American families of missing Uighurs speak out at DC event
By CHRISTINA LARSEN
Monday, February 25
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly two years after the Chinese government began to detain members of Muslim minority groups in western China, a growing number of family members abroad are refusing to remain silent.
On Sunday, about three dozen relatives of some of the 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and others being held without charge spoke out about the mass detentions at an event in Washington, D.C., hoping to raise awareness of what many are calling a human rights travesty but which Beijing defends as necessary to counter violent religious extremism.
“If you know someone who is missing, it is time to speak up,” said Ferkat Jawdat, a Virginia-based software engineer. He’s lost contact with his 52-year-old mother in Xinjiang, a Chinese region home to the predominantly Muslim Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) and Kazakh ethnic minorities.
Xinjiang has been subject to a severe security crackdown in recent years that has made surveillance cameras and police checkpoints ubiquitous. The internment camps are a relatively recent phenomenon, but have expanded rapidly as a primary means of intimidation and social control.
For members of the Uighur diaspora, losing a family member into the sprawling system has become all too common.
Jawdat co-organized Sunday’s gathering so that Uighurs in the U.S. could start collecting information on their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even children whose whereabouts are unknown. They plan to present the data to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the U.S. State Department.
Some of the attendees have confirmation that their loved ones are detained in Xinjiang. Others have simply lost contact — and fear the worst.
“We want to raise awareness about what can happen to American families — many of these people here are American citizens,” said Jawdat, a U.S. citizen who helped organize the event, held in the basement of a public library.
Similar gatherings took place concurrently in eight other countries, including Turkey, France, Germany, Australia and Canada, he said.
Those in China with relatives abroad come under particular suspicion from the Chinese security forces, increasing the likelihood of them being interned.
Abduwaris Ablimit, a 34-year-old chef living in Boston, said his first impulse had not been to speak out, frightened of what the Chinese authorities might do in retaliation.
The last time he heard his parents’ voices was on a recorded message through the Chinese messaging app WeChat.
“Please don’t call me again, son,” his mother said through sobs, Ablimit recalled. “Maybe one day we will see each other again.”
She sent the message in July 2017. Since then, Ablimit has lived in fear that his parents and brother, well-known Uighur pop singer Zahirshah Ablimit, were sent to an internment camp.
His suspicions were confirmed in December, when Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that a police officer in Ablimit’s Xinjiang hometown said he had been involved in detaining Ablimit’s parents. A second officer told RFA that he had arrested Ablimit’s brother.
Former camp detainees have told The Associated Press that after being confined in the camps, they were forced to renounce their faith and swear fealty to China’s ruling Communist Party.
They said they were subject to political indoctrination and psychological torture, without legal recourse. They describe conditions in the camps as grim, with poor food, crowded cells and little medical assistance.
China says the camps are vocational training centers aimed at helping those vulnerable to extremism to be “cured” of such thoughts and gain job skills.
Apart from Turkey, whose people share cultural, religious and linguistic ties with Uighurs, the Muslim world has remained largely silent over the camps. Experts attribute that to their economic dependence on China, similarly authoritarian political systems and Beijing’s claims that it is countering a shared terror threat.
In the face of such silence, relatives of internees are taking it upon themselves to speak out.
After more than a year of being unable to reach his parents, Ablimit started talking to the media and reaching out to the U.S. consulates in Beijing and Shanghai. According to text messages reviewed by the AP, Ablimit received threatening messages from someone who claimed to be a Chinese police officer. The person urged Ablimit to stay quiet about his family’s case.
But Ablimit, who traveled to Washington for Sunday’s meeting, wasn’t swayed.
“I’m not afraid anymore,” he said. “I just need to find the truth.”
China bars millions from travel for ‘social credit’ offenses
By JOE McDONALD
Friday, February 22
BEIJING (AP) — Forgot to pay a fine in China? Then forget about buying an airline ticket.
Would-be air travelers were blocked from buying tickets 17.5 million times last year under a controversial “social credit” system the ruling Communist Party says will improve public behavior.
Some 5.5 million people were barred from buying train tickets, according to the National Public Credit Information Center. In an annual report, it said 128 people were blocked from leaving China because they were behind on their taxes.
The ruling party says penalties and rewards under “social credit” will improve order in a fast-changing society. Three decades of economic reform have shaken up social structures. Markets are rife with counterfeit goods and fraud.
The system is part of efforts by President Xi Jinping’s government to use technology from data processing to genetic sequencing and facial recognition to tighten control.
Authorities have experimented with “social credit” since 2014 in areas across China. Points are deducted for breaking the law or, in some areas, offenses as minor as walking a dog without a leash.
Human rights activists say “social credit” is too rigid and might unfairly label people as untrustworthy without telling them they have lost status or how to restore it.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence criticized it in October as “an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life.”
The ruling party says it plans to have a nationwide “social credit” system in place by 2020 but has yet to say how it will operate.
Possible penalties include restrictions on travel, business and access to education. A slogan repeated in state media says, “Once you lose trust, you will face restrictions everywhere.”
Companies on the blacklist can lose government contracts or access to bank loans.
Offenses penalized under “social credit” last year ranged from failure pay taxes to false advertising or violating drug safety rules, the government information center said. Individuals were blocked 290,000 times from taking senior management jobs or acting as a company’s legal representative.
It gave no details of how many people live in areas with “social credit” systems.
“Social credit” is one facet of efforts by the ruling party to take advantage of increased computing power, artificial intelligence and other technology to track and control the Chinese public.
The police ministry launched an initiative dubbed “Golden Shield” in 2000 to build a nationwide digital network to track individuals.
The ruling party is spending heavily to roll out facial recognition systems. Human rights activists say people in Muslim and other ethnic minority areas have been compelled to give blood samples for a genetic database.
Those systems rely heavily on foreign technology, which has prompted criticism of U.S. and European suppliers for enabling human rights abuses.
This week, Waltham, Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. said it no longer would sell or service genetic sequencers in the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang following criticism they were used for surveillance.
As many as 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are detained in political education camps, according to U.S. officials and United Nations experts. The government says those camps are vocational training centers designed to rid the region of extremism.
‘GOD MOUNTAINS AND FENGSHUI FORESTS’
Rural China Expert to Speak March 7 at Ohio Wesleyan
DELAWARE, Ohio – Researcher and rural China expert Christopher Coggins will present “God Mountains and Fengshui Forests: China’s Village Watersheds as Relict Sacred Space in the Anthropocene” when he speaks March 7 at Ohio Wesleyan University.
Coggins, Ph.D., professor of Geography and Asian Studies at Bard’s College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts, will speak at 7 p.m. March 7 in Benes Room A of Ohio Wesleyan’s Hamilton-Williams Campus Center, 40 Rowland Ave., Delaware.
Coggins’s research focuses on rural China, political ecology, biodiversity, sacred landscapes, protected area management, globalization, and property/possession. Since 2011, he has led teams engaged in a multi-year, mixed methods, field and archival research project on the fengshui forests of southern and central China.
Coggins earned his bachelor’s degree at Wesleyan University and both his master’s and doctoral degrees at Louisiana State University.
His visit is supported by an ASIANetwork Speakers Bureau Grant and sponsored by the Ohio Wesleyan Department of Comparative Literature, East Asian Studies Program, and Environmental Studies major.
Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 90 undergraduate majors and competes in 25 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through Ohio Wesleyan’s signature OWU Connection program, students integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and global perspective, and apply their knowledge in real-world settings. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and included in the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at www.owu.edu.
Opinion: A Currency Straitjacket for China
By Desmond Lachman
Proposing a currency straitjacket for a highly unbalanced economy is not a good idea. Yet that is precisely what the Trump administration is insisting on for China in its continuing trade negotiations with that country. This does not bode well for China’s long-term economic growth outlook. It also could have negative consequences for the rest of the global economy.
Despite what President Trump would have us believe, over the last few years China has not been manipulating its currency for competitive advantage. On the contrary, China has been doing precisely the reverse by its strenuous efforts to prevent its currency from depreciating against the U.S. dollar. These efforts have included the burning through of around $1 trillion in China’s international reserves to supply highly demanded dollars in the domestic currency market.
As a result of those efforts, China’s currency has been maintained at levels deemed to be at fair value by the International Monetary Fund. Meanwhile, its external current account surplus has declined substantially — to below 3 percent of GDP.
Choosing to overlook these facts, the Trump administration stubbornly sticks to the narrative that China persistently manipulates its currency for competitive advantage. This motivates the administration to insist that as part of any trade deal, China must commit itself to maintaining a fixed dollar currency peg.
One consequence of China acceding to the U.S. demand that it should peg its currency would be that it would risk having its currency appreciate against the world’s other currencies. It would do so at a time that a weakening Chinese economy could least afford it. This would happen should the dollar continue to appreciate as a result of higher U.S. interest rates or as a result of increased safe haven dollar demand in more volatile financial markets.
A more serious risk of a Chinese-U.S. dollar peg is that it would meaningfully complicate China’s efforts to rebalance its highly unbalanced economy. The Chinese government itself recognizes the need for early rebalancing. In particular, it is mindful of the fact that the country’s present investment level of almost half of its GDP is unsustainable and is giving rise to large amounts of excess industrial capacity and a massive supply of unoccupied housing units.
It is difficult to see how stuck in a currency straitjacket China could succeed in reducing its very high investment rate while at the same time maintaining economic growth. Tied to the U.S. dollar, China would be forced to accept U.S. interest rates, which would preclude it from cutting rates to boost demand. It would also be denied the use of exchange rate depreciation to promote its export sector as an offset to any reduction in domestic investment levels.
In slapping import tariffs on China and in attempting to force China into a currency straitjacket, the Trump administration seems to be overlooking the fact that China is the world’s second-largest economy and has for many years now been the world’s major engine of economic growth.
For that reason, one has to hope that in framing its trade policy the administration will become more mindful that an undue Chinese economic slowing could have global spillover effects on the rest of the world economy. In an interconnected global economy, that could very well come to reach our shores.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Desmond Lachman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was formerly a deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s Policy Development and Review Department and the chief emerging market economic strategist at Salomon Smith Barney. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Chinese internet users turn to the blockchain to fight against government censorship
Updated February 25, 2019
Author: Nir Kshetri, Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro
Disclosure statement: Nir Kshetri does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Thanks to blockchain, internet users have achieved some victories in the fight against China’s strict internet censorship.
A historic moment was made on April 23. Peking University‘s former student, Yue Xin, had penned a letter detailing the university’s attempts to hide sexual misconduct. The case involved a student, Gao Yan, who committed suicide in 1998 after a professor sexually assaulted and then harassed her.
The letter was blocked by Chinese social networking websites, but an anonymous user posted it on the Ethereum blockchain.
In another case, in July, Chinese citizens used blockchain to preserve an investigative story which condemned inferior vaccines being given to Chinese babies. The vaccines produced by Shenzhen-based Changsheng Bio-Tech failed to fight tetanus and whooping cough. The company has also allegedly faked data for about 113,000 doses of human rabies vaccine.
A blockchain is a secure database that’s stored in a distributed set of computers. Every addition to the database must be digitally signed, making clear who’s changing what and when.
To ensure that only authorized users have access to the information, blockchains use cryptography-based digital signatures that verify identities. A user signs transactions with a “private key,” which is generated when an an account is created. A private key typically is a long and random alphanumeric code, known only to the person who controls the account.
Using complicated algorithms, blockchains also create “public keys” from private keys. Public keys are known to the public and make it possible to share information. For instance, a bitcoin wallet address is a public key. Any bitcoin user can send payments to that address. However, only the person with the private key can spend the bitcoin.
From researching blockchain and China’s internet control measures, I can see that blockchain systems’ features are in conflict with the goals of the Chinese Communist Party. Truly decentralized blockchains will challenge the ability of authoritarian nations to maintain a tight grip over their populations.
Blockchain’s censorship-resistance features
Blockchain makes censorship extremely difficult.
Yue Xin’s letter, which was written in English and Chinese, and the story about the inferior vaccines have been inserted into the metadata of transactions in the Ethereum blockchain. Each transaction cost a few cents.
Since Ethereum transactions are permanent and public, anyone can read the letter. The posts cannot be tampered with. Since they are distributed among many computers in decentralized networks, it is not possible for Chinese internet censors to pressure any company to remove them.
The Chinese government has been alarmed about blockchain censorship resistance. Starting in February, a new regulation of the Cyberspace Administration of China requires users to provide real names as well as national ID card numbers or mobile phones to use blockchains. Law enforcement must be able to access data posted on the blockchain when necessary. Blockchain service providers are required to keep relevant records about transactions and other relevant information and report illegal use to authorities. They also need to prevent the production, duplication, publication and dissemination of contents that are banned by Chinese laws.
According to the new regulation, blockchain services are also required to remove “illegal information” quickly to stop it from spreading. This requirement is puzzling because, in commonly understood blockchains, information stored is immutable and thus cannot be removed.
Blockchains with Chinese characteristics
The Chinese strategy toward modern technology is to balance economic modernization and political control.
According to the World Economic Forum, blockchain is among six computing “mega-trends” that are likely to shape the world in the next decade. The Chinese government hopes that blockchain can address the diverse economic and social problems China faces, such as insurance fraud, environmental pollution and food safety.
The Chinese government is against truly decentralized blockchain systems such as bitcoin, which relies on users, also known as “nodes” or “peers,” competing to verify transactions. At least tens of thousands of computers from all over the world are connected at any point of time in the bitcoin network.
The former head of the People’s Bank of China’s digital currency research institute, Yao Qian, argued against the need for community consensus in which all users engage in transactions and governance related decisions. He favored a multi-center system, in which consensus is managed by several main nodes. Intervention can be applied in case of emergency. If needed, data can be rolled back, and transactions can be reversed. The system can even be shut down.
China has been the first nation to rank blockchains. Most blockchains that rank high are developed in China or have strong Chinese connections. It is easier for the government to access and control such blockchains. It is impossible for a Chinese blockchain company to operate and succeed in China without helping the government to achieve its censorship goals.
The blockchain most favored by the Chinese government, EOS, uses a model where users vote for representatives. Only the representatives verify transactions and make decisions regarding system updates. All transactions and governance decisions in EOS are processed and approved by only 21 main nodes, known as supernodes. Twelve of the EOS supernodes are in China. This makes it easier for the government to control blockchains, since the penalty of noncompliance with Chinese regulations is high for China-based supernodes.
The third-ranked blockchain, Ontology, and the seventh, Neo, have smaller numbers of main nodes: seven each. Censorship can be easily enforced in these blockchain thanks to small numbers of main nodes, mainly in China, involved in transactions and governance decisions.
Struggle for control
China’s approach to blockchain regulation reflects the tension it faces between using modern technologies to maintain control and using them to stimulate economic growth. The Chinese government wouldn’t allow blockchain implementation without significant modification. Blockchain applications modified to satisfy China’s have lost fundamental elements of the original technology.
The new laws, combined with the Chinese government’s indication of its favorite blockchains, could constrain activists’ ability to use blockchains to fight censorship. For instance, the supernodes of EOS froze accounts associated with email scams and stopped them from making transactions. It also reversed transactions that were previously confirmed.
These examples illustrate that blockchains are being developed that help suppress contents that are objectionable to the Chinese government. Activists who are vocal against the Chinese government may also be barred from using some blockchains, such as Neo. In this way, China could also emerge as a role model for other authoritarian regimes in developing censorship-enabled blockchain solutions.