Information weapons in China


By Colonel R. Hariharan

In the largest clean-up operation since the control of Covid-19, China recently initiated multi-pronged regulatory action against a large number of industries and thus created many uncertainties. This can be interpreted as China’s Communist Party (CCP) in President Xi Jinping’s way of reminding tech giants and other big corporations in charge.

According to China observer and author Deter Tiff Roberts, “Beijing is striving to strengthen control over private companies and foreign investment,” reserve stocks in key sectors such as semiconductors for domestic use, and strengthen the role of state-owned companies. More importantly, regulators also appear concerned that the younger population is deviating from the “patriotic path” under the influence of foreign online media.

In February 2014, President Xi Jinping laid down the rules of conduct for the use of cyberspace for the computerization process in his address to the Central Cyber ​​Security and Informatization Group (CCSIG). He said, “The internet is not a place outside of the law. By using the Internet to promote the overthrow of state power, incite religious extremism, promote national separatism, incite violent terrorist activities, etc., such behavior must be resolutely stopped and cracked and must not prevail. “

He added that Internet use to engage in fraudulent activities, distribute pornographic materials, carry out personal attacks, sell illegal items, etc. must be “strictly controlled” and not enforced. This would suggest that arming information has always been part of the CCP’s agenda.

In the same session, Jinping named the core technology of the Internet as “our greatest hidden threat as the core technology is restricted by others”. He compared any internet company that relies heavily on overseas to core components that rely heavily on overseas, where the lifeline of the supply chain is in the hands of others. He said it was like building a house on someone else’s wall, no matter how big and beautiful it was. It cannot withstand wind and rain and can even be fragile. He said: “If we are to take the initiative to develop our country’s Internet and ensure Internet and national security, we must break through the core technological problem and pursue ‘cornering maneuvers’ in certain areas and aspects.”

Yahoo Inc. pulled out of China a few days ago, citing an increasingly challenging operating environment. In a statement, the ISP said, “Given the increasingly challenging business and legal environment in China, Yahoo’s range of services will no longer be accessible from mainland China as of November 1st.” Yahoo’s withdrawal is largely symbolic as China’s digital censorship is already many blocked its services.

The entertainment industry in China was asked to avoid artists with “wrong political positions”, to strictly enforce salary caps for actors and to maintain a “patriotic atmosphere” for the industry. It’s part of the state’s drive to destroy celebrity fan culture. The sale of fan merchandise is already banned.

Gambling companies have also faced the wrath of regulators restricting the amount of time gamblers under the age of 18 can play online on weekends and holidays in an attempt to curb gambling addiction.

China has already started tightening the rules for large tech IT companies. Last year, it stopped the planned IPO of Ant Group, a giant internet financial company in New York, at the last moment. Now it is a framework law to ban internet companies whose data poses potential risks if listed outside of the country.

Cloud computing also faces uncertainty as China builds its own government-backed cloud system that is likely to challenge tech giants like Alibaba, Huawei and Tencent Holdings. The state is also trying to tighten oversight over algorithms that technology companies, including e-commerce companies and social media platforms, use to target users. The Cyberspace Administration of China has stated that companies must adhere to business ethics and fairness principles, and establish algorithmic models that do not entice users into spending large sums of money.

The Chinese government has also issued regulations banning private tutoring companies from raising capital abroad. The rules state that tutoring centers must register as a nonprofit company. Now they will not offer subjects that are taught in public schools; Lessons on weekends and public holidays are prohibited. China has a very competitive education system like India; This has made tutoring services popular with parents.

The banking sector has enacted regulations to tighten control of online credit by financial firms. The Cyberspace Administration of China has asked Didi Chuxing, the leading ride-hailing company, not to accept new users after going public on the New York Stock Exchange last June. Financial regulators have already restricted the cryptocurrency sector, preventing banks and online payment companies from using cryptocurrencies. Provincial governments have also banned the use of cryptocurrencies. The government is also clearing the issue of property management to improve order. Efforts are being made to curb rampant borrowing in the real estate sector; Upper limits have been set for borrowing from property developers and real estate loans by banks.

In this turbulent environment, we can expect China to tighten control of the media both at home and abroad. Last March, a report by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said that China was adopting coronavirus, intimidation and visa prevention measures in 2020 to curb foreign coverage, ushering in a “rapid decline in media freedom.” . In the FCCC’s annual report, 150 responses, received for the third year in a row, stated that none of the journalists said that working conditions had improved. The report said: “All state power weapons, including the surveillance systems put in place to contain the coronavirus, have been used to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese counterparts and those whom the foreign press tried to interview.

Beijing correspondent for the BBC, John Sudworth, reported that in addition to strict restrictions on foreign journalists from reporting the truth about its far western regions of Xinjiang, China is using a new tactic of calling independent reporting “fake news.” designated. He had shared his own experience of intimidation by strangers while traveling on the desert highways of Xinjiang. They forced them to leave a town by driving them out of restaurants and shops and ordering the owners not to serve them. Her report of thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities forced to pick cotton, based on China’s own political documents, has been called “fake news” by China’s communist media.

On the other hand, the results of a global survey by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) of its member unions showed that China had used the Covid-19 pandemic to strengthen its image in global media coverage. More than half of the countries surveyed in 2020 said coverage of China in their national media has been more positive since the pandemic began. The Chinese are likely to have taken a more interventionist approach to local media coverage of China.

The report also said that more than 80% of countries are concerned about disinformation in their national media, although only a third of them said China was responsible.

The report said that as the pandemic spread, China activated the existing media infrastructure it had deployed around the world to seek positive narratives about China in national media and employed new tactics such as disinformation. This is not surprising given that over the past two decades China has reshaped the global environment to expand the reach of its own stake in state news agencies along with its growing global reach.

According to the IFJ, China appears to have expanded its own national and international news offering tailored to each country in non-English speaking languages. This is significant as the international media struggled to survive due to the negative economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We can expect China’s media strategy to be fully implemented in both the national and international media, making it difficult to separate the real news from the fake as it has turned the media into arms. The latest example is the Financial Times report that China tested a nuclear weapons-grade hypersonic missile last August. The weapon “circled the globe before racing towards its target”. However, China denied the report, saying it was an experimental spaceship rather than a weapon.

The Financial Times report quoted “five people familiar with the test” to say that the hypersonic glider missile, which was in low space orbit, missed “about two dozen miles”. The report said the test showed China had made “amazing progress” and wondered why the US often underestimated China’s military modernization. Whether or not China actually conducted the hypersonic missile test, the report has increased global paranoia about China’s capabilities because hypersonic missiles can penetrate the missile shield.

—The author is a retired South Asia military intelligence specialist affiliated with the Chennai Center for China Studies

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