China’s cyber-aggression and the U.S. capitalists who abet it

The New York Times reports on Red China’s “digital manhunt“:

The Chinese government, which has built an extensive digital infrastructure and security apparatus to control dissent on its own platforms, is going to even greater lengths to extend its internet dragnet to unmask and silence those who criticize the country on Twitter, Facebook and other international social media.

These new investigations, targeting sites blocked inside China, are relying on sophisticated technological methods to expand the reach of Chinese authorities and the list of targets, according to a New York Times examination of government procurement documents and legal records, as well as interviews with one government contractor and six people pressured by the police.

To hunt people, security forces use advanced investigation software, public records and databases to find all their personal information and international social media presence. The operations sometimes target those living beyond China’s borders. Police officers are pursuing dissidents and minor critics. . .as well as Chinese people living overseas and even citizens of other nations.

The digital manhunt represents the punitive side of the government’s vast campaign to counter negative portrayals of China. In recent years, the Communist Party has raised bot armies, deployed diplomats and marshaled influencers to push its narratives and drown out criticism. The police have taken it a step further, hounding and silencing those who dare to talk back.

With growing frequency, the authorities are harassing critics both inside and outside China, as well as threatening relatives, in an effort to get them to delete content deemed criminal. One video recording, provided by a Chinese student living in Australia, showed how the police in her hometown had summoned her father, called her with his phone and pushed her to remove her Twitter account. . . .

For Chinese security forces, the effort is a daring expansion of a remit that previously focused on Chinese platforms and the best-known overseas dissidents. Now, violations as simple as a post of a critical article on Twitter — or in the case of 23-year-old Jennifer Chen, quoting, “I stand with Hong Kong” — can bring swift repercussions.

(Emphasis added)

What repercussions?

When a Chinese student living in Taiwan criticized China this year, he said, both of his parents disappeared for 10 days. His social media accounts within China were also shut down.

The student, who declined to be named out of fear of further reprisals, said he still did not know what had happened to his parents. He doesn’t dare to ask because they told him that local security forces were monitoring them. . . .

For Chen, the police harassment has continued even after she moved to Europe this fall for graduate school. She has struggled with feelings of shame and powerlessness as she has weighed the importance of expressing her political views against the risks that now entails. It has driven a rift in her relationship with her mother, who was adamant that she change her ways.

China’s digital manhunt represents a form of oppression previously unheard of in the annals of authoritarian rule. But that manhunt is just the tip of a large iceberg of Red China’s cyber-aggression, and the targets aren’t limited to Chinese dissidents. Bill Gertz discussed this threat in detail in his book Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Superiority.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that American investors are funding products that the Chinese can use for surveillance and military purposes:

In 2020, a fast-rising artificial intelligence company in China won a little-noticed contract from a Chinese military academy to provide battlefield command software — technology that defense experts say could become part of the military’s operational network.

A few months later, Goldman Sachs invested in the Beijing-based company, helping it raise $700 million, according to the company, 4Paradigm. So did Sequoia Capital China, a Chinese affiliate of the prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm, which markets funds that draw investment from U.S. university endowments and charitable trusts.

Thus, says the Post, “U.S. investment is supporting Chinese entities whose activities may undermine U.S. national security.” That investment “could facilitate Beijing’s quest to dominate emerging technologies, giving it an advantage at a time when the United States and China are increasingly engaged in economic and military competition.”

Lenin is believed by some to have said “when it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope.” One hundred years or so later, this might finally be about to happen.

What is the Biden administration doing to prevent U.S. investment from enhancing China’s threat to our national security? Not much. The issue is on its radar, but that’s about all:

The White House has held senior- and Cabinet-level meetings on the issue but has not developed a specific proposal, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

And, of course, “any new authority [to cope with the problem] would be narrowly tailored.”

That’s nice and lawyerly. Unfortunately, the Red Chinese are neither nice nor lawyerly. They are unscrupulous and lawless. We can’t fight them with one hand tied behind our back.

I’ll conclude by noting that until Donald Trump became president, we were barely fighting them at all. Starting with the Clinton administration, the assumption was that the more China interacted with the U.S. commercially, the less authoritarian and threatening it would become.

The naïve arrogance of that assumption is staggering. Yet, it took Donald Trump to abandon it.

Where does the Biden administration stand? It hasn’t returned to the hopeless naivety of its Democratic predecessors, but neither does it seem to be responding to China with same urgency as the Trump team.

Biden appears to be splitting the difference between the two approaches. That might strike Jake Sullivan as clever, but against this adversary it will prove quite inadequate.

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