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I will continue this special feature on online privacy and cybersecurity I started with my post, The Fight Against Fake News, with a post on Chinese efforts to tame the Internet. This will, hopefully, demonstrate the extent governments will go to in order to control the flow of ideas. And it may even spark a story or two for the sci-fi authors among us. Sadly enough, it’s probably going to be in the dystopian genre.

The information here is taken from an extremely well-researched post on Insightful.

INFORMATION WARFARE

Sun Tzu, the Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher who is credited as the author of the famous book ‘The Art of War’, states:

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

Both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are working overtime to make this ancient quote into reality. Specifically, they are working on a concept called ‘Three Warfare’. This includes – ‘Public Opinion Warfare’, ‘Legal Warfare’ and ‘Psychological Warfare’.

CPC and PLA work on many fronts simultaneously and on a long-term basis. To further their agenda to tighten grip on Chinese citizens and to spread disinformation internationally. And they have conceived some very powerful and effective tools for that purpose.

Indeed, a Harvard study showed that the Chinese government fabricates as many as 488 million fake posts on Chinese social media annually. A more recent study analyzed 50 million comments on Chinese news sites and found that one-sixth of them were fabricated. Needless to say, the size and sophistication of China’s Internet management are unprecedented in world history.

Great Firewall of China

Every system big or small has its own firewall to safeguard itself from intrusion. China devised one for the whole country. The “Great Firewall,” China’s digital censorship technology, summons up images of an impenetrable fortress. It sits on the side and looks for keywords. The firewall blocks foreign news, search engines, content that is objectionable like sex or religion and social media, creating a buffer against information that goes against the party line. Chinese populace is very cut up with this crackdown and often joke about their own country. The phrases “strong nation” and “wall nation” share a phonetic pronunciation in Chinese (qiangguo), some began using the phrase “wall nation” to refer to China. While very effective, the Firewall is not an offensive weapon. People were able to dodge the firewall using VPN and application ‘Psiphon’. So the agenda of the Great Firewall was further expanded by Great Cannon.

Great Cannon

The Great Cannon is slightly different from the Great Firewall. It acts as Man-in-the-middle(MITM). It intercepts traffic en route, changes the content or redirects it to fake information. MITM injects and fires off code along with the content to the user seeking information. This code is capable of changing the content, block any subsequent traffic to the site or just clog up the website so as to deny the information requested. Whoever designed the Great Cannon created a deliberately offensive tool, designed to selectively replace benign web content with malicious content.

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Figure courtesy Citizenlab Canada

Golden Shield

The Great Firewall and Great Cannon can restrict and deny information but do not keep track of the users. This task is achieved by ‘Golden Shield’. It’s a gigantic national database encompassing surveillance, speech and facial recognition, closed-circuit television, smart cards, credit cards,  and internet surveillance technologies.

All these three manage information that enters and leaves China. China treats everything as a war and fights it unabashedly on many fronts. So it just doesn’t stop at manipulating available information but injects its own propaganda and fake news from time to time.

Chinese Propaganda Machine

“Making the Foreign Serve China” was one of Chairman Mao’s favored strategies, as epitomized by his decision to grant access in the 1930s to the American journalist Edgar Snow. The resulting book, ‘Red Star Over China’, was instrumental in winning western sympathy for the Communists, whom it depicted as progressive and anti-fascist. This was not the first or last instance of the Chinese propaganda machine, playing the victim. They have become adept and masters of psychological games. When it suits them they are victims or else they project themselves future world power. Beijing is seeking to shift the global center of gravity eastwards, propagating the idea of a new world order with a resurgent China at its center.

YouTube is another tool being used by China to spread disinformation and fear. Above is the 2: 28-minute video, released on August 1, 2018, for China’s Army Day, emotionally underscoring the sacrifices made by service members of the PLA while showing off some of the country’s latest weaponry. At one point in the propaganda video, the narrator says “peace behind me, war in front of me,” which could be interpreted to mean war is “inevitable”. Propaganda tape is a clear-cut threat and challenge to China’s neighbors in keeping with China’s long-term goal.

In India, the Chinese app Helo was found displaying false quotes or graphic images designed to provoke outrage along religious lines, manipulating the longstanding tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the country. India has seen a rise of violent incidents caused by fake news leading the Indian government to threaten to cancel the journalist’s accreditations if they are found guilty of writing fake news. China has also been accused of inciting military personal using WhatsApp and Telegram messaging Apps, against both military and civilian leadership on subjects plaguing those organizations.

In parallel, a series of fake news campaigns have captured Taiwanese media, with experts tracing several of these stories back to China. Various media outlets, including Chinese dissident media outlet Mingjing, referred to a leaked document from Chinese authorities affirming that Beijing had launched an information war, using disinformation, online harassment and trolling campaigns to manipulate public opinions in Taiwan. China is planting such fake news not only using the internet but every means available at its disposal.

Radio, TV and Print Media

China is deeply involved in the fourth state businesses around the globe following top-down imprimatur from president Xi Jinping to “tell China’s story” to the world. Within the last few weeks, China has leaped into the front ranks of global media by launching its ‘Voice of China’ super-network. With over 14,000 journalists and staff employees, this Asian blitzkrieg in the information war is deployed to neutralize American influence and spread disinformation on every continent. It is pushing to buy newspapers across the globe, and where it is not able to do so outright, it is taking the route of inserts. Cash-strapped newspapers are more than happy to help out China in spreading disinformation while helping themselves. China has spent a whopping $6.8 billion on this disinformation exercise called da waixuan (大外宣), or ‘grand foreign propaganda’.

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Figure Courtesy The Guardian 

For more information on the subject, be sure to read the whole post on Insightful.