China Information Operations Newsletter 18 August 2022
18 August 2022
The China Information Operations Newsletter is edited by Hannah Bailey, a researcher at the Programme on Democracy and Technology (DemTech) at Oxford University. This newsletter is a 6 minute read.
The New York Timesand China Filehave released their findings from a year-long investigation into China’s expanding surveillance infrastructure. The report details how the government is increasingly integrating surveillance technologies such as face, voice and iris recognition, DNA biometrics and IMSI ‘electric fences’ to track citizen behaviour. Even those with no connection to crime are tracked. These tracking systems create an ‘invisible cage’ around China’s most vulnerable and politically active citizens in an attempt to algorithmically predict their activity.
For an in-depth discussion of China’s wider surveillance capacities see the forthcoming book “Surveillance State: Inside China’s Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control”by Josh Chin and Liza Lin. The authors document the CCP’s construction of a surveillance state.
A well-known social media influencer was abruptly censored by Weibo for showing a cake in the shape of a tank. The cake was an apparent reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Each year on the anniversary of the crackdown, social media companies operating in China escalate their censorship efforts to remove any reference to the event.
Surveillance camera footage of a brutal assault against four women in a restaurant has sparked widespread online criticism of gender-based violence. This video is the latest in a series of viral online clips depicting violence against women, and has been viewed over 200 million times. While online users have demanded to know what happened to the women, state media have refused to release any information on their welfare, instead focussing on a “thunderstorm” campaign to crack down on organised crime. Weibo removed 320 accounts for “spreading rumours” about the attacks.
As Beijing refines its domestic censorship apparatus, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access Chinese social media platforms from abroad. Researchers and journalists outside China are finding that platforms and government websites operating in China are using various technical tools to limit the amount of information foreign users can access.
Despite increasing censorship and surveillance infrastructure, a recent article finds that Chinese Muslims have maintained active and vocal online communities. The article, published in New Media and Society, finds that Chinese Muslims have found methods of strategically voicing dissent online, as well as sharing Islamic discourses of hygiene and global discourses of public health during the pandemic.
But how does this fit into the global picture on censorship? In particular, what incentivises states to censor in the first place? A recent article in Political Communication examines censorship in 196 countries. The study finds that platforms with large audiences and those that frequently report on collective action events are more likely to be the target of more stringent censorship.
Is government-collected data giving Chinese artificial intelligence firms the competitive edge? A briefing by Stanford’s Centre on China’s Economy and Institutions argues that the scale of data collected by the Chinese government has given companies that use machine learning to develop facial recognition technologies a competitive advantage.
The US and China have very different philosophical approaches to AI governance. An article in AI & Society finds that the US prioritises global cooperation and competition with China. In contrast, while China’s approach also includes global cooperation, its prioritisation of ‘social stability’ and authoritarian guidance means that collaboration efforts with democratic nations may not materialise.
An investigation by the BBC programme Africa Eye exposed how Chinese filmmakers exploit local children in Malawi for personalised ‘greetings’ containing racist content. These ‘greetings’ are then sold on Chinese internet platforms for up to £55.
More broadly, an article in The Diplomat on the state-backed outlet CGTNasserts that China’s public diplomacy efforts have been largely unsuccessful in reaching audiences. It argues that the bureaucratic editorial structure of Chinese state backed outlets contributes to this lack of genuine audience engagement. A separate article in Foreign Affairs argues that China’s model of public diplomacy relies on material inducements over ideational power. According to an article in the Journal of Politics, this pragmatic approach is more successful in the global South, in particular Africa, where public opinion surveys have found that China receives more support.
In G7 countries, however, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led more people to view China as a threat. Public opinion data by the Munich Security Conference reveals that many are afraid that China may follow Russia in engaging in international acts of aggression.
A note to readers – while the readership of the DemTech China Information Operations Newsletter has steadily grown, for reasons of funding the final edition of this newsletter will be issued in September. After September for further updates please follow me on Twitter @Hannah_LSBailey.