accountants, teachers and journalists would receive closer scrutiny of their professional behavior. Read the rest of this entry »
Stanley Lubman writes: A trio of recent repressive actions by the Chinese party-state represents a disturbing three-pronged attack that treats legality as an unnecessary burden on governance over society, and illustrates how far China is willing to go to snuff out dissent.
The actions include the arrest of seven lawyers accused of “subversion” and four others charged with lesser offenses; the televised “confession” of a China-based Swedish citizen who worked for a rights NGO and has been charged with “endangering state security;” and the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers and publishers One reemerged on CCTV to confess to a prior crime years earlier, and a second has written to his wife from Shenzhen to say that he has been “assisting in an investigation.”
Arrests for “subversion of state power”
The lawyers who have been arrested have all been in the forefront of defending controversial activists. Seven are accused of “subversion of state power,” an offense that has been on the books since 1997 but infrequently used. More commonly, activists such as Pu Zhiqiang have been convicted for the lesser charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels.” (Pu received a three-year sentence that was simultaneously suspended for the same length of time; however, because of his conviction, Pu is barred from practicing law.) Conviction for subversion can lead to a sentence of anywhere from three years to life in prison.
Three of the other lawyers were charged with the lesser offense of “inciting subversion against state power” which, according to a recent posting by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, is used against individuals who “express criticism of the government” and is punishable by a sentence of up to five years. One other person, a paralegal, has been charged with “assisting in destruction of evidence; other lawyers have been detained incommunicado or forcibly disappeared for at least six months.
The arrests raise the severity of the charges by aiming at speech related to “subversion” — rather than acts. Foreign experts are dismayed; Eva Pils (Kings College London) comments that the situation “is basically about as serious as it gets for human rights advocacy.”
The arrest of the human rights lawyers is a continuation of the crackdown that exploded in July, but the rise of the accusation of “subversion” raises the odds of harsher punishment.
Arrest and televised “confession” of Swedish citizen affiliated with a human rights NGO
A Swedish man in his 30s, Peter Dahlin, a co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action) that organizes training programs for human rights defenders, was detained in early January, on a charge of “endangering state security.” On Wednesday, he was paraded on China Central Television and shown admitting to have broken Chinese laws, in a televised “confession” that has been denounced by rights advocates as coerced.
According to a statement from China Action, the NGO focuses on land law and administrative law and trains non-lawyers to provide pro-bono legal aid to victims of rights violations. Dahlin is in need of daily medication due to affliction by a rare disease; Chinese state media reports say he is receiving it, but no other information has been available. China’s Foreign Ministry says it is granting Swedish consular officials access to him, although no information has been available on his whereabouts. Read the rest of this entry »
“A fugitive is like a flying kite. Even though he is abroad, the string is held in China.”
WASHINGTON — Mark Mazzetti and Dan Levin write: The Obama administration has delivered a warning to Beijing about the presence of Chinese government agents operating secretly in the United States to pressure prominent expatriates — some wanted in China on charges of corruption — to return home immediately, according to American officials.
“American officials did not disclose the identities or numbers of those being sought by the Chinese in the United States. They are believed to be prominent expatriates, some sought for economic corruption and some for what the Chinese consider political crimes.”
The American officials said that Chinese law enforcement agents covertly in this country are part of Beijing’s global campaign to hunt down and repatriate Chinese fugitives and, in some cases, recover allegedly ill-gotten gains.
The Chinese government has officially named the effort Operation Fox Hunt.
The American warning, which was delivered to Chinese officials in recent weeks and demanded a halt to the activities, reflects escalating anger in Washington about intimidation tactics used by the agents. And it comes at a time of growing tension between Washington and Beijing on a number of issues: from the computer theft of millions of government personnel files that American officials suspect was directed by China, to China’s crackdown on civil liberties, to the devaluation of its currency.
“That reluctance reflects divisions with the Obama administration over how aggressive to publicly confront China on a number of security issues.”
Those tensions are expected to complicate the state visit to Washington next month by Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.
The work of the agents is a departure from the routine practice of secret government intelligence gathering that the United States and China have carried out on each other’s soil for decades. The Central Intelligence Agency has a cadre of spies in China, just as China has long deployed its own intelligence operatives into the United States to steal political, economic, military and industrial secrets.
In this case, said American officials, who discussed details of the operation only on the condition of anonymity because of the tense diplomacy surrounding the issue, the Chinese agents are undercover operatives with the Ministry of Public Security, China’s law enforcement branch charged with carrying out Operation Fox Hunt.
“For instance, the White House has gone out of its way to avoid making any public accusations that the Chinese government ordered the computer attack on the Office of Personnel Management, which led to the theft of millions of classified personnel files of government workers and contractors.”
The campaign, a central element of Mr. Xi’s wider battle against corruption, has proved popular with the Chinese public. Since 2014, according to the Ministry of Public Security, more than 930 suspects have been repatriated, including more than 70 who have returned this year voluntarily, the ministry’s website reported in June. According to Chinese media accounts, teams of agents have been dispatched around the globe.
American officials said they had solid evidence that the Chinese agents — who are not in the United States on acknowledged government business, and most likely are entering on tourist or trade visas — use various strong-arm tactics to get fugitives to return. The harassment, which has included threats against family members in China, has intensified recently, officials said. Read the rest of this entry »
Te-Ping Chen reports: Chinese teachers should be on their guard against the infiltration of Western ideas, the country’s education minister says. Also, while they’re at it, they should stop complaining and venting their grievances in front of students as well.
“Mr. Yuan declared that the government ‘absolutely could not allow teachers to whine while teaching, air their resentments or spread negative spirits to their students.’ The report didn’t elaborate on the nature of grumbling that the government was opposed to.”
The minister, Yuan Guiren, made the comments at a conference Thursday at which representatives from some of China’s best universities were assembled. According to Mr. Yuan, as cited by state news agency Xinhua, universities should avoid use of teaching materials that “disseminate Western values.”
As well, Xinhua said, Mr. Yuan declared that the government “absolutely could not allow teachers to whine while teaching, air their resentments or spread negative spirits to their students.” The report didn’t elaborate on the nature of grumbling that the government was opposed to.
“Since assuming office, Chinese President Xi Jinping has actively pushed the study of traditional Chinese culture. Such a push has also come in tandem with a backlash against certain Western traditions, notably Christmas.”
Mr. Yuan’s comments come amid a growing scrutiny of ideology on China’s campuses. Earlier this month, the State Council General Office released an opinion on the need to “further strengthen and improve propaganda and ideology work.” It declared that higher education is a key “battlefield” in the struggle for ideology. Read the rest of this entry »
Clifford Coonan reports: A state-run Chinese newspaper has run a commentary condemning the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, but at the same time underlined how the incident exposes the dangers of press freedom.
“Even after China officially determines their terrorist nature, Western mainstream media puts quotation marks when describing these bloody assaults as ‘terrorist,’ saying that it is a claim of the Chinese government. This always upsets Chinese people.”
“We notice that many Western leaders and mainstream media outlets highlighted their support for press freedom when commenting on the incident. This remains open to question,” ran the commentary in the Global Times newspaper, part of the group that publishes the official Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily.
“It’s inspiring that mainstream opinion worldwide supports Paris. But if the West can be milder in expressing cultural clashes and consider the feelings of many others, it would be very rewarding and respectable.”
China’s media are all state-controlled and content is heavily censored, and the ruling Communist Party keeps a tight grip on dissenting views and rejects calls for greater press freedom, saying it is Western core value.
“If the West thinks of globalization as an absolute expansion and victory of certain values, then it is in for endless trouble.”
The attack should make Western governments and media rethink their approach to press freedom when it comes to causing conflict with other cultures. Read the rest of this entry »
Buckley reports from China for The New York Times that writer and activist Yang Maodong has finally been allowed access to a lawyer, three months after his detention and two after his formal arrest.
Yang Maodong, a writer and businessman better known by his pen name, Guo Feixiong, was detained by the police in Guangzhou, in Guangdong Province, in early August on allegations of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” He is one of several well-known rights advocates held on similar accusations after participating in grass-roots campaigns pressing the Communist Party for stronger legal and political rights. Read the rest of this entry »