Geneva: The second day of the acclaimed Geneva Forum 2019 saw a panel of experts discussing Beijing export of surveillance technology.
Moderator Thinley Chukki, Special Appointee for Human Rights explained China’s misuse of technology against vulnerable people along with exporting these surveillance tools and technologies to other countries. China has once again been ranked as the worst abuser of internet freedom by the Freedom House in its Freedom of the net 2019 report. Thinley further highlighted three notable points that China has been doing with its manufactured advanced technologies. She noted that China has been exporting its technologies to many of the countries and the situation is only likely to worsen with China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative which is nothing but a way to get into your homes and to watch you.
“On the brighter side, however, the special rapporteur on Freedom and Expression and Opinion in its latest report titled ’surveillance and human rights’ has said that the state should come forward and impose a moratorium on the export of surveillance technology. And one of the major recommendations by this special rapporteur is that the state should join the non-binding agreement or arrangement on export control for conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies. There are few countries that have entered into this agreement and interestingly China is not a member of this arrangement,” said Thinley.
Three speakers of the session were Tenzin Dalha, Digital and Chinese Cyber Security Research Fellow at Tibet Policy Institute, Dr. Chien-Yuan Tseng, Chairman of the Board of new School for Democracy and Taipei Municipal Consultant, and Col-Vinayak, Satellite Imagery Analyst.
Speaker Tenzin Dalha discussed the constant radar of surveillance that the Tibetans and other ethnic minorities are living inside China. He said that the Chinese government is experimenting with a new system of surveillance as apart of intervention. This surveillance system is showing up all around the world. Tenzin spoke on the subject by referring to one of his research studies based on 6 topics- Beijing export of surveillance technology, Social credit system, China’s technological power grip around the world, Surveillance builds with the loans from the Chinese government, Security implications of the export of Chinese surveillance system, and the CCP’s involving surveillance strategies in Tibet.
China, being the largest internet users in the world attempts to transform the internet into a system of surveillance and censorship which poses a threat to media freedom and democracy at large. Tenzin added that today China has over 200 million CCTV cameras in use to monitor people’s movement. This tightened grip on technology and surveillance became robust when Xi Jinping came into power.
“He called for strengthening cooperation with countries along the Belt and Road in internet infrastructure, digital economy to build a digital silk road of the 21st century. He launched a new cybersecurity law in China like the cyber administration of China and the social credit system,” added Tenzin.
The new cybersecurity law which was passed in November 2016 was implemented in June 2017. This was meant to widely tighten the censorship serving as a barrier to global infrastructure operating in China. For the first time for Communist China, the key motive of gathering and analysing data is to plan and undercover the threat of social and political stability of its iron grip. They use this surveillance technology to spy on human rights defenders, dissidents, lawyers to deny the freedom of speech.
He further explained that the Chinese government continues to use the surveillance system in the wide-scale crackdown on the ethnic minority regions. As for the technological grip around the world, Chinese surveillance technologies are used for the construction of ‘smart cities’ in countries like Pakistan, the Philippines, and Kenya, etc. For instance, Huawei has in Bonifacio global city in the Philippines provided internet-connected cameras that would function as 24/7intelligent security surveillance to detect crime and manage traffic.
Explaining China’s export of surveillance technology, Tenzin said that the first export of surveillance began in 2008 during the Beijing Olympic wherein 300,000 new cameras were installed in the capital. And to test its effectiveness China invited many foreign officials to observe and since then they have exported these advanced tools to many countries with severe human rights records including Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
“China’s collab with other authoritarian governments across the globe to build a large surveillance system has given rise to global threats and freedom of speech and privacy. Furthermore, CCP is constantly upgrading its great firewall of China to monitor and limit online and offline traffic by creating its own internet and limiting access to the traditional web,” noted Tenzin.
Profiling of DNA samples of Tibetans and Uyghurs under the pretext medical checkup has become a prominent strategy to collect personal information. In fact, researchers like Tenzin and many others believe that China might extend this system of profiling DNA samples to include foreign tourists. Such kind of non-transparent and unchecked export of China’s highly advanced technology to foreign markets represents a severe intelligence and security threat.
“Tibetans inside their homes are traced through their phones and once they step outside, surveillance and facial recognition technologies follow them. This is the reality of Tibetans inside Tibet today and if the free world is unwilling to restrict the import of China’s technologies, this could be your reality tomorrow,” concluded Tenzin.
Second panelist Dr. Chien-Yuan Tseng spoke on his paper titled ‘Subduing the enemy without fighting: Red infiltration and surveillance in Taiwan’. Dr. Chein said that since Taiwan has no specific cybersecurity law it has become increasingly convenient for China to infiltrate Taiwan and moreover Taiwan and China share a deep economic and business connection. Business interest is an opportunity for the government of China to literally control Taiwan to their liking. Another strategy explained by Dr. Chien that China has adopted to subdue Taiwan includes United Front Work through which partnership and friendship are used as the tool. Often the United Front Work includes youth and students, pro-China political parties and groups, farmers and retired generals. Secondly, external propaganda by the Chinese to brainwash people of Taiwan particularly the scholars into accepting CCP’s point of view. This involves control of media and new media through investment, self-censorship and even the use of fake and misleading news And the third becomes infiltration and surveillance as the strategy.
In order to restrict the infiltration and surveillance of China inside Taiwan, Mr. Chien laid down some recommendations primarily to bring some changes in the policy of Taiwan. He called the need for the prohibition of Chinese surveillance in the government and public sectors, media literacy education to the students and general public at large, and a full-fledged law governing the cybersecurity of the country.
Speaker Col-Vinayak, the final speaker of the session spoke on China’s religious suppression and global surveillance where he highlighted the technological interferences by China to disrupt the practice of Tibetan Buddhism inside Tibet. Col Vinayak presented the satellite imagery of Lhamo Lhatso lake known for its oracle manifestations now have several posts created by the Chinese authority to purposely bar the monks from undertaking circumambulation of the lake and nearby holy areas. Communication antennas have been installed on other holy places to monitor religious activities.
Then Col-Vinayak showed the satellite imagery of Gulags and spoke further on it particularly on the Haji Kamaili Gulag.
“These Gulags that the Chinese called as reeducation camps are nothing but religious subjugation,” said Col Vinayak.
Adding further the Col presented the imagery of Muslim cemeteries obliterated by the Chinese authority due to the strong Islamophobia notions in them. The Jokhang temple which was once obliterated and destroyed by the regime is now rebuilt with CPC flavor as it now has a huge banner hailing CPC’s long life.
“Even the monasteries have been rebuilt in the style of Gulag with high fences,” noted Col-Vinayak.
Speaking on the surveillance system inside China, Col-Vinayak commented that ‘China plans to do surveillance everything and anything throughout the globe’ using satellites to track space, land and over water, and underwater too.
The panel vehemently rejected the ongoing surveillance system of China that is gradually taking over the globe and raised a collective call for the international community and governments of leading nations to come out and support the victims of China’s high-tech surveillance system by sustaining efforts to put an end to China’s exploitation and misuse of its high-tech system.