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China Reform Monitor - No. 1321

China's surveillance state gets bigger;
The dark side of the BRI

Edited by Joshua Eisenman
March 28, 2018

March 2:

Beijing asked Google to take down 2290 items in the first half of 2017, more than triple the number requested in the second half of 2016, t
he New York Times reports. A large portion of the material related to terrorism and the majority were YouTube videos. China is also putting pressure on Twitter to change its service terms to restrict posts by groups that Beijing considers subversive, like the World Uyghur Congress. Last year, Mei Jianming, an antiterrorism expert, called for a crackdown on tweets that “defame the party, Chinese leaders, and related national strategies.” Beijing is also pushing foreign companies to censor themselves. Last month, Mercedes-Benz apologized for posting an inspirational quote from the Dalai Lama on Instagram. China is Mercedes-Benz’s biggest single car market, accounting for a quarter of all sales. Meanwhile, Apple is moving data storage for its Chinese customers into China and Google is opening a new AI lab there.

March 3:

Delegates and visitors entering the Great Hall of the People, the venue for the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, are all going through facial scanners,
the official Science and Technology Daily newspaper reports. The camera system powered by a network called “Skynet” can now capture, analyze and compare faces to a national database of blacklisted individuals in around two seconds. NPC delegates said the increasing use of technology to improve state security was positive development, and that the benefits far outweighed privacy concerns. “This is a good thing, it means our technology is really leading the world,” said Lu Yaping, a delegate from Jiangsu. “I don’t have any concerns about safety.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Additional technologies being deployed range from police robots for crowd control, drones to monitor border areas, and AI systems that track and censor online content. Scanners forcibly read mobile phone data and police dogs have virtual reality cameras. China is also expanding a biometric voice database to boost voice recognition capabilities. Surveillance measures long-used in Xinjiang are now being rolled out countrywide. Over the next year the powerful but still fragmented systems will be centralized and standardized,
Reuters reports.]

March 5:

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into ports, rail lines and other projects across Asia, Europe and Africa, and piling excessive debt on some smaller countries,
according to a new report by the Center for Global Development (CGD). Of the 68 countries identified as potential borrowers 23 are already at a "quite high" risk of debt distress. BRI loans "will significantly add to the risk of debt distress" for eight countries including Pakistan, Djibouti, Maldives, Laos, Mongolia, Montenegro, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Pakistan is "by far the largest country at high risk," with China financing 80 percent of Islamabad’s $62 billion in additional foreign debt. "Big-ticket BRI projects and the relatively high interest rates being charged by China add to Pakistan's risk of debt distress," the CGD report said. China owned 82% of Djibouti’s foreign debt at the end of 2016, and 37% of Kyrgyzstan’s external debt, which the report says will hit 71% based on the BRI projects now in the pipeline.

March 8

“China’s vigilance and unhappiness are inevitable, but we don’t think that the USS Carl Vinson’s Vietnam trip can stir up troubles in the South China Sea,”
the official Global Times said in an editorial. The visit “will not generate any special tools to pressure China,” and the U.S. sending warships will “only waste money,” it said. Meanwhile, in Da Nang, where the ship docked, Vice Admiral Phillip Sawyer, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet said: “[The] Carl Vinson being here, me being here, this is about Vietnam. This is about our relationship with Vietnam, both from a military relationship and from a comprehensive partnership relationship.” He added that China’s land reclamation and island militarization had “caused angst within the region,” and are “disruptive to the security and stability of the region.” Accompanied by a cruiser and a destroyer, the USS Carl Vinson has more than 5000 crewmembers, representing the largest U.S. military presence in Vietnam since the war ended in 1975, the Navy Times reports.

March 10:

India’s Narendra Modi and France’s Emmanuel Macron have inked an accord opening their naval bases to each other’s warships. The two are increasing military cooperation in the Indian Ocean in response to China’s establishment of a naval base in Djibouti last year,
France 24 reports
. The two leaders also signed $16 billion worth of agreements expanding bilateral cooperation in defense, security, technology, space and counterterrorism, and the construction of a nuclear power plant by a French company in India. India has increased patrols in the eastern Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf and beefed up its maritime surveillance around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands off the Myanmar coast, where China’s warships and submarines are patrolling. "We have a strong maritime power, a big navy with our nuclear submarines. [France is] very active in this region to preserve collective security and for me India is one of the critical partners to preserve stability," Macron said on local Indian TV. Liu Zongyi, at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said India is using the "China threat" to extend its military power.

Related Categories: China; India; China and East Asia Program

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