CHINA TIGHTENS ITS GRIP ON HONG KONG, AND BEYOND

by Gunnar Eigener

‘The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.’

Chapter 1, Article 5 of the Hong Kong Basic Law

The recent introduction of the new Security Law in Hong Kong by the Chinese government has sent waves throughout the city, and beyond. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is exactly the type of security legislation it sounds like. The law views subversion of central authority, secession from the mainland and collusion with foreign entities as criminal actions; furthermore, all applications of the law are open to interpretation. In line with communist tradition, the management of non-governmental organisations and media outlets will be stricter. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam gave her blessing to the legislation, and encouraged the international community to accept its legitimacy, but reactions have varied.

The tit-for-tat diplomacy that threatens to break out into a full-blown trade war between China and the United States continues to flare up regularly with the US, who is no longer justifying special trade and travel privileges for Hong Kong. In a gesture of solidarity with the people, Australia suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and the UK reassured that it would not turn its back on its commitments to Hong Kongers. The UN has issued an oral rebuke, and The EU has urged China to reconsider the law. 

Two significant escape routes for the people of Hong Kong have presented themselves since. One is through the United Kingdom, where Boris Johnson announced that those in Hong Kong with a British (Overseas) Passport could gain British citizenship, with potentially up to 3 million who could claim. The second is through Taiwan, which has set up an office to help Hong Kongers resettle  and adapt to a new life in their own borders. There has also been increased internet searches for properties abroad, particularly in the UK, Australia and Canada. 

China is a friend that the UK and indeed most other economies, cannot afford to lose.

China has reacted strongly, however, accusing the UK of interfering in its former colony and accusing Taiwan independence activists of colluding with Hong Kong independence activists. Both countries face risk, as Taiwan lives with the constant threat of military action hanging over its head while the UK may well depend heavily on economic and financial relationships with China in the future. With its lure of cheap labour, as well as Beijing’s vast global investment funds, China is a friend that the UK and indeed most other economies, cannot afford to lose.

But alas, the UK has shown itself woefully incapable of influencing Chinese policy; only the US really has that power, but Donald Trump sways between disdain for Chinese business practises and admiration for the Chinese leader. Should Joe Biden win the upcoming US presidential election in November, the US might change its stance. Biden is likely to prove more amenable to creating strong trade bonds and dispensing with tit-for-tat diplomacy.

China is accustomed to acting with impunity when it comes to violations of human rights.

The new security law in Hong Kong is the latest in a string of assertive action against political dissent, and hardly comes as a surprise. China is accustomed to acting with impunity when it comes to violations of human rights. Despite outrage over the Uyghur ‘re-education camps‘, the international community has done next to nothing about it. Despite Chinese agents kidnapping dual-nationals and putting them on trial in China, the world has stood still. Even in regards to the land grabs by China in the South Seas and on the borders with India and Nepal, the global community says a lot and does nothing. It is little wonder that China is now unafraid to pursue aggressive state actions. 

China is not going to change. The belief from Western authorities that China can be slowly tempted to change its ways is not realistic. At the same time, pointing more missiles at the country is hardly likely to encourage them to lower their guard. China has never shown any intentions of softening its position on any of its issues, such as developing bases in the South China Sea, closing so-called re-education camps or giving independence to Tibet. Ever more media savvy, the reactions to any topic in which the country or party is criticised are always measured and strong-worded. China will continue to defend itself from public criticism even if that means cutting off its nose to spite its face. Suppression of the population through the Sesame Credit system, restriction on internet access, and threats of re-education discourage many from social and public criticism and, while the rest of the world turns a blind eye, China will push ahead. 

The situation in Hong Kong has drawn condemnation from various countries mainly because of its global financial status, but the biggest problem remains mainland China’s ability to mass-produce cheap goods; goods which Western economies are relying upon to reboot their domestic economies in the wake of Covid-19.

Most countries have incoherent policies when it comes to China. Condemning its actions while continuing to seek trade deals or accept Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Most countries have allowed their supply chains to become interconnected with China to the extent that any significant action poses an immediate and serious economic risk. The Security Law is a warning shot across the bows; China intends to bring what it considers its own back into the fold and increase its political and economic reach; and that likely extends beyond Hong Kong.


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CHINA STRENGTHENS TIES WITH MYANMAR AS HUMAN RIGHTS FALL BY THE WAYSIDE

by Yali Banton-Heath

Chinese head of state Xi Jinping made his first official visit to Myanmar (Burma) on Friday, where he met with State Councillor and de facto leader of the country Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and the Burmese military’s infamous commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Although it was Jinping’s first visit since assuming office, the occasion marked 70 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries and signifies a continued mutual desire to unite their economic and strategic interests. A total of 33 agreements were signed to speed up China-backed development projects in Myanmar and bolster the China-Myanmar-Economic-Corridor; a vital component of the wider Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Both countries have track records of serious state-sponsored human rights abuses, and share an increasing disdain for, and distancing from the West. With the tantalising promise of economic prosperity, has China got Myanmar under its thumb, and will development come at the expense of human rights.Continue Reading

MYANMAR’S DISPLACED REMAIN RELUCTANT TO RETURN HOME, AND I DON’T BLAME THEM

by Yali Banton-Heath

New discussions have been taking place about the future of the displaced Rohingya population in Bangladesh, and their potential repatriation journey back over the border to Myanmar. The progression of the repatriation process however, as the UN has reiterated, remains frustratingly slow. A lack of guarantees, respect, and honesty on the Burmese government’s part is maintaining a firm unwillingness among Rohingya community leaders to make the decision to return home. But the Rohingya are not the only displaced minority demanding security guarantees and respect for their rights from the Burmese government. Elsewhere in the country, as well as across the Thai and Chinese borders other displaced ethnic groups – such as Kachin and Karen – are being faced with the same dilemma. Either to remain in squalid refugee camps, or make the journey home and risk returning to renewed violence and repression. 

Continue Reading

THE NUCLEAR STANDOFF

by Gunnar Eigener

Amid simmering tensions between India and Pakistan, in parallel with the Trump White House determined to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia and Russia’s illegal missile, which effectively ended the INF Treaty, climate change might not be the nail in the coffin; human society might just jump straight into the furnace.

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A DAM SHAME

by Stu Lucy

For the best part of the tail end of the twentieth century, rich countries in various guises have lent considerable sums to leaders of African countries, elected or otherwise, in order that they ‘develop their infrastructure’. Over the years numerous heads of state have accepted these tempting offers, skimming a little off the top for themselves and their cronies, leaving the rest to fulfil some grand construction touted by politicians as intrinsic to ensuring the economic success and prosperity of their beloved country.

Home to the source of the river Nile, Uganda has had its fair share of such development projects, most commonly in the form of hydroelectric dams. Since construction of the Owen Falls dam, the first to harness the power of the mighty river built under colonial rule in 1954, numerous other power stations have been constructed with help from international lenders such as The World Bank, alongside numerous import-export banks of countries set to profit from the dam’s construction.Continue Reading

NOTHING WILL STOP THE CHANGING ENVIRONMENT

by Gunnar Eigener

The environment is changing. All across the globe, weather patterns have shifted, resulting in abnormal meteorological behaviour and pushing society towards conditions it is not used to. The UK has just come out of a record-breaking heatwave. Japan declared a national emergency after heatwaves there killed 65 people. Wildfires in Greece left over 70 people dead and in California, over a dozen people are missing as fires spread. Visitors required evacuation from Yosemite National Park and wind threatens to fan flames in Sweden’s forests.

However, should we be surprised by these events? Continue Reading

AMERICA’S FADING ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

by Gunnar Eigener

America’s influence in the Middle East is beginning to fray at the edges. This is bad news for both the region and the global community. America has, over the past decade, became something of a pariah in the area. Its foreign policy, already distrusted by enemies and allies alike, has looked increasingly unclear and erratic under the current administration.

While previous Presidents acted with caution and measure, the Trump White House presses on, having found in its new National Security Advisor John Bolton the man who would seemingly give weight to any decision that Donald Trump would be likely to favour, yet is already being rumoured to be behind Trump’s decision to withdraw from the North Korea Summit. Continue Reading

HEAVENLY PALACES AND SPACE JUNKS: CHINA’S QUIET SPACE REVOLUTION

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by Justin Reynolds

There was some apprehension as a Chinese ‘Heavenly Palace’ fell to Earth last week. The 8.5 tonne Tiangong-1 space station, adrift since China’s space agency lost connection with it two years ago, made an ‘uncontrolled’ re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere early on Easter Monday.

Fortunately there was never much cause for concern, the European Space Agency calculating the chances of being hit by debris as ’10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning’. Most of the station burned up on contact with Earth’s atmosphere and the remaining fragments plunged into the South Pacific. But the episode had a eerie resonance, symbolising something of the West’s prevailing perception of China as an enigmatic, technologically advanced state, glowing with – rather like its wayward satellite – a nebulous sense of danger.Continue Reading

DON’T BE FOOLED BY CHINA’S GREENWASH

by Yali Banton Heath

China has been the subject of environmental scrutiny for years now. It remains the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, has horrendously high levels of air pollution, and still uses coal fired power stations to generate its electricity. 2018, however, seems to be welcoming the beginning of change for the country. International media has reported on new environmental protection laws, policies and bans, as China attempts to turn a new leaf. For better or worse, China is the world’s largest player in our changing climate, and how this change plays out out in the coming decades rests largely on their shoulders.

The question must be asked though: Is China really pushing for a safer future, and pioneering a nation-wide effort to combat global warming? Or is it just a master greenwasher, in a bid to sell itself as a bastion for modernity and progress?Continue Reading

MARX AND MARKETS: LEARNING FROM CHINA’S 40 YEAR ECONOMIC REVOLUTION

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by Justin Reynolds

Overshadowed by the perennial pain of Brexit negotiations and fresh flurries of speculation over her leadership, Theresa May’s trip to China earlier this month passed with little comment.

Democratic freedoms in Britain’s former colony Hong Kong were briefly discussed. A few business contracts were confirmed. And the shimmering outline of some future post-Brexit trade deal could at times be briefly discerned.

What was remarkable about the visit was scarcely noted:Continue Reading

ENGINEERING UTOPIA: CHINA’S PROJECT FOR DESIGNING ‘TRUSTWORTHINESS’

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by Justin Reynolds

Visions of a great civilisation enjoying ‘peace under heaven’ have haunted the Chinese imagination from the time of the sages to today, when President Xi Jingping’s ‘China Dream’ of a prosperous ordered nation is propagated ceaselessly by the state-controlled media.

Here hypermodernity is filtered through ancient virtues. China’s gleaming new cities, high-speed rail links and technology parks are studded with billboards urging honesty, modesty and filial piety. Its vast wired economy is screened for decadent Western influences, blocking Facebook, Google and YouTube, and magazines infatuated with celebrity gossip or ‘crude language’. This year the ‘Great Firewall of China’ was reinforced when the state banned VPN services used by millions to break through to the global web.

Now China is finetuning the ultimate technological fix for designing a virtuous society: a ‘Social Credit System’ that will use the data produced by a population of some 1.4 billion citizens in the course of their daily interactions with digital services to rank them according to ‘trustworthiness’.Continue Reading

BUSINESS, AS USUAL: THE ROHINGYA CRISIS, REPATRIATION AND ECONOMIC INTERESTS

by Yali Banton Heath

Content warning: ethnic cleaning, sexual violence.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have just signed an agreement which concerns the repatriation of over 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled their homeland in Rakhine state since August. What many are now rightfully calling out as genocide, the persecution, murder and rape of Rohingya people and the burning of their villages has left deep scars. Continue Reading

COMMUNISM, CONFUCIUS AND CONFUSION: CHINA’S TURN TO THE SAGES

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By Justin Reynolds

Fifty years ago Mao Zedong’s Red Guards rampaged through the ancient streets of Qufu, home city of the sage Confucius, pulling down statues, burning temples and desecrating graves.

The ‘old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas’ associated with the teacher who for millennia had provided philosophical legitimacy for China’s feudal order were to be swept aside by the Cultural Revolution to make way for a new classless society.

But today Qufu is one of communist China’s foremost places of pilgrimage. An sprawling museum and park complex stands by the restored temple, overlooked by a giant figure of Confucius the size of the Statue of Liberty. ‘The Holy City of the Orient’, with its gleaming new high-speed rail link, now attracts more visitors each year than the land of Israel.Continue Reading

JAPAN MUST REFLECT ON ITS HISTORY IF IT IS TO REVISE ARTICLE 9

by Yali Banton Heath

On September 25th, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe called for one of those snap elections we all know and love. Unlike Theresa May, when the results were announced almost a month later on October 22nd, Abe managed to pull through and secure himself a majority in the Diet.

Japan is now swinging heavily to the right. With Abe possessing a mandate to attempt implementation of his main objective – revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution – is the country about to embark on a dangerous path of no return?Continue Reading

TRADE SECRETS #3 – CAN FREE TRADE BRING WORLD PEACE?

by Toby Gill

Part of a new series exploring the concept and consequences of ‘free trade’ from a variety of perspectives. (Part 1 can be found here and part 2 can be found here.)

‘World peace’ is a staple for utopian theorists, science fiction writers, and beauty pageant winners. Sadly, an end to all international conflict still seems like a very distant dream. However, when it comes to war, for the last 60 years there has most definitely been an elephant in the room. Why are we all getting on so well?

Of course this is to say nothing of civil wars, hybrid wars, and grassroots violence, all of which remain (sadly) rife. But when it comes to wars between states, especially between great powers, we are living in the most peaceful era in recorded history. This is even more impressive considering that many were worried a third world war would immediately follow the second. So what’s going on?Continue Reading

TRADE SECRETS #2 – THE STATE AND THE MARKET. WE ARE BEING LIED TO.

by Toby Gill

Part of a new series exploring the concept and consequences of ‘free trade’ from a variety of perspectives. (Part 1 can be found here: How to Hunt the Stag: Power, Blackmail and Exploitation)

Let’s suppose I am the editor of a brilliant and highly successful politics and arts magazine (ahem). My magazine is so utterly brilliant that I believe it’s time to break into an international market. I’m aiming big – I want to sell my magazine in China. However, all manner of obstacles lie in my way. Firstly, there is the physical distance – my magazines have to reach the other side of the world. Next, I would need to alter the magazine to comply with Chinese laws and regulations (which could be completely unrecognisable, even if they weren’t written in a different language). Then I require the local infrastructure to advertise my product, a shop to sell it from, and local workers to operate this shop. Each of these steps will also require a translator, as will the translation of my magazine itself. I also need the Chinese State not to have any subsidies for local magazines that price me out of the market, nor quotas which restrict my sales. Finally, even once all this has been achieved, cultural differences may render my once gripping magazine totally uninteresting to locals.

In short, my magazine isn’t going to sell many Chinese copies any time soon.Continue Reading

TRADE SECRETS #1 – HOW TO HUNT THE STAG: POWER, BLACKMAIL AND EXPLOITATION

By Toby Gill

Part of a new series exploring the concept and consequences of ‘free trade’ from a variety of perspectives.

John, Tyrion and Ned lie patiently in wait. They have cornered their target, a colossal, fully-grown stag, grazing nearby. The three of them are in position, bows drawn, waiting to strike. Suddenly the stag bolts, leaping into the undergrowth. Tyrion jumps into pursuit. He knows he has little hope of catching the beast, but he does not despair – it is headed directly towards John’s position. The creature approaches the bush where John is hiding, its end clearly drawing near. But there is no shot. The stag runs past unscathed, and escapes into the night. Tyrion runs over to the bush, exasperated, ready to strike John with the back of his hand. But John is not there. He is around the corner – attempting to catch a rabbit with his pocket knife.Continue Reading

THE LATEST NORTH KOREAN MISSILE TEST: A NEED FOR CHANGE IN U.S. GRAND STRATEGY IN THE REGION

by Oliver Steward

The latest North Korean missile launch over Japan on the 28th August 2017 is a sign that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is willing to act unilaterally, despite what any other country may think or want the regime to behave according to international accords. This is obviously disturbing and only goes to show that the North Korean regime is totally defiant towards the international community, and sticking its middle finger up at the United States and the wider world.Continue Reading

TRUMPOCALYPSE NOW?

by Faizal Nor Izham

It’s barely two months after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, and things are already starting to look worryingly apocalyptic.

Where do we begin? Shortly after he was instated, one of his first moves resembled an environmental assault, by approving the final permit for the Dakota Access pipeline.Then the promise of building the Mexican wall. The ‘Muslim ban’ came next. And finally, fanning the flames of war with Iran.Continue Reading

THE STATE OF THE NATION ISN’T GREAT

by Zoe Harding

Article contains strong language.

Okay, I’m not writing another article to bait angry American conservative shitheads. That was funny, don’t get me wrong. I could have got a whole article called: ‘101 talking points for miserable dickheads’ out of it. (For more details, see my Nazi-Punching guide to kicking the Alt-Right in the teeth and my general reasoning for violence against people who advocate genocide, and its gloriously rage-filled comment section.)

But enough baiting easily-baited term-searching nationalist wankers. Let’s be more international and talk about another democratic nation with severe racial tensions, corruption problems and an unpopular leader accused of incompetence: South Africa. On February 9th, Zuma gave the traditional State of the Nation Address of the President of South Africa (SONA, for short) to the parliament.

It didn’t start well.Continue Reading

ENVIRONMENTAL WARS: THE CORPORATE AND POLITICAL WAR ON NATURE

by Gunnar Eigener

The Republican Party’s war on the environment has begun in earnest.

The US Army Corps of Engineers have approved the final easement to complete the Dakota Pipe Line (DAPL). The Keystone XL Pipeline has also been approved. Republican senators have introduced a bill to disband the Environmental Protection Agency. The Stream Protection Rule has been repealed using the Congressional Review Act. The Securities & Exchange Commissions (SEC) transparency rule has been repealed. The Interior Department methane rule is currently going through the repeal process. Trump has promised to disband the Clean Power Act and the EPA website has removed all pages relating to climate change. Trump’s America First Energy Plan neglected to mention solar energy jobs and, although the initial plan to sell of 3.3 million acres of national land has been withdrawn, proposals have been put forward to transfer federal land to state control. In the UK, the government is pushing forward with the intention to sell the Green Investment Bank and renewable energy ventures look set to slashed even more. A report by the Energy and Climate Committee has predicted that the UK will fail to meet its renewable energy targets. The closing of the Department of Energy and Climate Change led to its operations being transferred to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, casting doubt of the ability to prioritise the environment over business. Continue Reading

THE TRUMP CARD AND ‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’ — IS IT ONE OF DECLINE OR RENEWAL?

by Oliver Steward

The United States is experiencing relative decline vis-a-vis in relation to other so-called ‘Great Powers’, notably China. The election of President-elect Donald  Trump may navigate this transition or accelerate this relative decline in the second decade of the 21st century.

US GDP has only grown nominally at 1.5%.  Some important elements can be taken to show the growing disparity and changes to the world’s two most important economic powers. As discussed in The Globalist, ‘US GDP stood at $16.8 trillion in 2013 —just about 4% larger than China’s economy…. [While]The IMF estimates that China’s GDP at purchasing power parity was $17.6 trillion at the end of 2014.’  Furthermore the US is spending $1 trillion on domestic and national security under the auspices of counter terrorism. It has spent blood and treasure in two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Continue Reading

DICTATORSHIPS & DEMOCRACY

by Gunnar Eigener

‘Democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people.’
– Abraham Lincoln

Democracy has long been the banner to which Western leaders rally their troops to fight under. The Brexit referendum is a prime example of extreme democracy, progress for some at the expense of others. The desired outcome for the Leave campaign is for the UK to become a self-governing democracy. Just how much more democratic will the country become?

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THE COLD WAR, REHEATED

by Gunnar Eigener

The Cold War peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis and ended with the falling of the Berlin Wall. It left scars across the globe, many of which are still felt today. It tore societies apart. It created a feeling of angst and paranoia in those who lived through it. The lack of trust the West and East held for each other hasn’t really gone nor have the players changed that much. For younger generations, it used to be hard to imagine what a time like that must have been like but as this century progresses, but it’s becoming easier.

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CASUAL RACISM: WHY IS IT STILL A PROBLEM IN ASIA?

by Faizal Nor Izham

Disclaimer: mentions violence against women, casual racism

Last week, the Internet was sent into its usual frenzy over the latest political correctness issue. Amidst the now sadly all-too-common Western-centric controversies, such as actress Rose McGowan raising the issue of the use of casual violence against women in movie posters to market ‘X-Men: The Apocalypse’, the Internet also reacted strongly to a television advert from China that was making its rounds on social media. The ad, featuring national detergent brand Qiaobi, contained levels of racism considered disturbingly casual by most standards.

In the commercial, a pouch of Qiaobi cleaning liquid is forced into a black actor’s mouth by a Chinese woman, who goes on to bundle him head-first into a washing machine. After a few cycles, she opens the lid and in his place, a Chinese man emerges instead. He proceeds to wink at the camera before the tagline appears onscreen: “Change begins with Qiaobi”.Continue Reading

STATE MEDIA AND THE DETERIORATION OF FREE SPEECH

by Gunnar Eigener

Out of the May 5th elections the biggest story was the criticism of the coverage by the BBC and other mainstream media outlets. Particular focus of this was on BBC Question Time and the BBC Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg. This isn’t the first time that Kuenssberg has come under fire and it probably won’t be the last. A petition was doing the rounds demanding an independent review of how biased her actions may have been but has now been taken down. Additionally, the lack of coverage over the alleged Tory fraud in the last General Election has generated a sense of distrust in the BBC, an organisation that states: ‘impartiality lies at the heart of the public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences’.

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SESAME CREDIT AND THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET

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By Zoe Harding

We live in the future. It’s easy to forget that.

Just look at the internet. A set of technologies that jumped from military geek-toy to utter ubiquity in just two decades. While only 3/8ths of the world’s population have regular access to the internet -the vast majority of them in North America, Europe and the CIS (the former Soviet Union countries) – other nations are rapidly expanding into the chaos of the digital frontier.

Interestingly, the largest nation on the internet in terms of raw population is the People’s Republic of China. From a single email in 1987 (‘across the Great Wall, we can reach every corner of the world’), China’s online presence has expanded to nearly 689 million regular internet users on 3.24 million domestic web sites by the end of 2015.These are not ancient dial-up PCs labouring in greasy internet cafes either- 83% are using smartphones and China’s broadband network is extensive and widely-used. The Chinese online gaming markets are huge, their domestic online shopping and social media sites are economic giants in their own right. Chinese netizens have been an unholy headache for their government too; while the government owns all internet access points through state-owned telecoms companies, and attempts to enforce various rules through the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China’, as with all online systems hackers have been easily able to penetrate their security and discontent is expressed regularly online.

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Photo: json.tv

The Chinese government has done its best to prevent this.The BBC reported in 2013 that nearly two million people were employed to monitor web activity online, and profanity filters, overt censorship and more covert measures like bandwidth throttling are widely used to shut down people expressing unapproved opinions.

The latest attempt to bring China’s restless netizens under control is a new credit-rating system being developed by the Chinese government, China’s Amazon-rivalling e-commerce giant Alibaba, and the media/internet/gaming/ISP company Tencent. Now, credit-rating systems are pretty much ubiquitous in the western world, and while they undoubtedly cause a fair amount of misery, it’s no more by design than the rest of the economy, right? In most countries, a credit-rating system is designed to rate an individual based on how able they are to fulfil financial commitments based on previous dealings. Just another economic widget, albeit one that can, and does screw people over on a regular basis.

Sesame Credit and its ilk are something else. Sesame Credit is a social engineering tool specifically designed to control and quantify social behaviour on a massive scale.

Scary stuff, huh? And while a good start, that video doesn’t begin to do the system justice. Sesame Credit is currently one of six corporate pilot schemes being run with the blessing and involvement of the Chinese government, with a full mandatory rollout planned in 2020. They aren’t trying to hide the system or its purpose, either. As laid out in the vast and repetitive design document the Chinese government released in 2014, the system is designed to ‘establish the idea of an [sic] sincerity culture, and carry forward sincerity and traditional virtues.’ It’s also supposed to be used to fight corruption and financial crime, but the main focus appears to be on finding a way to control and keep track of China’s vast and growing population.

The system already pulls down vast amounts of data, and has already had a profound impact, even in its early beta phases. Your Sesame Credit score already has access to all the data generated by Alibaba, which provides a vast array of online shopping, auction, payment and financial services, as well as dating sites, taxi companies and utility companies. The higher your score, the more ‘trustworthy’ you are considered to be, and the more perks and bonuses you unlock, like deposit-free car rentals or money off hotel rooms. There’s currently no set downside to having a negative score beyond losing said bonuses, but as the score is available for anyone to check users are incentivised to keep it high. The developers have refused to explain exactly how this score is generated, but they have confirmed that it includes elements based not only on how much you buy but also what you buy. The company tracks time spent in-game and purchases to attempt to build an image of the individual. Buy lots of nappies, you’re probably a parent and ‘more likely to have a sense of responsibility’, giving you a higher score. Play video games all day and your score goes down. In addition, it tracks financial credit scores, qualifications, even whether users bothered to settle taxi bills and bills with small retailers.

sesamecredit

Photo: Zheping Huang

While the current systems are still largely financial entities, a number of disturbing trends are already apparent. For one, Sesame tracks ‘somewhat unusual types of information, such as a person’s hobbies and whether he or she has a financially irresponsible friend.’ The latter component is particularly disturbing; it incentivises social division and provides tangible benefits to ostracising the less financially stable or fortunate. Imagine having to stop talking to a friend because they missed a rent payment, and facing financial loss or ostracism yourself if you don’t. Worse, imagine having to cut yourself off from a friend because their ‘hobbies’ fell onto the negative list. China’s LGBTQ+ record isn’t the worst in the world and it’s improving year by year, but the country only removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001 and then there’s shit like this. Social credit systems provide a way for this sort of institutionalised prejudice against subcultures and minorities to become omnipresent in the name of social harmony.

…if this system works, and makes dissent in China slightly more difficult, imagine how long it’s going to be before other governments start looking at similar ideas?

The reaction in the West to this story has of course been tinged with the standard Far East response, a mix of cultural othering and ‘It can’t happen here’, but let’s examine that. Of course, China’s closed internet and more overtly restrictive government provides a better environment for systems like this to be widely implemented, but Sesame Credit is much more than just top-down government and corporate rule-sets. The combination of bonuses and arbitrary scores essentially functions as operant conditioning, in a manner already seen in hundreds of absurdly popular free-to-play games. It’s the same mechanics that compel people to keep playing Clash of Clans or Eve Online- social pressure combined with compulsive design.

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Image: Peter Nicholson

Scarier still, it’s working. Early adopters are enthusiastically using the system, some lured by financial gains and others by patriotism. Scores pop up on dating sites and social networks. Currently if friends join Sesame Credit, your score goes up regardless of theirs. As this slightly less hysterical article says, the current system is purely financial, and serves more to enforce customer loyalty. The potential, however, is entirely real. Even if the government-mandated system is abandoned, the existing systems make life significantly easier for the Chinese government to snoop if it wants to. Worse, if this system works, and makes dissent in China slightly more difficult, imagine how long it’s going to be before other governments start looking at similar ideas? Given the British government’s complete disregard for the privacy of its own citizens, a self-reinforcing system for stifling dissent that leans heavily towards the carrot end of the spectrum rather than the stick has to have caught their interest.

Featured Image: http://blogs.globalasia.com/madeinprc/tag/infografias/

THE NEOLIBERAL PROBLEM WITH CHINA

by Will Durant

“In China, such change over the past three decades has been informed by three principles: the lower the level of government, the more democratic the political system; the optimal space for experimentation with new practices and institutions is in between the lowest and highest levels of government; and the higher the level of government, the more meritocratic the political system.”

That was Daniel A. Bell writing in The Atlantic last year about the Chinese ‘model’. This kind of thinking is everything that I loathe about neoliberalism. We’re presented with the idea that economists like Alan Greenspan and Mark Carney are these supreme experts who are just tinkering for the common good. Forget their past careers in multi-national corporations, they’re for the people. You know, like how the ‘Chicago Boys’ were simply working for the people of Chile. Just like the experts in the ol’ PRC right now. It’s not like their advice, enforced by the state, is unreliable or anything. So who needs the popular vote when you can have a few geniuses tinkering the system?

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HOW FAR CAN FEMINISM GO IN ASIA?

by Faizal Nor Izham

Over the past century women have made great strides towards gender equality in the Western world. From the Suffragette movement of the late 19th and early 20th century in Britain to the commonplace election of female MPs today, women’s rights in the West are increasingly becoming the norm. Feminism has even played a role in the world of science fiction, with prominent authors such as Margaret Atwood and Ursula LeGuin imagining hypothetical future societies in which gender barriers, and in some cases gender itself, have been removed completely for the betterment of the human race.Continue Reading

ZAMBIA: WHERE THE STREETS ARE PAVED WITH COPPER

by Josh Wilson 

The past few weeks have seen a growing debate about the impacts of slowing growth in China on the global economy. But I want to talk about the potential impacts on Zambia specifically.

Zambia — a country most people know exists but are not always 100% sure quite where it is located on a map. For a bit of background, it is a landlocked country the size of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined, with a population of just 14.5 million people. It is situated just above Zimbabwe and below the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was a British Colony until Independence in 1964; Kenneth Kaunda won the first election after independence and ruled the nation from 1964 until 1991 when a multi-party democracy was resurrected and has continued since. Zambia has some of the most pristine nature reserves in Southern Africa, with one of the most concentrated populations of Leopards on the continent.

This beautiful country also has an awful lot of copper.Continue Reading

THE PARIS CLIMATE SUMMIT: AN OPPORTUNITY FOR HUMANITY TO SEIZE

by Natasha Senior

For many millennia to come, the climate crisis will be the defining moment of our history. When we first shovelled the crushed, decayed, fossilised remains of prehistoric creatures into engines, we found that we could create plentiful power. It is this power that has allowed us to coexist in huge societal networks, to eliminate disease and travel to outer space. But these tremendous strides in humanity have come at a huge price.

The infrastructure of our society relies on consuming, we no longer share local resources within small communities, but transport them across the world and transform them many times until they take the barely recognisable forms of commodities we use every day. In each step of this process we lavishly spend fuel, a resource that we once treated as ever-lasting, but now we see it’s running out. But our biggest mistake was that we thought we were getting all of this for free when in fact, all this time we’ve been borrowing huge amounts from the environment. And as we see the Earth changing drastically, with the oceans acidifying and the weather becoming increasingly unpredicable, we know that the time has come to settle the debt. These next few weeks, as world leaders gather at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, we will decide as a species how to return what we owe.

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WE DON’T NEED TO TALK ABOUT ISLAM, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT HUMANITY

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by Gunnar Eigener

The terrorist attacks in Paris have brought back a feeling of despair, that no matter where we live, there is always someone who wants to hurt us. The shaky camera footage of police storming a building, the bangs of smoke grenades, the echoes of gunfire, have sent a shockwave through France, Europe and the world. In the aftermath, a reaction is already beginning and anger will turn on Muslim individuals, communities, businesses and places of worship. Already a petition to “Stop all immigration and close UK borders until ISIS is defeated” is circulating and has got over 383,000 signatures so far. This will not solve anything, nor will blaming Islam.

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UK STEEL PRODUCTION IS ABOUT A LOT MORE THAN JOBS

by Rowan van Tromp

Steel is a primary component in infrastructure, vital to the effective functioning of modern, industrialised economies. It is used to make buses, bridges and buildings, as well as train tracks and in engineering for power generation, including wind. However it is also a core element in infrastructure and products damaging to our civilisation – oil rigs, cars, and polluting coal power plants.

We undoubtedly need steel, but what we should be using it for, whether we should be producing it in the UK, and if so how much we should be producing, is more than a question of skilled labour and production capacity. Continue Reading

FAMILY PLANNING

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by Jake Reynolds

In response.

1. Policy

They watched him play alone
with teddies in a queue
for so long
that sometimes when drunk
they made love to be illegal, but

rumour has it the lady from
the tea-shop had her second
needled out
in the dark places between
the legal buildings.Continue Reading

THE MET GALA: A DEMONSTRATION OF WEALTH OR IGNORANCE?

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by Jess Howard

Disclaimer: article discusses sensitive topics — features forced abortion.

The annual Met ball returned to New York this week. Held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the event charges ticket prices from upwards of £900, all in aid of The Met Costume Institute that opened in the 1940’s. The event is best known, however, for the guests that frequent it. Beyonce, Kim Kardasian and singer Lady Gaga all graced the red carpet. Draped in designs that supposedly followed the designated theme — ‘China: Through the looking glass’.

Celebrity interpretation was ‘interesting’ and, in some cases, borderline racist. For instance Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson chose to accompany her Chanel Haute couture mini dress with a bag by the same designer. However, far from being a fun and exciting piece of couture, the bag featured a Chinese woman with stereotypically fine slits in place of eyes. As if Chanel, and indeed Johnson, were unaware of the thousands of Asian woman undergoing plastic surgery for the sake of achieving the western eyelid shape.Continue Reading

NORWICH FASHION WEEK 2015 – THE CITY NEVER LOOKED SO UGLY

by Adam Edwards

The start of spring brings with it one of the fixtures of Norwich’s cultural landscape. Norwich Fashion Week 2015 is now drawing to a close, and the more I reflect on it, the uglier it seems.

I’m sure I’m not alone in the reservations I have about this, or any other event that tries to promote fashion as a force for good in our communities, lives and world. That said, I’d also like to try to move the debate beyond the realms of body idealism, anti-feminism and classism that are inherent in the fashion industry, and not remotely obfuscated in provincial events such as our city’s. I want to progress the argument into the realm of the truly terrifying, into which Norwich Fashion Week readily transports us.

We’re all aware of the uncomfortable truths that tremble at the edge of thought when we consider disposable fashion, but I want those truths dragged under the light of scrutiny.

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