CHINA – A SPECIAL REPORT

China in many ways is a remarkable nation, steeped in history which spans millennia…  China’s history has alternated between periods of political unity and peace, and periods of war and failed statehood — the most recent being the Chinese Civil War (1927–1949). China was occasionally dominated by steppe peoples, most of whom were eventually assimilated into the Han Chinese culture and population. Between eras of multiple kingdoms and warlordism, Chinese dynasties have ruled parts or all of China; in some eras, control stretched as far as Xinjiang and Tibet.

Chinese History - Timeline

Traditional culture and influences from other parts of Asia and the Western world were carried into China by waves of immigration, cultural assimilation, expansion, and foreign contact, all these influences form the basis of the modern culture of China.

The China we know today

The China we know today came into being on 1st October 1949, when Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from the top Tiananmen. The PRC has for seven decades been synonymous with China, but it is only the most recent political entity to govern mainland China.

Since 1949, China has transformed from a traditional peasant society with unrelenting poverty and frequent deadly famines to the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing economy, with a speciality in high productivity factories and leadership in some areas of high technology. While this report is not designed to give readers a history lesson into China, without understanding the past, it is challenging to make sense of the present and gain an insight into China’s future aspirations, which have been stated as becoming the dominant economic and military power of the 21st Century and beyond.

Communism is the official ideology, with the Communist Party of China in full control, even with a new large middle class and hundreds of very rich entrepreneurs, the communist ideal continues to have a stranglehold within the country and its territories. It is the new wealth and technology which has given China the confidence and strength to launch into a contest for primacy in Asian affairs versus India, Japan and the United States and her Aisa Pacific allies. Since 2017 China and the U.S.A have been engaged in a growing trade war, which to a large part is ongoing.

To say that China has a spotted reputation is an understatement. With increasing evidence from dissident writers, spies who have defected to the west, and the work of Western Intelligence agencies, it is becoming self-evident that China is a growing threat to world peace, environmental security, and economic stability.

This Special Report addresses the threats China poses, not only to the Asia Pacific region but the entire world and we would suggest that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

1.    China’s Human Rights Abuses including Hong Kong

This is nothing new. People from across the world are well aware of China’s record on human right’s abuses from the inception of the Peoples Republic of China, where Mao after the Korean War, launched various campaigns to persecute former landlords and merchants beginning 1953, during which time China started its program of industrialisation. Mao’s first goal was a total overhaul of the land ownership system, and extensive land reforms, including the execution of more powerful landlords. [1] China’s old system of gentry landlord ownership of farmland and tenant peasants was replaced with a land distribution system which favoured the poor/landless peasants and significantly reduced economic inequality. However, to accomplish this over a million landlords were executed in the Chinese. [2]

A consequence of the land ownership reforms and the beginning of China’s industrial revolutions pulled workers off agricultural labour to the point that large amounts of crops rotted unharvested, resulting in the deadliest famine in human history, where between 15-45 million people died due to starvation and epidemics.[3]

This was followed in 1963, with the Socialist Education Movement. The campaign was far-reaching into all aspects of Chinese life. The estimated death toll ranges from hundreds of thousands to 20 million.[4][5] Massacres took place across the country and cannibalism on a massive scale also occurred during this period. The Red Guards terrorized the streets as many ordinary citizens were deemed counter-revolutionaries. Education and public transportation came to a nearly complete halt, and daily life involved shouting slogans and reciting Mao quotations. Many prominent political leaders, including Liu and Deng, were purged and deemed “capitalist roaders”. The campaign would not come to a complete end until the death of Chairman Mao and arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976. In all during the Mao era, tens of millions of people died during various political movements, the aforementioned famine while tens of millions of other people were persecuted and permanently crippled.

This set the course for how the People’s Republic of China would deal with their own citizen whom the Communist Party deemed anti-Party and pro-democracy, this is how China has dealt with the people of Tibet, and in more recent times this is how China is set to deal with the people of Hong Kong, and other countries in the Asia Pacific Region if they manage to get the foothold they desire.

In each iteration of the evolution of Modern China, people have been killed, imprisoned, and tortured. In April, May, and June of 1989, the popular national movement inspired by the Beijing protests is sometimes called the ’89 Democracy Movement, this has been described by dissidents as a time of hope for the Chinese people, however, those hopes were dashed by the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the demonstrations were forcibly suppressed on June 4 when the government declared martial law and sent the military to occupy central parts of Beijing. Troops armed with assault rifles and accompanied by tanks fired at the demonstrators and those trying to block the military’s advance into Tiananmen Square. Estimates of the death toll vary from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more wounded. [6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre, The Chinese government drew widespread condemnation for its suppression of the protests. In its immediate aftermath, China seemed to be becoming a pariah state, increasingly isolated internationally. This was a significant setback for the leadership, who had courted international investment for much of the 1980s as the country emerged from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. However, Deng Xiaoping and the core leadership vowed to continue economic liberalization policies after 1989. [13] From there on, China would work domestically as well as internationally to reshape its national image from that of a repressive regime to a benign global economic and military partner.

By 1997, when the UK handed back sovereignty of Hong Kong back to China. The people of Hong Kong faced this with considerable fear that China would renege on its commitments under one country, two systems following the impending handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom. It turns out that the fears expressed by the people of Hong Kong were almost prophetic and wholly justified, as in May 2020, the Chinese Government announced the proposed changes to National Security Laws for Hong Kong in China. These changes were implemented at 23:00 on the 30th of June, (just 1 hour before the 23rd anniversary of the hand-over). The new National Security laws have outlawed books by pro-democracy scholars and activists. These books were removed overnight from the shelves of libraries and book shops. By Friday 3rd July, hundreds of people including a 15-year old girl was arrested for waving a flag with the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong”.

Under the new law, 66 articles were kept secret until after it was passed and criminalises any act of:

  • secession – breaking away from the country
  • subversion – undermining the power or authority of the central government
  • terrorism – using violence or intimidation against people
  • collusion with foreign or external forces[14]

The new law’s key provisions include that:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Companies can be fined if convicted under the law
  • Beijing will have to establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority’s jurisdiction
  • This new security office can send some cases to be tried in mainland China – but Beijing has said it will only have that power over a “tiny number” of cases
  • Hong Kong will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, raising fears about judicial autonomy
  • Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted, not any Hong Kong judicial or policy body. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes priority
  • Some trials will be heard behind closed doors.
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened
  • The law will also apply to non-permanent residents and people “from outside Hong Kong… who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong“. [15]

This will inevitably pose serious concerns for international businesses across all sectors who have offices and/or bases of operations in Hong Kong, along with news agencies and journalists.

Finally on the issue of human rights and government control – in recent years the Chinese Government has been adept at using technology to monitor and control every aspect of the Chinese peoples’ lives, from the cradle to the grave. The Chinese people are monitored through facial recognition software, and GPS, as well as the monitoring of all emails, text messages, and social media communications.

In a recent report that crossed my desk the sensitivity of the facial-recognition monitoring drills-down to micro-expressions to monitor citizens’ reactions to everything. Using this system of monitor and control the Chinese government is grading its citizens. The grading scores affect the jobs citizens can hold, where citizens can travel, and anything else they can do. This new system of monitoring and control has only been possible through modern technology, in particular, CCTV surveillance, and is often referred to as the “Social Credit System”.

Those with very low social credit scores are sent to “re-education camps” such as the one in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs and other Muslims can be held there for years, and where Amnesty International and other Human Right’s organisation report of women being raped and sterilised. Others to have been interred in these forced re-education camps are pro-democracy writers, artists and activists.

Re-education Camps China
A map of the locations of the known re-education camps in China.

Censorship

Censorship in the People’s Republic of China is mandated and implemented by the country’s ruling Communist Party. Censorship within China is a well-known part of life for Chinese citizens and has been part of the culture since the first days of Mao’s leadership. The government censors content for mainly political reasons, however, censorship is also used to maintain its control over the populace.

Over the last three decades, or so, the Chinese government has asserted that it has the legal right to control the Internet’s content within their territory and that their censorship rules do not infringe on the citizen’s right to free speech. This is a questionable assertion, as the vast majority of people are utterly clueless to the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which is often referred to as the June 4th Incident, with many Chinese citizens thinking this relates to a mining or weather-based disaster.

Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping

Since Xi Jinping became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (de facto paramount leader) in 2012, censorship has been “significantly stepped up”.[16] The government maintains censorship over all media capable of reaching a wide audience. This includes television, print media, radio, film, theatre, text messaging, instant messaging, video games, literature, and the Internet, while Chinese officials have access to uncensored information via an internal document system.

Reporters Without Borders ranks China’s press situation as “very serious”, the worst ranking on their five-point scale.[16] In August 2012, the OpenNet Initiative classified Internet censorship in China as “pervasive” in the political and conflict/security areas and “substantial” in the social and Internet tools areas.

The two most extensive classifications of the five they use,[17] Freedom House, a US-backed NGO, ranks the press there as “not free”, the worst ranking, saying that “state control over the news media in China is achieved through a complex combination of party monitoring of news content, legal restrictions on journalists, and financial incentives for self-censorship,”[18] and an increasing practice of “cyber-disappearance” of material written by or about activist bloggers.[19]

Other views suggest that Chinese businesses such as BaiduTencent, and Alibaba, some of the world’s largest internet enterprises, have benefited from the way China blocked international rivals from the domestic market.[20]

Additionally, materials can be censored because it may not conform to Chinese morals and values.

Education is heavily censored within China and educational institutions have been accused of whitewashing the People’s Republic of China’s history by downplaying or avoiding mention of controversial historical events such as the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, and the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre of 1989.

In 2005, customs officials in China seized a shipment of textbooks intended for a Japanese school because maps in the books depicted mainland China and Taiwan using different colours.[21]

In a confidential internal directive widely circulated within the Communist Party of China, Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere, prohibiting discussion of seven topics, was issued in May 2013. Included on the list of prohibited topics were:

  • Western constitutional democracy,
  • Universal values of human rights,
  • Western concepts of media independence and civil society,
  • Pro-market neo-liberalism, and
  • “Nihilist” criticisms of past errors of the party.[22][23]

 

Censorship and the Covid-19 Pandemic

The scale of censorship in China is already huge during normal times, with more than 13,000 websites shut down by the Chinese government since 2015. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has seen a rapid and worrying increase in the scale of suppression. The level of suppression in China has been draconian while in many other countries around the world information about Covid-19 has been suppressed to a lesser degree, while fake news, false reporting, and conspiracy theories have been allowed to propagate.

Given the growing scale of global internet censorship, such actions are not surprising. In the context of the current crisis, however, there are more worrying aspects of the Chinese government’s approach to censorship. Several news outlets have reported that the government appears to be censoring research on the origins of the virus by requiring that scientists submit their studies to the Ministry of Science and Technology before publication. The most famous case of this concerned ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, who raised early warnings about the virus and then died of it himself, but there have been reports of many other pieces of research also being suppressed.

During a global pandemic, suppression of key information has undoubtedly cost many thousands of lives. The impact of censorship goes much further than just limiting the information supplied to governments. Without the ability to freely express themselves online, citizens’ groups in China are finding it difficult to coordinate responses to the virus: if you can’t mention COVID-19, it’s difficult to arrange a food collection for vulnerable people in the wake of the virus.

In the broadest level, this censorship also points to a dark future. The scale of the pandemic has made it easy for governments around the world to claim emergency powers: powers that they will be hesitant to give up in the coming years.[24]

While in China, VPN’s are banned as a means to suppressing “Freedom of Speech and Information”, and as China strengthens its grip in Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific, it is highly likely that these countries will be pressured to fall into line with China’s Orwellian laws.

Corporate & Military Espionage

It is well known that this is another area of China’s historic and ongoing activity. In a report published by Newsweek in December 2018, it was reported that China was involved in 90% of all economic espionage cases handled by the US-Department of Justice over the past 7-years, and more than two-thirds of the Department’s theft of trade secrets cases have had a nexus to China.” [25]

The report noted that the Department of Justice has not always been able to link the theft of trade secrets directly to the Chinese government, but that the theft almost always benefits China’s official economic policy. Furthermore, China’s lack of intellectual property laws, unwillingness to cooperate in investigations, and the outsized role of state-owned enterprises in the country’s economy largely contribute to the Chinese government’s complicity in these crimes. [26]

The report goes on to appear to back previous comments by General Keith Alexander, the former head of the National Security Agency, who said that industrial espionage and intellectual property theft constituted the “greatest transfer of wealth in history.” In September 2019, a report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies determined that Chinese cyberespionage costs U.S. companies an estimated $300 billion annually and comprises the “single greatest threat to U.S. technology sector.”  [27]

Meanwhile in the UK, what had initially started as a celebration of a “golden era” in trade relations between the UK and China, recent hostile rhetoric has been ratcheted up over Beijing’s new national security law for Hong Kong. Britain’s decision to offer refuge to millions in the former colony was met with stern chastisement by China. Chinese officials have threatened “consequences” if Britain treats it as a “hostile country” and decides to cut Chinese technology giant Huawei out of its critical telecoms infrastructure amid growing unease over security risks. [27]

It is clear from the rhetoric that the “Free World” view China as an unreliable and dangerous partner. This view is not exclusive to the USA or the UK, it is a growing multinational/multilateral view.

In a report from The Diplomat 2018, [28] which explores the past 20-years of China’s corporate espionage initiatives and highlights the types of High-Level espionage, China is actively involved in

  1. China has expanded its espionage efforts considerably over the last 20 years.
  2. Chinese entities conducting espionage include:
    1. government agencies,
    2. the military,
    3. state-owned enterprises (SOEs),
    4. private companies/individuals,
    5. select universities.
  3. Nearly half of China’s espionage efforts target U.S. military and space technologies.
  4. Almost 25 percent of cases target commercial interests.
  5. China is unlikely to significantly curb its espionage efforts, as they provide a cost-efficient means to expand the economy, advance research and development, project military power, and meet China’s stated goal to become the dominant world power.
60-Minutes-ChinaSpySecrets
Watch the 60-minutes interview with a former Chinese Spy

Part of the reason why China has resorted to espionage to grow its economy and military strength is due to the stifling of scientific and technological research during the Cultural Revolution, which led to China being left way behind much of the rest of the world. Admittedly some of the gaps were filled by the transfer of knowledge from the then USSR during the 50s and through 80s and 90s through trade with Europe, the UK and USA.

Thus, China has long supplemented legitimate transfers and domestic innovation with industrial espionage.  In short, the PRC has a well-established habit of pilfering weapons technology from Russia and the United States.  As the years have gone by, Beijing’s spies have become ever more skilful and flexible in their approach.

One of the primary aims of Chinese espionage efforts is to steal technological advancements of other countries. To achieve this, Chinese intelligence officials rely on both Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). According to the book Chinese Industrial Espionage: Technology Acquisition and Military Modernisation, Chinese intelligence officials and scientists comb through American and other Western peer-reviewed journals, patents, and conference transcripts, among other sources, in an attempt to piece together a picture about new technological advancements that assist the Chinese military or economy.

Professor William Hannas, a faculty leader at Georgetown University, Navy veteran with service in Special Operations and on of the authors of the book, states that OSINT is not the stepchild of Chinese intelligence but rather the rockstar. In comparison, US and Western intelligence services place more emphasis on more traditional methods of intelligence gathering such as HUMINT and/or Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). The fact that China relies so heavily on OSINT and industrial espionage suggests an inherent lack of originality, that could be translated into creativity in the Chinese military and industrial sectors. It also underlines that China is more comfortable with stealing technology rather than inventing it and highlights a significant cultural and institutional divide when compared to the West.

It’s also worth noting that many of the world’s pre-eminent Universities in the Western World are brimming with Chinese students, and have been for decades. These students do not come to the West to study the Arts, Humanities, or Political Science, they come to study STEM subjects exclusively! While it is unlikely that every Chinese Student studying in the West works for the Chinese Government, some do. However, for the majority of Chinese students, it is highly likely that, at some point in their future, they will transfer knowledge and know-how back to China.

Finally, it is also worth noting that Chinese State-sponsored hacking is another key mechanism by which China steals intellectual property and wider military and government secrets. In Peter Hatcher’s news Report dated July 14, 2020, from the Sydney Morning Herald, which looks at the problems Australia is and has been facing due to Chinese State-sponsored spying and hacking is so rife that it’s overwhelming the Australian Intelligence agencies and despite the Australian’s federal governments introduction of new laws in 2018 to try and limit China’s spying and hacking interference seems to have done little to stem the spying and hacking activities.

China & the World Economy

Throughout the past three decades commencing in the 1990s, China has been seen as an economic ally to the world.  China has been busy, investing in infrastructure projects across the world, and providing an environment which led to many western businesses to set up operations in China, as part of a drive to lower costs and make bigger gains in profits, while taking advantage of low wages, low infrastructure costs, tax breaks, and lax environmental controls.

In much of the developed world, this has led to a “race to the bottom” in terms of wages and growth in economic inequality which threatens social instability and unrest in many parts of the western world.

While for many China continues to be seen as an economic ally, and competitor for others there are concerns as to China’s intension. In cases such as Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port, which had to be signed over to China when Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to repay the investment costs and Vantanu. This has resulted in China having access to strategic commercial and military waterways. Similar Chinese infrastructure investment projects may result in China owning vast tracks of global infrastructure.

In a report earlier this year on CNBC, James Jones, a former U.S. national security advisor, during the Obama administration stated that China is using a “Trojan horse” strategy to gain influence in “many parts of the world.” James Jones states “They penetrate the economies, they buy up everything they can, pay off everybody they can… to get a chokehold on the economy, as much as they can and then make demands for the behavioural changes of those governments.” In this way, China is not only influencing economies and economic policy, but there is also a significant danger that they will influence internal political ideology, which should be of concern to every individual in the “Free World”.

As I said at the beginning, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the threat China poses not only to Western Democracies but also to the developing world… more will follow on China and the treats in the coming weeks and months.

References:

  1. Stephen Rosskamm Shalom. Deaths in China Due to Communism.Center for Asian Studies at Arizona State University, 1984. ISBN 0-939252-11-2 pg 24
  2. Fenby, J(2008). Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the PresentEcco Press. p. 351ISBN 978-0-06-166116-7. Mao’s responsibility for the extinction of anywhere from 40 to 70 million lives brands him as a mass killer greater than Hitler or Stalin, his indifference to the suffering and the loss of humans breathtaking
  3. “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century”. Necrometrics. Archived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  4. “文革到底害死了多少人?”. www.open.com.hk. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  5.  “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century”NecrometricsArchived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  6.  “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century”NecrometricsArchived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  7.  “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century”NecrometricsArchived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  8.  “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century”NecrometricsArchived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  9.  “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century”NecrometricsArchived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  10.  “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century”NecrometricsArchived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  11.  “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century”NecrometricsArchived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  12. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-52765838
  13. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-52765838
  14. Denyer, Simon (25 October 2017). “China’s Xi Jinping unveils his top party leaders, with no successor in sight”The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 13 August 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  15. “The News by Country”. Reporters Without Borders. Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. Retrieved 25 August 2006.
  16. “China”. Country Profiles. OpenNet Initiative. 9 August 2012. Archived from the original on 9 October 2014. Retrieved 2 September 2014.
  17. “freedomhouse.org: Press Release”. freedomhouse.org. 9 February 2006. Archived from the original on 23 December 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2008.
  18. “CMB special feature: Cyberdisappearance in Action”Archived 1 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine, China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 29 (14 July 2011), Freedom House. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  19. Carrie Gracie. Alibaba IPO: Chairman Ma’s China Archived 2 July 2019 at the Wayback MachineBBC. 8 September 2014.
  20. Forney, Matthew (13 April 2008). “China’s Loyal Youth”. New York Times. Archived from the original on 11 August 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2008. Textbooks headed for a Japanese school in China were seized by customs officials who objected to the way maps in the books depicted the Chinese mainland and rival Taiwan, an official said Tuesday. The maps showed the mainland and the island in different colors, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, indicating that Beijing was concerned this might make Taiwan seem like a separate country.
  21. China Warns Officials Against ‘Dangerous’ Western Values”Archived 6 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Chris Buckley New York Times, 13 May 2013.
  22. ^“China Takes Aim at Western Ideas” Archived 21 July 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Chris Buckley, New York Times, 19 August 2013.
  23. Kirchgaessner, Stephanie; Graham-Harrison, Emma; Kuo, Lily (11 April 2020). “China clamping down on coronavirus research, deleted pages suggest”The GuardianISSN0261-3077Archived from the original on 11 April 2020. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  24. https://fee.org/articles/the-censorship-of-covid-19-data-around-the-world/
  25. https://www.newsweek.com/china-involved-90-percent-economic-espionage-and-industrial-secrets-theft-1255908
  26. https://www.newsweek.com/china-involved-90-percent-economic-espionage-and-industrial-secrets-theft-1255908
  27. https://www.newsweek.com/china-involved-90-percent-economic-espionage-and-industrial-secrets-theft-1255908
  28. https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/national-international/uk-china-ties-freeze-with-debate-over-huawei-hong-kong/2511703/
  29. https://thediplomat.com/2018/11/uncovering-chinese-espionage-in-the-us/

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