Friday, December 23, 2016

Alibaba and the fakes and thieves

In a blow to Alibaba's overseas expansion, China's most popular consumer shopping website, Taobao, has been returned to the United States' blacklist of "notorious marketplaces" known for trading counterfeit goods and IP violations.

The United States on Wednesday returned Alibaba’s Taobao, China’s most popular consumer-to-consumer shopping website, to its blacklist of “notorious marketplaces” known for the sale of counterfeit goods and violations of intellectual property rights.

The move by the US Trade Representative’s office against the online bazaar run by Alibaba Group Co Holding Ltd followed complaints from US and international trade groups for apparel and luxury goods that Taobao was not doing enough to police sales of fakes and pirated products.

Inclusion on the blacklist does not carry any direct penalties but is a blow to Alibaba’s efforts to shed perceptions its websites are riddled with fakes – a key to gaining a bigger international customer base and taking market share from global competitors such as eBay Inc and

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The company expressed disappointment with the move.

Taobao was put on the USTR blacklist in 2011 but removed in 2012 after it made efforts to address the concerns of intellectual property rights holders and committed itself to cutting the number of pirated and counterfeit goods on its website.

In unveiling its 2016 list, USTR acknowledged that Alibaba had taken steps to combat piracy, including addressing the misuse of brand keywords, blurred trademarks in product images and developing technology to prevent banned counterfeit sellers from reopening under new names.

“We question whether the USTR acted based on the actual facts or was influenced by the current political climate”

USTR said, however, that current levels of reported counterfeiting and piracy were “unacceptably high,” with such goods posing a “grave economic threat” to US creative and innovative industries and posing public health threats in some cases.

“One large motor vehicle manufacturer reported that at least 95% of the merchandise bearing its company’s brand names and trademarks found on Alibaba platforms is suspected to be counterfeit,” USTR said.

Alibaba Group President Michael Evans said in a statement the company was “very disappointed” to be put back on the list as it was far more advanced in protecting intellectual property rights than was the case four years ago. He added that the decision ignored Alibaba’s work to remove more than twice the number of product listings this year than in 2015.

“We question whether the USTR acted based on the actual facts or was influenced by the current political climate,” Evans said.

Alibaba touts Taobao as China’s largest online shopping destination by gross merchandise volume and as being among the top five websites in China and top 15 globally.

Asia Times

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What makes an Indonesian maid in Singapore turn to Islamic State?

Arrest of group planning to bomb presidential office complex in Jakarta forces security agencies to reassess assumptions of why people become radicalised

The recent arrest of a militant Indonesian maid who had worked in Singapore has forced security agencies and experts to reassess how they counter violent extremism among Muslims in Southeast Asia and to rethink common assumptions of why people become radicalised.

Poverty and ideology have long been assumed the two main drivers of militancy, particularly in the post-September 11 era, but experts are increasingly coming to a more nuanced view in which these are just two factors among many in a more complex equation.

Experts at a recent regional forum on violent extremism in Kuala Lumpur said there was increasing evidence that people joining or aligning themselves with the Islamic State (IS) terror group were fuelled by a combustible mix of feelings – including political helplessness, an attraction to extremist ideology, loneliness and a need to belong to a cause bigger than themselves.

“There has to be more focus on the mayor and the mother. Meaning that the local community and family that an individual grows up in plays a very important part in building resilience against extremism,” United States Department of Justice official Travis Smith told the forum, which was organised by Malaysian think tank IMAN Research.

Smith’s suggestion chimes with the findings of a scholar at the Institute for Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) who studied cases of Indonesian domestic helpers radicalised while working in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

The Ipac expert said these helpers were not driven purely by poverty or ideology, but that a multitude of factors combined to push them towards extremist ideology. Their first taste of such ideology would usually be through the internet and social media sites such as Facebook, said the expert.

 “Ninety-nine point nine per cent of Indonesian migrant workers are good, hard-working people. These maids are a tiny minority whose experiences abroad make them vulnerable to being recruited,” the researcher said on the sidelines of the conference.

He estimated such problem cases numbered in the dozens. In comparison, the Migration Policy Institute estimates there are 430,000 Indonesian migrant workers overseas, nearly one third of whom are domestic helpers.

Experiences that left domestic helpers vulnerable included feelings of loneliness and isolation from their families in Indonesia. Some maids became depressed after leaving their children at home while they looked after their employers’ children in a foreign country.

Mistreatment was also an issue, with problems such as having travel documents seized by their employer or being forced to cook pork, which is forbidden to Muslims, said the scholar.

Some maids were sympathetic to the sufferings of Muslims in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, while others mirrored their male counterparts in joining IS out of a sense of adventure or to repent for past sins.

“They seek a sense of social belonging and something more meaningful so they turn to Facebook and it is here they are pulled into [IS],” the researcher said.

Smith, the DoJ official, said IS’ slick recruitment videos were aimed at inspiring feelings of belonging, fraternity and duty to a higher cause.

“They have similarities to armed forces recruitment videos in how they inspire people,” Smith told the conference.

Once pulled into the orbit of IS’ world-view, some maids were then shunned by their own expatriate community – pushing them further into the extremists’ embrace, said the Ipac expert.

 “ISIS is good at creating an ideology that can be personalised,” said the researcher. Some of the women married men in Syria and joined their husbands in the conflict zone.

Some were involved in fundraising while at least one has taken on a combat role. On December 10, Dian Yulia Novi, 27, was arrested along with six others as they plotted to bomb the presidential office complex in Jakarta, Indonesia. Dian Yulia, who had also worked in Taiwan, told Indonesian TV station TVOne she had become radicalised while working in Singapore.

Dian Yulia’s story and the experiences of other radicalised maids, resonates with the findings of Dr Matteo Vergani of Deakin University in Australia.

An expert on political psychology, Vergani has investigated the social, political and personal backgrounds of violent extremists to discern why some people make the jump to taking up arms while others remain passive supporters.

Vergani said his studies suggested a combination of “social push”, “group pull” and “personal vulnerability”.

For instance, in the case of a domestic helper, an individual might be “pushed” by feelings of exploitation in the foreign country, while their estrangement from their family made them vulnerable to being “pulled” into an IS Facebook group which offered a sense of belonging.

“Not one factor is strong enough, whether it is ideology or political disenfranchisement. Not all lonely people become extremists either,” Vergani said.


Sheridan Mahavera


How Indonesia’s anti-Chinese fake news problem spun out of control

How Indonesia’s anti-Chinese fake news problem spun out of control

Indonesian protesters burning police cars during a demonstration against an allegedly blasphemous remark made by Jakarta's Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Some observers blame online misinformation for Purnama’s predicament. Photo: EPA

Indonesia has a serious online fake news problem – and its long-maligned Chinese community has emerged as a favourite whipping boy.

Observers say the increasingly strident and outlandish anti-Chinese sentiment on display on social media reflects the ethnic tinderbox President Joko Widodo will have to contend with in 2017 as politically influential Islamist hardliners look to reopen old grievances with the tiny local Chinese population who wield economic clout.

The deluge of innuendo and misinformation about China could also hurt Jakarta’s diplomatic engagement with Beijing – an engagement that has reaped a surge in mainland investment in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

This week, the Indonesian military was forced to refute a widely circulated WhatsApp message that alleged its top commander Gatot Nurmantyo had made derogatory comments towards China in a speech to commemorate the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday on December 11.

And China’s embassy in Jakarta last week labelled as “very worrying” widespread online rumours that Beijing was using “biological weapons” to destabilise the Indonesian economy. That line of fake news spread after chilli seeds in an Indonesian farm run by Chinese nationals were found to contain a crop-killing bacteria.

“We hope that the bilateral relations and friendship between the people of China and Indonesia will not be affected by this matter,” the embassy said.

Experts say China is an easy target for fake news perpetrators seeking to stoke ethnic tensions for political gain.

Thousands of people led by hardline Islamist groups have rallied on the streets in recent weeks to demand the jailing of Jakarta’s prominent Chinese-Christian governor Tjahaja Purnama, who is accused of committing blasphemy in comments to supporters in September.

He is currently on trial for the charge but some of his supporters say the case reflects acrimony faced by the local Chinese community who make up under two per cent of the national population but are among the biggest players in the country’s $900 billion (HK$6.9 trillion) economy.

“The fake news targeting China has been around for some time now...many Indonesians are becoming anxious about the growing number of Chinese investors here and that is translating to speculation and fake news on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook,” said Damar Juniarto, the Jakarta-based regional coordinator of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network.

Mustafa Izzuddin, a Southeast Asia politics researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said fake news was generating anxiety and fear in Indonesia “within the context of heightened volatility in ethno-religious relations in the country”.

Part of the anti-China sentiment is driven by a segment of Indonesians who feel their country “is being sold to China, given the sheer [number of] loans and investment China has been providing,” he said.

He added: “Religion also comes into play domestically as Chinese, most of whom are not Muslims, are seen with suspicion, contempt and distrust by an increasing number of Indonesian Muslims who are more immoderate and intolerant towards non-Muslims.”

Australia-based Indonesian politics watcher Marcus Mietzner said the Islamist factions were conflating “the issue of China’s economic and political rise with the position of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, producing a toxic mash that threatens to undermine social stability in the country.”

Observers say Purnama – commonly known as Ahok – is in his current predicament partly because of online misinformation as well.

Speaking to fishermen in a campaign speech in September ahead of February’s gubernatorial election, he said he knew some Muslims would not vote for him as they were convinced by community leaders that voting for a non-Muslim was against the Koran. An edited version of the speech circulated online omitting crucial context, making it seem like he was slighting Muslims.

The president has also been a victim of fake news.

“Before Jokowi’s election in 2014, people thought he was half-Chinese, communist and what not. So this is not a new is partly a political strategy used by some people. Now it is being used to segregate society,” said Juniarto, the free speech activist.

Internet researchers say Southeast Asia’s rising number of nascent internet users are particularly susceptible to being taken in by fake news online as they lack the know-how to sieve out inaccurate information.

These groups of people are classified as being on the digital divide, as opposed to being on either side of it.

They “can access the internet via smartphones but are mostly doing so to access WhatsApp or Facebook, but nothing much else,” said Ross Tapsell, a digital media researcher at the Australian National University.

WhatsApp and Facebook have made it relatively easy for fake news to be shared on a magnitude unthinkable in the pre-internet era. Photo: AFP

“In that world, your personal WhatsApp groups are a source of seemingly reliable information, but also you feel it a duty as citizen to pass on information to the group, whether it is credible or not,” Tapsell said.

“In fact, these WhatsApp groups are in many ways an extension of how a lot of Indonesia’s information society operated pre-internet. Government and mainstream media messages are less trusted, but information or gossip through personal networks is seen to be more reliable.”

Observers say moves to ban websites that host fake news stories will have limited effect. And blocking the re-sharing of content on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger is out of the question without a wholesale ban on their use.

About 24.2 per cent of Indonesia’s 250 million people use mobile phone messaging apps, according to study by market research firm GfK.

Mustafa, the Singaporean researcher, said the most viable approach to combating fake news was to “focus not only on clamping down on fake news pieces at the source, but also confronting or correcting those fake news pieces, particularly those that have gone viral on social media as swiftly as possible”.

By Bhavan Jaipragas


China’s Race To ‘Dominate’ Space

60 years ago China set out on its space program with the establishment of the 5th Academy of the Ministry of National Defense. At its helm was rocket scientist Qian Xuesen – also known as Tsien Hsue-shen – who is now regarded as the father of China’s space and missile programs.

14 years later, Beijing sent its very first satellite (the Dongfanghong-1) into space and its first astronaut followed on October 15, 2003.

40 years after Apollo 11 embarked upon the first spaceflight that led to the lunar module landing with commanders Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, China successfully launched its very own space lab module called Tiangong-1. Not long afterward, Tiangong-2 made its way into orbit.

For decades, China appeared to be trailing behind or merely catching-up to the world’s two major space pioneers – the United States (US) and Russia – until this past August 2016, when China assumed its position as the world’s first country to launch a quantum satellite called “Micius.” Micius is designed to “establish ultra-secure quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground,” noted China’s state news agency, Xinhua. Furthermore, “It could also conduct experiments on the bizarre features of quantum theories, such as entanglement.” As a result, Micius has fortified essential communications lines between Earth and space.

The quantum field is still embryonic, but China has quickly forged its position as a leader, setting the overall pace of research, and it could become the leader in establishing a worldwide network of laboratories dedicated to furthering quantum research in both space and the international space race. Shortly after China sent its satellite into orbit several months ago, China rocketed the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft into orbit from Jiuquan base for the longest space mission China has undertaken to this day. It connected with Tiangong-2, hosting two Chinese “taikonauts” for just over a month-long stay. This achievement follows on the previous mission of Tiangong-1, which carried Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang, and Wang Yaping (China’s first woman in space).

China has shown no signs of receding in its space activities. In 2018, Beijing plans to launch one of the main components of its future habitable space satellite or space station, which will become a permanent feature of Earth’s spacescape. China’s sights are also set on Mars, with a small, unmanned rover destined for the red planet which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) claims to have an atmosphere. If successfully reached, China’s space agency, China National Space Administration (CNSA), will be the 5th to reach the planet named after the Roman god of war. Furthermore, in 2022, China plans to send its permanent space station into orbit, to be followed by a mission to the Moon in 2025. This signals the unwavering determination of China to establish an entire spectrum of “firsts” in the context of space exploration. It already became one of the leaders in space, yet Beijing’s focus sets it apart from its Cold War rivals; they focused more on space as a means of geopolitical and popular rivalry, besting the other in a show of political, technological, and economic superiority, in order to illustrate the virtue of their respective value systems.

China, on the other hand, has set its sights on the long-term of space exploration with the view to establish a permanent presence in space. Those wheels are already in motion. Only a few years after China plans to launch its space station some 250 miles above Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) is set to expire. NASA Director, Charles Bolden, Jr., announced the ISS will be finished in 2028, thought the date could be sooner. The life expectancy of ISS has already been extended several times.

The end of the ISS means a lot of work for NASA and its partners. It will likely have to be brought back down the same way it was put up: piece-by-piece. Building began back in 1998 and even then it was established that the entire structure would eventually have to come back down. Missions centering on its deconstruction and movement back to Earth will come at a high price. The original task of putting the satellite up in space required no less than 40 missions.

When the ISS comes down, China will maintain the predominant presence in space, and will have successfully overshadowed a number of NASA’s previous achievements while at the same time establishing a considerable distance over other countries space programs. While NASA’s budgets have been diminishing over previous years, China has shown no signs of tripping over the financial costs associated with its space ventures. Beijing’s presence will put a damper on Washington’s commitment to its space presence.

Over the past 15 years, the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama pledged to maintain America’s presence in space. The US will be hard-pressed to even temper its decline in the face of China’s burgeoning space program. The Apollo space shuttle is a relic. The STS-135 signaled the final mission of the American Space Shuttle program, using the shuttle Atlantis for its final ISS logistics mission. The 2004 Vision for Space Exploration was supposed to have been Project Constellation, using the Ares 1 and Ares 2 launch vehicles in addition to the Orion Spacecraft. That program was eventually cancelled. Subsequent programs centered mainly on bringing the necessary equipment into space to service the ISS.

If the stage is set for intensive geopolitical rivalry in space between China and other countries, the major question would center on which side would intensify that rivalry. China’s primary objectives are to establish a permanent presence and to generate resources. Its long-term goals would not converge well with geopolitical rivalry, given its strategic interests and current position. Beijing is open to cooperating with other states in it space programs. Unlike the US, who welcomed astronauts from 15 countries, aboard the ISS, which was supported by facilities in Canada, Spain, Russia, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland, and numerous others, China has so far not barred anyone from potentially setting foot on its space station. Federal law prohibits NASA from working with the CNSA and Chinese citizens affiliated with China’s space program.

Despite its friendly disposition devoid of directly confronting or challenging the space ambitions of other countries, particularly the US, China is maintaining the view to further leaps and bounds in the space realm unilaterally if need be. Not only does Beijing want its “taikonauts” to be walking on the moon in just over a decade, it aims to be the first to land humans on Mars. The feedback effect of China’s space missions will be enormous but will likely need a great deal of time to build momentum, with newer and more sophisticated robotics, avionics, and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies likely to emerge.

We can expect those developments to have many positive effects for other governments as well, providing them with critical information about weather patterns and climate changes, better and safer communications, enhanced navigation systems, and critical platforms that should augment existing security and defense instruments. Beijing has aptly eyeballed the area of advanced technologies as a critical aspect of China’s future economy. In this, it has the ability to inspire over thousands, even tens-of-thousands, of private ventures.

Further research and development figures prominently in China’s current Five-Year Plan and those to follow, with China’s latest satellite leading the charge in space science exploration. This is truly a collaborative venture, with Chinas’ Academy of Sciences (CAS), the CAS’ Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics (SITP), and the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), all playing a collaborative role. In its approach to space science, China has done a fine job in bringing together a broad spectrum of institutions and organizations, sort of like a “full spectrum” approach.

Director-General of China’s National Space Science Center, Wu Ji, along with many other top researchers in the country requested that Beijing step-up its spending in the space science sector to support China’ progress. The request was made to triple its nearly 5 billion yuan ($700 million USD) investment between 2011 and 2015, to a minimum of 15.6 billion yuan (over $2 billion USD) between 2026 and 2030. NASA’s final 2016 science budget was $5.5 billion USD and is projected to oscillate between $5.6 billion and $5.7 billion over the next four years.

With this support, China is poised to make an actual “great leap forward” but in a way that could benefit each and every person on the planet. China has made a gargantuan departure from its space science spending a decade ago. Further intensive research in the area of communications could catapult existing systems and computational capacities to levels never before experienced. But those systems should be expected to provide the very latest and best to China first, particularly China’s defense and security sectors/institutions.

Despite the impracticalities still associated with space science investment, China is continuing its pursuit of benefits that would likely be realized years down the line. Perhaps the mystery behind China’s space program is what worries people most, including those in the US and allied countries. It is possible that China turns its spending to more practical utilities that yield immediate benefit, for instance, rockets and missiles, military satellite systems, and other types of military craft and apparatuses. Perhaps China has the potential to develop a new “NASA” or maybe concern is merely driven by China’s space science research acceleration at the same time the US slows down or “struggles” to maintain its pace.

US congressional members, during a space subcommittee hearing, recently asked if America is losing the space race to China. Washington will simply be unable to extract the same level of potential political and economic benefit from its space ambitions if they fail to stack-up to those of China. Vincent Chan, a Managing Director of Credit Suisse in Hong Kong, noted that in the past 15 years, “China has leapfrogged other countries in terms of technology development” and that, “[t]he potentially disruptive implications of China’s innovative drive should not be underestimated.”

In 2015, the World Economic Forum reported, “[i]ndicators show that China has what it takes to rise to the forefront of global innovation. This includes soaring R&D spending (China’s R&D expenditure reached 1.18 trillion yuan ($193 billion) in 2013, a 15% increase year-on-year, and is set to overtake the European Union and the United States to be the top R&D-invested country by the end of this decade), a large number of corporate patents, a new generation of entrepreneurial CEOs and high number of engineering and science graduates.”

China’s “Long March” to space began over half-a-century ago, when Mao Zedong sought to rocket China into third place as a country with a satellite orbiting Earth. Beijing has put more than 100 satellites into space since the 1970s. As mentioned previously China today is looking at a number of “firsts” and has been lauded for becoming one of the world’s foremost defense technological power. The country’s technological innovation and development in the space industry has set a trajectory of “upward and onward” that China has so far fulfilled. Beijing also recently flipped the switch on its “Tianyan” (“Heavenly Eye”) – the world’s largest aperture radio telescope occupying a space equivalent to 30 football fields in size. Beijing exclusively owns the intellectual-property rights of that awesome piece of technology, which costs somewhere in the vicinity of 1.2 billion yuan (approximately $180 million USD).

In contrast to previous space projects undertaken by the US and Russia, China’s space ventures in the contemporary period extend beyond the confines of prestige and status. They have the potential to harness real military power. Planning a network of satellites in the coming years, Beijing is slowly creeping toward a position to supercharge its quantum computer network, building a magnificent quantum communications network reaching over 1,000 miles. The University of Science and Technology of China’s Professor Pan Jianwei recently explained how “China is completely capable of making full use of quantum communications in a regional war. The direction of development in the future calls for using relay satellites to realize quantum communications and control that covers the entire army.”

Michael Raska, at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, spoke of China’s immense network capable of serving “as a dual-use strategic asset that may advance the [PLA’s] capacity for power projection through a constellation of space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms, tactical warning and attack assessment; command, control, and communications; navigation and positioning, and environmental monitoring.”

The network ascribes China a superposition of power in which, “establishing ‘space dominance’ (zhi tian quan),” writes Raska, “is an essential enabler for ‘information dominance’ (zhi xinxi quan) – a key prerequisite for allowing the [People’s Liberation Army] PLA to seize air and naval superiority in contested areas.” What we are seeing now is the result of China’s careful observation of wars fought by other states over the past several decades, wars such as Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, US/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military action in the Balkans, America’s ensuing 9/11 wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, and long strand of counterterrorism/counterinsurgency operations and campaigns), and even Russia’s sundry military engagements). Vietnam and the 1973 Arab-Israeli war also served as valuable lessons for the PLA.

Beijing has long-since established that the key to winning wars is zhi xinxi quan, and determined that wars of the future will be “local wars under informationized conditions” (xinxihua tiaojian xia jubu zhanzheng). In short, the exploitation of information leads to the successful outcome of wars irrespective of where they are fought. Zhi xinxi quan is also a fundamental determinant of defensive systems protecting a country against military aggression. Augmenting the military aptitudes of the PLA has become a priority in China, occupying a part of PLA military/strategic doctrine that complements its formal doctrine for military space operations.

One such project demonstrating China’s willingness to pursue this path is its new 35-meter-diameter parabolic antenna/space-monitoring base, located in Patagonia, Argentina (coordinates: 38.1914°S, 70.1495°W). The facility is a tracking, telemetry, and command center run by a PLA unit. The facility is outfitted with the latest technology, complete with accommodations for military personnel and state-of-the-art power generator valued at some $10 million USD. Its purported function is the facilitation of deep-space exploration and the eventual lunar mission but will have, according to Beijing, “no military use.” That is not to say the base cannot be used to support military operations of various sorts.

Beijing need only look through the history books, reading up on the different courses of action the US pursued to boost its military clout in different places and at different point in time. During the Kosovo intervention alongside NATO, the US military fielded dozens of satellites. Those were used synchronically to great effect, enabling the US military and those of its close allies during the campaign to employ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along with other aircraft to basically see every single thing that moves in and around the battlespace – solely with the ironic exception of the Chinese embassy bombing, which was the result of faulty intelligence.

During a 2015 Congressional testimony, Senior Research Fellow for Chinese Political and Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, Dean Cheng, explained that, [s]pace systems are judged to have provided 70 percent of battlefield communications, 80 percent of battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance, and 100 percent of meteorological data, and did so through all weather conditions, 24 hours a day.” Such extensive oversight cannot only enhance one’s strike capabilities, but also substantially augment the precision factor of offensive systems.

He underscored China’s development of “a number of anti-satellite systems, including a demonstrated capacity for direct-ascent kinetic-kill vehicles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, and cyber tools that could interfere with space control systems. Future developments may include more soft-kill options that would lead to ‘mission kills’ on satellites, preventing them from gathering or transmitting information, rather than physically destroying the system.”

China’s potential space dominance is in a sense misleading, as dominating space is a means of dominating other (terrestrial) areas. China’s government and military institutions repeatedly indicate that dominating space offers an attractive way of managing that which what takes place on the Earth’s surface. This is true with considerable crossover between civilian/peaceful and military areas. The same logic has been applied within China’s space programs, intertwining civilian and defense sector efforts and activities. “China’s space program is integrated. Unlike the United States,” writes Ashley J. Tellis, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “where a significant divide exists between civilian and military space activities, and where diversity, heterogeneity, and atomistic competition are the norm in both realms, civilian and military space programs in China are not only centrally directed but are also mutually reinforcing by design.

Just as China is able to use space-based systems to improve its offensive military capabilities, it can also increase its defensive military capabilities. If those systems are improved over time, which will surely be the case, China could prevent another country from coming even remotely close to its space-based systems. The development of co-orbital jammers and other systems capable of interfering with enemy satellites, for instance, and even hijacking them could go a long way in maintaining China’s space dominance. In this, its ongoing space science and exploration programs could turn its superposition of power into a superposition of superpower.

Fortunately, the very nature of space technology means that so-called “space dominance” is quite difficult to achieve. If a country wants to prevent an adversary with the same level of space technology from utilizing the space, that opponent can retaliate with relative ease. Both sides would be denied from the space. This rationale explains why there was no space arms race during the Cold War, despite the fact that anti-satellite systems existed. Little has changed since. The prospect of waging a “space war” in the foreseeable future remains low given the costs that would be involved. While leading space actors will not and cannot monopolize space, we can expect that space will remain part of the global commons.

China’s space program can no longer be described as “a mystery within a maze.” There is little doubt that China’s space ambitions present the US with a daunting challenge to check the rise of China as a soaring power even if the US possesses a limited range of immediate and long-term options as a response. But this does not spell the end of America’s role or presence in space, or that of any other country, for that matter. What ought to be considered, however, is whether or not China is better suited to lead future space science ventures and programs, even if it means China may be seen as “dominating” what has been popularized as the ultimate or final frontier.

This article was published by Geopolitical


BEIJING’s Deceptive Strategy agains Uighurs in Indonesia

Beijing has successfully used the securitization strategy to gradually convince most Chinese that the Uighurs, a predominately Muslim Chinese ethnic group, represent a domestic and international security threats. This has allowed the Chinese government to legitimately restrict numerous of the constitutionally protected religious and cultural rights of the Uighurs. While such restrictions undeniably go against the Chinese constitution and laws, which robustly protect ethnic minorities’ cultural and religious rights, the Chinese population considers these harsh restrictions legitimate because they help protect the homeland from an alleged national security threat.

Numerous Muslim communities around the world feel deeply angered by these restrictions that result in the Uighurs being unable to fulfill basic Islamic duties such as praying, studying Quran and fasting. Indonesia’s massive Muslim population is no exception in this outcry against Beijing ’s religious restrictions imposed on the Uighurs, which is reflected in the numerous news criticizing China’s religious policies, such as: “Chinese government should allow Uighur Muslims to fast: Indonesian Ulema.”

Most of Indonesia’s over 220 million Muslims are very sensitive about their Uighur brethren having their religious rights harshly repressed by the Chinese communist leaders. Even the China-friendly Indonesian government is unwilling to fully cooperate with Beijing when it comes to the rights and safety of the Uighurs.

This reticence was shown when the Indonesian government turned down Beijing’s request to repatriate a group of Uighurs that an Indonesian curt had sentenced to six years in prison for “terrorism in Indonesia”. A high-ranking security official explained that Indonesia refused to hand over its Chinese detainees because “giving Uighurs back to China is the same as killing them. Most probably, the Chinese government will execute them instantly”.

This statement clearly reveals Indonesia’s concern over the mistreatment of Uighurs in China. Therefore, China had to find a way to convince the Indonesian people and government that Beijing’s repressive measures curtailing Uighurs rights were legitimate and that the Uighurs did not deserve Indonesia’s empathy.

To legitimize in the eyes of the Indonesian people the harsh restriction imposed on the Uighurs’ religious and cultural rights, the Chinese government has been framing the Uighur people in general as a terrorist threat for Indonesia. For instance, under the headlines “Southeast Asian Terrorism: Rise of the Uighur Factor” and “Is There a Uighur Terrorist Buildup Taking Place in Southeast Asia?” Uighurs are broadly accused of networking with Indonesian terrorist groups and partaking in terrorism activities.

To reinforce the idea that Uighurs are national security threat for Indonesia, China explicitly accuses them of being violent militants: “After shootout, China says Uighur militants a threat to Indonesia.” None of these articles distinguishes between the alleged handful of Uighur extremists and the Uighur community as a whole.

The Indonesian government seems to have been persuaded by China’s sweeping claims accusing Uighurs of being terrorists. Numerous headlines, such as The Jakarta Post’s “Uighur militants infiltrating Indonesia” and The Star’s “Indonesia concerned with ease of entry by Uighur,” reinforce China’s “Uighur threat” discourse without questioning it at any point.

A steady flow of discriminatory articles such as “Indonesia turns to China as ethnic Uighurs join would be jihadist,” “Uighurs look to Indonesia for terror guidance,” and “4 ISIS suspects arrested by Indonesia are Uighurs from China: Police” further construct and consolidate in the Indonesian people’s minds an unfunded fear from Uighurs.

This framing of Uighurs as a whole as a terrorist threat for Indonesia is based on questionable and little evidence, and, most importantly, done without discerning between a handful of alleged Uighur extremists and the over 10 million Uighurs that make up this Chinese Muslim ethnic group. Beijing’s discourse does not provide any neutral or positive statements about the Uighurs, giving the impression to the Indonesian people that all the Uighurs represent an international security threat that needs to be fought as part of the global war on Islamic terrorism.

Ultimately, Beijing is using securitization as a smearing strategy to frame the Uighurs in general as dangerous extremists in the hope that their Indonesian brethren will be desensitized about the harsh and illegal cultural and religious repression that they are suffering in China.

This deceptive strategy might have been successful in partially muting the complaints from the Indonesians in the short term. Nevertheless, it would be a much more sustainable and constructive strategy for Beijing to defuse their tensions with the Uighurs by granting them the religious and cultural rights enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.


The writer,Patrik Meyer is  a New America Security fellow and PhD in politics and international studies at the University of Cambridge, is a visiting professor at Muhammadiyah University of Yogyakarta.



Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs is just the latest in a region where drug use has usually been met with draconian measures. Thailand embarked 13 years ago on a drug war that strikes eerie parallels with the Philippine situation.

Today, lawmakers in the Philippines are plotting the restoration of the death penalty to bolster the anti-drug campaign. But this, too, is par for the course in the region.

In July 2016, Indonesia executed four convicted drug offenders. On November 17, Singapore executed two men – one Nigerian and one Malaysian – for similar offences.

Reflecting the position of its member states, ASEAN has also adopted a hardline stance, reaffirming the region’s “zero-tolerance approach” to drugs in its annual summit in September.

But there’s broad consensus among researchers that the war on drugs, which typically consists of punitive measures and forced rehabilitation, doesn’t work. And that it’s marked by human rights violations as well as huge social, moral and medical costs.

In one of the most forceful arguments against the drug war, Columbia University neuroscientist Carl Hart stresses that harsh punishments do nothing but prevent young drug users from integrating back into society. And such measures ultimately end up being more harmful than the drugs themselves.

What’s worse is that the drug war disproportionately affects the poor and other socially excluded groups, including ethnic minorities. But if the war on drugs doesn’t work, what does?

Successes with harm reduction

At the country level, Portugal’s success story is illustrative. In 2001, the European nation, while not changing the legal status of drugs, changed the way it dealt with drug users.

Instead of putting people in jail, a new law called for their referral to three-person local committees. These committees were given the freedom to consider a range of interventions depending on the user in question.

Those who demonstrate drug dependence are encouraged to seek treatment. Others are discouraged from using drugs through fines and penalties, such as driver’s license suspensions.

Ten years on, drug use rates have not increased, while drug-related deaths, as well as problematic and adolescent drug use, have decreased.

Portugal’s success, although mirrored by countries such as the the Netherlands, is far from the norm. But even in countries that continue to implement tough approaches, localized interventions are producing promising results. These include nations in Southeast Asia.

In Malaysia, for instance, the implementation of a needle-exchange program has led to a sharp drop in HIV infections among injecting drug users – from a peak of 5,176 in 2002 to 680 in 2014.

In Vietnam, a 2009 methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) program involving 965 opiate users at two sites led to 85.4% and 77.1% reductions in heroin use two years later. This successful pilot led to a scaling-up of the project. By 2014, Vietnam was offering its MMT program in 162 clinics to 32,000 patients.

What these programs have in common is a harm-reduction framework – the idea that the government’s role is to reduce the negative effects of drugs rather than try to eliminate their use entirely. Critics allege that harm reduction actually encourages drug use, but the Portuguese experience, among many others, belies this claim.

A different paradigm

Inez Feria, director of NoBox Philippines, an NGO committed to drug policy reform, has stressed that drug users “have different lives with different stories, and it’s tremendously important to understand, without judgement, each one’s”.

Underpinning successful efforts to deal with drugs, then, must be a paradigm that is open to multiple approaches. This is especially applicable to amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as methamphetamine. As a policy brief drawing from the Thai and Burmese experience states:

Since the pattern of ATS use extends from occasional and recreational use to heavy and dependent use, and only a minority of ATS users fall into the problematic category, the response should vary in accordance with the nature and severity of a person’s involvement with ATS. Different interventions are required to address the complexity of ATS use.

In my research among young methamphetamine users in the Philippines, I met youths who stopped using the drug when they managed to get jobs. Sadly, many were unable to do so, lacking education or the social connections through which to seek assistance.

What’s more, the very stigma associated with drug-use prevents them from being offered opportunities. These findings point strongly to the need to look at “risk environments” – that is, the social and economic contexts in which drug use occurs. They also make the case for considering community-based interventions.

Finding common ground

Harm-reduction approaches can only work if governments and policymakers alike recognise the complexity of the “drug problem”. No single solution exists for all kinds of drug users, or all kinds of drug use.

In what we can see as a silver lining, politicians are beginning to pay more attention to drug issues in their countries. Even in the Philippines, government officials are opening up to alternative approaches. Philippine Secretary of Health Paulyn Ubial, for instance, recently spoke of drugs as a “public health emergency” and a “mental health problem”, in a welcome departure from her president’s rhetoric.

Drug policy advocates can use this common ground as a starting point for engaging with governments. While the evidence is overwhelming that a zero tolerance approach to drugs doesn’t work, it’s also important to steer the conversation towards what does, and nudge leaders in that direction – even if the road is paved with incremental, localised changes.

The example from Vietnam – of a pilot study leading to a scaled-up response – is a promising sign of how research and evidence can change public perception and policies.

The stakes can’t be higher: suspected drug users are being extra-judicially killed and legally executed in the region, even as drug use continues to rise.

What little success harm-reduction advocates can achieve could form the wedge that may finally crack the iron-fisted approach toward drug users. And it may ultimately solve Southeast Asia’s long-standing drug problem.

The Conversation

Gideon Lasco, PhD candidate in Medical Anthropology, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR), University of Amsterdam

This article was originally published on The Conversation

How Australians became addicted to complaining

'Tis the season to be cynical, apparently. Except, if you take in the full breadth of this year's post-election survey produced by the Australian National University, this season has lasted years. On every score, from our trust in government, to our feelings towards the major parties, to our belief that the government is even capable of affecting the economy, we're historically glum.

 But these trends are now long-term, in broad terms crashing after 2007.

It's a snapshot that distils the feeling of 2016, but points us to an important truth about it: that it has had a gestation period best measured in decades. Whatever the event you feel best captures the disaffection – Brexit, Trump, or our own turgid election campaign and the faltering government it has delivered – these were culminations rather than moments.

Certainly, there will always be local episodes making up each drama. As my colleague Michael Gordon has pointed out, the Australian case is bound up in Kevin Rudd's disastrous collapse. But there's something to be gleaned from the fact that there has been no recovery from this: that our political fidelity was so flimsy that we've dropped our bundle with it altogether. And that we're so far from alone in this attitude, which is clearly a global movement.

We're clearly in an anti-incumbent cycle. More than that, as seemingly everyone has observed, we're in an anti-establishment cycle. That has a profound meaning, though. It means we're railing not just against major parties or certain politicians. We're railing against anything that might count as an institution: politicians, business, unions, the media. Even democracy itself is no longer safe: perhaps the most startling statistic in ANU's survey is that only 60 per cent of us are prepared to say we're satisfied with it.

What we often overlook, though, is that there's a broader culture of scepticism that has accompanied this, and which spans several orientations. For reactionary culture warriors it takes the form of attacking institutions as somehow captured by conspiring leftist forces. So, academia, the law (especially in criminal cases), the media generally (and the ABC in particular) become systematically debased.

For progressives, other institutions become recast as oppressive, even irredeemably so. The roll-call here is long – corporate culture, media (again), even marriage – but it is perhaps clearest in the case of the Church which has dramatically lost its moral and cultural authority over decades of scandal. For many progressives it has become reduced to the sum total of its disgraces: a shorthand for child sex abuse and unaccountable, tax-free wealth as though it has contributed nothing to culture, charity, social justice or even the existential meaning of countless lives.

There's nothing inherently wrong with critiquing institutions, of course. It's a necessary part of social evolution, and in the absence of transparency they really can be oppressive – as the example of the Church so devastatingly illustrates. But the problems start when there is nothing else; when the criticism becomes either an end in itself or something aimed more at destruction than reform.

Here we approach a kind of anti-establishment sentiment that has no particular interest in building anything. And while that is certainly not true of every wave of criticism, it does now seem to describe the overall spirit of public culture. The most successful movements these days are the loudest, which, inevitably, are the most vociferously disgruntled. Politics needs no serious organising principle other than grievance.

That's why, when you look at the movements that have been so vibrant in 2016 it is so difficult to identify what they're really for. About the closest you might get in the Brexit-Trump case might be something like "strong borders". But that's really another way of saying anti-immigrant and anti-trade. Its strongest points of definition are really in opposition. There's no clear political program here, as the post-Brexit haziness has demonstrated.

Trump, too, is assembling an administration that scarcely matches the concerns of his voters, stacked as it is with multinational corporate bigwigs, discarded Republican candidates and weirdly pro-Russian figures. I suspect none of this will hurt him politically in the short term. But beyond that, the dangers are obvious. And they're there because there was so little behind the discourse of discontent.

That's why it has become so ridiculously possible for the most obvious creatures of the establishment to pretend they're the revolutionary vanguard. Trump seems an obvious case in point, but closer to home it's ex-career politicians and long-time pundits staking the anti-elite claim, sometimes in explicit fashion as in Sky TV's audaciously named Outsiders program. These sorts of figures have none of the lived experiences of the underclass they claim to represent. So they proceed from a belief that deploying symbols of anti-leftist discontent will simply be enough. If you don't like feminism or anti-racism, you're pretty much in, or (I suppose) out.

It's an astonishingly lazy response to the year we've had to take your hobby horses and rebrand them as the voice of a people who never voted for them. But that's what happens in revolutions. Once the regime is toppled, they're often usurped. That works when you can impose your will and rule with an iron fist. But if 2016 is half as revolutionary as it seems, we're looking at a cycle where the voice of the disgruntled becomes their next target. Because it's one thing to win by raging about the hole at the heart of politics. The problem is no one has really yet discovered a way to fill it.

Waleed Aly is a Fairfax Media columnist and a presenter on The Project. Illustration: Simon Letch 


Navarro as Trump trade chief shows complexity of Canberra China ties

Australian leaders seek Goldilocks solution for ties with Beijing: not so cold as to risk investment, not so warm as to turn off voters, America

Donald Trump’s appointment of Peter Navarro as his chief trade adviser signals the growing risk that the incoming US administration is charting a course toward greater confrontation with Beijing — and that’s adding further complexity to Australia’s ties with China.

Australian political leaders find themselves trying to strike a balance between soothing anxiety at home over China’s spreading influence and recalibrating the relations with a long-term strategic ally and what has become the nation’s most important economic partner.

In the run-up to his November election victory, Trump promised to impose a 45% tariff on imports from China. While he has backed away from some of his more controversial campaign pledges, the appointment of University of California, Irvine, economist Navarro —said to be the chief proponent of those policies — suggests Trump is more serious about following through on the trade threat.

Bottom of Form

That would drive a wedge between US and Australian interests.

“Australia’s growth since 2008 has come from China,” Bob Carr, former Australian foreign minister and director of the Australian-China Relations Institute in the University of Technology, Sydney, wrote in the Guardian. “No OECD economy is more dependent on China. China takes one-third of Australian exports. Trump’s plan – effectively, to slice a few percentage points off China’s economic growth – would likely tip Australia into recession.”

The Lowy Institute’s annual survey of Australian public opinion showed that positive sentiment toward the US has declined, with almost half of respondents saying Canberra should distance itself from a Trump-led America. When asked which bilateral relationship was most important to Australia, the response was split evenly between the US and China.

To be sure, the geopolitical balance has been shifting for some time. In a major speech in 2011, the then Secretary to the Treasury Martin Parkinson pointed to “a situation where our major economic partner is not one of our major strategic partners” and highlighted the need to be “aware of the challenges the relationship presents for Australia.”

Those challenges boiled up again in August this year, when the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported that China-linked bodies were by far the largest donors to both main political parties. Between 2013 and 2015, they donated A$5.5 million (US$3.9 million). Implicitly, these financial gifts spoke of influence and raised concerns about transparency and the provenance of the funds.

For example, Hudson Chen Hak Fan, an honorary adviser to the Australia China Economics Trade and Culture Association gave A$100,000 to the Liberal Party. Wang Zi Chun donated A$850,000 to the Labor Party, giving an address in Hebei province that had been used by a state-owned bank, a government department and a center for retired Communist Party officials.

The financial influence is also entering areas of Australian education, with some schools in New South Wales being paid at least A$10,000 a year by the Chinese government on condition they provide culture and language courses in schools, some of which have been made compulsory, the Sydney Morning Herald reported in May.

“The Communist Party has been systematically attempting to infiltrate Australian institutions and manipulate them”

Mainstream Australian newspapers including the Age, Australian Financial Review and Sydney Morning Herald carry eight-page inserts from the official China Daily.

“The Communist Party has been systematically attempting to infiltrate Australian institutions and manipulate them; business, media, academia,” said Paul Monk, former head China analyst at the Defence Intelligence Organisation and chair of the inter-agency working groups on Korea and China.  “There’s a serious effort to encourage the teaching of Chinese history, Communist Party propaganda. That needs to stop.”

Australia needs to safeguard the relationship with the Chinese government by putting in place protective, strategic boundaries to help manage governmental influence and dominance,

“One area where this has become apparent is in the area of foreign investment, and the Foreign Investment Review Board has rejected several propositions which is relatively unusual,” said Monk, who is now a key member of managing consulting firm van Gelder & Monk.

Australia in August blocked the sale of Ausgrid, the country’s biggest energy grid, to two Chinese companies over security concerns. Earlier this year, it blocked the sale of Kidman & Co — the world’s biggest cattle farm — to a Chinese investor.

While Trump’s impact on the Australia-China relationship is yet to be seen, there is the potential for its to disrupt long-standing alliance frameworks within NATO, Monk said. Some of the issues now surfacing have arisen due to diplomatic decisions made by the Obama administration, he said.

“Iran, Russia and China think ‘this guys a soft touch. If we push him, he’ll go backwards.’ And by and large, he has.

“Now Trump comes in saying ‘I’ve got a whole different way of doing things’ — but what exactly is it? It’s quite conceivable that the next decade could be a wild ride.”

“If it was a British company or an American company buying these things no one would say as much”

Australians should be careful not to villainize China for following other economically ambitious countries such as the UK and US, Erin Chew, Convener of the Asian Australian Alliance, said.

“There’s a view that Chinese are buying up everything; ‘they’re buying up all our properties and they’re buying our farming resources,'” she said. “Farming and agriculture is a big part of Australian history and a lot of Australians still feel that ownership over it, however, if it was a British company or an American company buying these things no one would say as much.”

Direct Chinese investment in Australia last year reached A$2.8 billion, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics; US investors bought A$9.7 billion in assets.

Another source of tension has come from an influx of wealthier Chinese migrating to Australia but not adhering to Australian business rules and regulations, Chew said. This issue typically arises when owners run their businesses in a way they are most familiar with; adhering to Chinese practice – which is starkly different from that in Australia.

“In China [they think] if I have a lot of money and give money to politicians, to various organizations, I’ll get support and I’ll be treated as important,” Chew said. In China it’s not seen as unethical to pay a legal bill or to pay travel expenses, she said.

The Australian government is in “an interesting position” in terms of how to make decisions they need to make to sustain the country’s economy,  while avoiding potential backlash about selling off assets.

“At the end of the day, they still want to win a lot of votes and they want to remain in government,” Chew said. “They have to be very careful, and also, they have to appease the US.”

Elizabeth Beattie