Archive for ‘Politics’

24/05/2017

Chinese Student’s Speech at U.S. College Sparks Uproar Back Home – China Real Time Report – WSJ

A Chinese student in the U.S. apologized for a commencement speech that criticized China’s air pollution and praised American free speech after she faced a storm of online criticism ​back home.

The incident highlighted how nationalist fervor in China can quickly become vitriolic at a time when President Xi Jinping is pushing a narrative of China’s rise on the geopolitical stage that allows little room for​​ ​ideological​ ​​dissent.

In her remarks, Yang Shuping, a psychology and theater graduate at the University of Maryland, cheered American air quality, saying she found it to be “fresh and sweet, and oddly luxurious.” In China, Ms. Yang said, she wore a face mask to protect against the polluted air.

She went on in her speech to compliment another refreshing aspect of American life—free speech.

“I have learned the right to freely express oneself is sacred in America,” she told about 8,000 graduating students in attendance.

Ms. Yang said she was shocked to discover that politically sensitive issues like the 1992 Los Angeles riots can be openly discussed on campus. “Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for,” she said. “Enjoy the fresh air and never let it go.”

China, in contrast, censors discussion of certain sensitive topics on social media and in public discourse, such as the 1989 killings at Tiananmen Square​ in Beijing.

The video of Ms. Yang’s speech was posted online and went viral in China. It was viewed more than 30 million times on the nationalist tabloid Global Times’ account on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like service. A hashtag “overseas student said U.S. air is even sweet” was clicked on more than 50 million times, according to Weibo.

Ms. Yang couldn’t be reached for comment.

Some accused her of belittling China and groveling to the U.S. by exaggerating the severity of China’s pollution. Online activists said they discovered Ms. Yang hailed from the southwest city Kunming, known as the City of Eternal Spring for its mild weather and fresh air. The Wall Street Journal couldn’t verify her home city.

Others said she pandered to the audience by implicitly criticizing China on human rights and freedom of speech. Western nations have chastised China on those matters, making it them sensitive issues.

“Some people are not able to stand up once they knelt down for too long,” one viewer posted on social media.Some analysts said ​Ms. Yang’s speech may have offended ordinary Chinese, but the incident ​was magnified by online activists with an agenda of stoking nationalistic sentiment.

“Whether this Chinese student’s speech is accurate or appropriate is something that remains to be discussed,” but online media users amplified the incident with sensationalist headlines, wrote Fang Kecheng, a media researcher, in an article.

Some Chinese students at the University of Maryland also took to Weibo to protest against what they saw as the stereotypical description of China in Ms. Yang’s speech.

“I understand that China is improving and we need to embrace the suggestions from outside world, but I would be so pissed off if anyone disgraced my country with deceptions,” said Xinling Jiang, a communications student at the University of Maryland, in a video she posted online.

In a statement on its website, ​the ​University of Maryland said it supported Ms. Yang and her “right to share her views and her unique perspective, and we commend her on lending her voice on this joyous occasion.”

Still, Ms. Yang felt the need to apologize, saying she loved her homeland and was proud of its prosperity and development.

“The speech is just to share my overseas experience and comes with no intention to negate or belittle my country…I sincerely apologize, hope for forgiveness, and will learn this lesson,” she said on her Weibo account.

Source: Chinese Student’s Speech at U.S. College Sparks Uproar Back Home – China Real Time Report – WSJ

22/05/2017

India announces policy for strategic partnerships in defence | Reuters

India on Saturday finalised a policy that would allow local private companies to work with foreign players to make high-tech defence equipment, in a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to cut reliance on imports.

The policy, whose finer details are still to be formalised, will initially allow the entry of private companies into the manufacture of submarines, fighter aircrafts and armoured vehicles through foreign partnerships, a statement issued by the Defence Ministry said.”In future, additional segments will be added,” the statement said.

Industry experts have said that delays in finalising procurement policies have undermined India’s efforts to get local, largely inexperienced, companies to tie up with foreign manufacturers, a necessary step if domestic firms are to utilise the latest technology.

Prime Minister Modi has vowed to reverse India’s dependence on imports by building a local manufacturing industry. The government is forecast to spend $250 billion on modernisation of its armed forces over the next decade.The policy, announced on Saturday, would allow Indian companies to partner with global defence majors “to seek technology transfers and manufacturing know-how to set up domestic manufacturing infrastructure and supply chains,” the statement said.

Foreign manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems and Saab are looking to India as one of the biggest sources of future growth.

Source: India announces policy for strategic partnerships in defence | Reuters

08/05/2017

The bullies of Urumqi: The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims | The Economist

CHINESE officials describe the far western province of Xinjiang as a “core area” in the vast swathe of territory covered by the country’s grandiose “Belt and Road Initiative” to boost economic ties with Central Asia and regions beyond.

They hope that wealth generated by the scheme will help to make Xinjiang more stable—for years it has been plagued by separatist violence which China says is being fed by global jihadism. But the authorities are not waiting. In recent months they have intensified their efforts to stifle the Islamic identity of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighurs, fearful that any public display of their religious belief could morph into militancy.Xinjiang’s 10m Uighurs (nearly half of its population) have long been used to heavy-handed curbs: a ban on unauthorised pilgrimages to Mecca, orders to students not to fast during Ramadan, tough restrictions on Islamic garb (women with face-covering veils are sometimes not allowed on buses), no entry to many mosques for people under 18, and so on.

But since he took over last August as Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief, Chen Quanguo has launched even harsher measures—pleased, apparently, by his crushing of dissent in Tibet where he previously served as leader. As in Tibet, many Xinjiang residents have been told to hand their passports to police and seek permission to travel abroad. In one part of Xinjiang all vehicles have been ordered to install satellite tracking-devices. There have been several shows of what officials call “thunderous power”, involving thousands of paramilitary troops parading through streets.

Last month, new rules came into effect that banned “abnormal” beards (such as the one worn by the man pictured in front of the main mosque in Kashgar in south-western Xinjiang). They also called on transport workers to report women wearing face veils or full-body coverings to the police, and prohibited “naming of children to exaggerate religious fervour”. A leaked list of banned names includes Muhammad, Mecca and Saddam. Parents may not be able to obtain vital household-registration papers for children with unapproved names, meaning they could be denied free schooling and health care.

Residents have also been asked to spy on each other. In Urumqi, the region’s capital, locals can report security threats via a new mobile app. People living in Altay in northern Xinjiang have been promised rewards of up to 5m yuan ($720,000) for tip-offs that help capture militants—over 200 times the local income per person.

Across Xinjiang residents have been asked to inform the authorities of any religious activities, including weddings and circumcisions. The government is also testing its own people’s loyalty. In March an official in Hotan in southern Xinjiang was demoted for “timidity” in “fighting against religious extremism” because he chose not to smoke in front of a group of mullahs.

Mr Chen is widely rumoured to be a contender for a seat in the ruling Politburo in a reshuffle due late this year. Displays of toughness may help to ingratiate him with China’s president, Xi Jinping, who has called for “a great wall of iron” to safeguard Xinjiang. Spending on security in Xinjiang was nearly 20% higher in 2016 than the year before. Adverts for security-related jobs there increased more than threefold last year, reckon James Leibold of La Trobe University and Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology at Korntal, Germany.

Uighurs have been blamed for several recent attacks in Xinjiang. In one of them in February, in the southern prefecture of Hotan, three knife-wielding men killed five people and injured several others before being shot dead by police (local reports suggested the violence occurred after a Uighur family was punished for holding a prayer session at home). Officials may be congratulating themselves on the success of their tactics; reported large-scale attacks by Uighurs inside and outside Xinjiang have abated in the past 18 months. Yet as in Tibet, intrusive surveillance and curbs on cultural expression have fuelled people’s desperation. “A community is like a fruit,” says a Uighur driver from Kashgar. “Squash it too hard and it will burst.”

Source: The bullies of Urumqi: The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims | The Economist

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04/05/2017

Aadhaar: Are a billion identities at risk on India’s biometric database – BBC News

Shyam Divan was arguing a crucial petition challenging a new law that makes it compulsory for people to submit a controversial biometric-based personal identification number while filing income tax returns.

“My fingerprints and iris are mine and my own. The state cannot take away my body,” a lawyer told India’s Supreme Court last week

Defending this law, the government’s top law officer told the court on Tuesday that an individual’s “right to body is not an absolute right”.

“You can have right over your body but the state can restrict trading in body organs, so the state can exercise control over the body,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said.At the heart of the latest challenge are rising concerns over the security of this mega biometric database and privacy of the number holders. (The government says it needs to link the identity number to income tax returns to improve compliance and prevent fraud.)

India’s biometric database is the world’s largest. Over the past eight years, the government has collected fingerprints and iris scans from more than a billion residents – or nearly 90% of the population – and stored them in a high security data centre. In return, each person has been provided with a randomly generated, unique 12-digit identity number.

For a country of 1.2 billion people with only 65 million passport-holders and 200 million with driving licenses, the portable identity number is a boon to the millions who have long suffered for a lack of one.

Indians will need the identity number to receive benefits from more than 500 welfare schemes

States have been using the number, also called Aadhaar (Foundation), to transfer government pensions, scholarships, wages for a landmark rural jobs-for-work scheme and benefits for cooking fuel to targeted recipients, and distribute cheap food to the poor.

Over the years, the number has taken a life of its own and begun exerting, what many say, is an overweening and stifling control over people’s lives. For many like political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Aadhaar has transmuted from a “tool of citizen empowerment to a tool of state surveillance and citizen vulnerability”.

People will soon need the number to receive benefits from more than 500 of India’s 1,200-odd welfare schemes. Even banks and private firms have begun using it to authenticate consumers: a new telecom company snapped up 100 million subscribers in quick time recently by verifying the customer’s identity through the number.

‘Forcibly linked’

People are using the number to even get their marriages registered. The number, says Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of Indian news site MediaNama, is “being forcibly linked to mobile numbers, bank accounts, tax filings, scholarships, pensions, rations, school admissions, health records and much much more, which thus puts more personal information at risk”.

Some of the fears are not without basis.

The government has assured that the biometric data is “safe and secure in encrypted form”, and anybody found guilty of leaking data can be jailed and fined.

But there have already been a number of leaks of details of students, pensioners and recipients of welfare benefits involving a dozen government websites. Even former Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni’s personal information was mistakenly tweeted by an overzealous enrolment service provider.

The fingerprints and iris scans are stored in high security data centres

Now a disturbing report by The Centre for Internet and Society claims that details of around 130-135 million Aadhaar numbers, and around 100 million bank numbers of pensioners and rural jobs-for-work beneficiaries have been leaked online by four key government schemes.

More than 230 million people nationwide are accessing welfare benefits using their numbers, and potentially, according to the report, “we could be looking at a data leak closer to that number”. And linking the number to different databases – as the government is doing – is increasing the risk of data theft and surveillance.

The chief law officer believes that the outrage over the leaks is “much ado about nothing”.

“Biometrics were not leaked, only Aadhaar numbers were leaked. It is nothing substantial. The idea is biometrics should not be leaked,” Mukul Rohtagi told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The government itself has admitted that it has blacklisted or suspended some 34,000 service providers for helping create “fake” identification numbers or not following proper processes. Two years ago, a man was arrested for getting an identification number for his pet dog. The government itself has deactivated 8.5 million numbers for incorrect data, dodgy biometrics and duplication. Last month, crop loss compensation for more than 40,000 farmers was delayed because their Aadhaar numbers were “entered incorrectly by banks”.’

‘Mass surveillance’

There are also concerns that the number can be used for profiling. Recently, authorities asked participants at a function in a restive university campus in southern India to provide their Aadhaar identity numbers. “This is not only a matter of privacy. The all pervasiveness of the Aadhaar number is a threat to freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right,” Srinivas Kodali, who investigated the latest report on data leaks, told me.

Critics say the government is steaming ahead with making the number compulsory for a range of services, violating a Supreme Court order which said enrolment would be voluntary. “The main danger of the number,” says economist Jean Dreze, “is that it opens the door to mass surveillance.”

AadhaarDetails of millions of Aadhaar number holders have been leaked

Nandan Nilekani, the technology tycoon who set up the programme popularly known by its acronym UIDAI, believes concerns about the safety of the biometric database are exaggerated.

He says the identity number has cut wastage, removed fakes, curbed corruption and made substantial savings for the government. He insists that the programme is completely encrypted and secure. “It’s like you are creating a rule-based society,” he told Financial Times recently, “it’s the transition that is going on right now.”

Abused

More than 60 countries around the world take biometric data from its people, says Mr Nilekani. But then there are nagging concerns worldwide about these databases being abused by hackers and state intelligence.

In 2016, personal details of some 50 million people in Turkey were reportedly leaked. (Turkey’s population is estimated at 78 million.) In 2015, hackers stole more than five million fingerprints after breaching US government networks. In 2011, French experts discovered a hack involving the theft of millions of people’s data in Israel.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta has written that the lack of a “clear transparent consent architecture, no transparent information architecture, no privacy architecture worth the name [India doesn’t have a privacy law], and increasingly, no assurance about what exactly you do if the state decides to mess with your identity” could easily make Aadhaar a “tool of state suppression”.

So a lot of lingering doubts remain. How pervasive should an identity number be? What about the individual freedom of citizens? How do you ensure the world’s biggest biometric database is secure in a country with no privacy laws and a deficient criminal justice system?

In many ways, the debate about Aadhaar is also a debate about the future of India. As lawyer Shyam Divan argued forcefully in the top court, “people are reduced to vassals” when the state controls your body to this extent.

Source: Aadhaar: Are a billion identities at risk on India’s biometric database – BBC News

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02/05/2017

Infosys plans to hire 10,000 U.S. workers after Trump targets outsourcing firms | Reuters

India-based IT services firm Infosys Ltd said it plans to hire 10,000 U.S. workers in the next two years and open four technology centers in the United States, starting with a center this August in Indiana, the home state of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

The move comes at a time when Infosys and some of its Indian peers such as Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro Ltd have become political targets in the United States for allegedly displacing U.S. workers’ jobs by flying in foreigners on temporary visas to service their clients in the country.

The IT service firms rely heavily on the H1-B visa program, which U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered federal agencies to review.A

In a telephone interview with Reuters from Indiana, Infosys Chief Executive Vishal Sikka said his company plans to hire U.S. workers in fields such as artificial intelligence.

“When you think about it from a U.S. point of view, obviously creating more American jobs and opportunities is a good thing,” Sikka said.

While Indian outsourcing firms have recruited in the United States, Infosys is the first to come out with concrete hiring numbers and provide a timeline in the wake of Trump’s visa review.

Last month, two industry sources told Reuters that Infosys was applying for just under 1,000 H-1B visas this year. One of the sources said that was down from about 6,500 applications in 2016 and some 9,000 in 2015.Indian IT service firms, which typically flood the lottery system each year with thousands of applications, have been among the largest H1-B recipients annually.

Indian politicians and IT industry heads have been lobbying U.S. lawmakers and officials from the Trump administration to not make drastic changes to visa rules, as this could hurt India’s $150 billion IT service sector.

The 10,000 new U.S. jobs would be a small part of Infosys’ overall workforce of more than 200,000.Sikka said Infosys has already hired 2,000 U.S. workers as part of a previous effort started in 2014.

“We started small at first and have been growing since then,” Sikka said. “The reality is, bringing in local talent and mixing that with the best of global talent in the times we are living in and the times we’re entering is the right thing to do. It is independent of the regulations and the visas.”

The four hubs being set up will not only have technology and innovation focus areas, but will also closely serve clients in sectors such as financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, retail and energy, said Infosys.

The first hub, which will open in Indiana in August 2017, is expected to create 2,000 jobs by 2021, the company said.

Infosys did not disclose the financial impact of its plans. It declined to comment on whether the planned U.S. jobs would account for a large percentage of overall hiring in the coming two years.

Based on Infosys’ recent hiring trends, however, the planned hirings in the U.S. could account for a substantial portion of the company’s net workforce additions over the period.

Infosys, which added nearly 18,000 jobs in 2015, slowed its hiring pace considerably, creating just about 6,000 jobs in 2016 amid market uncertainty caused by Brexit and heightened clamor for tougher U.S. immigration laws that led some U.S. clients to hold-off on new projects.

“Hiring locally is a compulsion and it’s not just because of what’s happening in the U.S.,” said Harit Shah, research analyst at Reliance Securities. “The model itself is not sustainable.”

The company cautioned last month that it would struggle to reach its ambitious $20 billion revenue target by 2020, as the Indian software service sector has been hit by cautious client spending due to a rising protectionist wave globally.

The United States is the largest market for Indian software service companies, but other countries like Australia have also begun to target Indian IT service companies that use temporary visa programs.Shares in Infosys were down less than 1 percent in midday trading in India, following news of the U.S. hiring plans.

Source: Infosys plans to hire 10,000 U.S. workers after Trump targets outsourcing firms | Reuters

14/04/2017

Digital dawn: India’s ID system is reshaping ties between state and citizens | The Economist

IT TAKES a little over 90 seconds.

At the government-subsidised ration shop in Sargasan, a village in Gujarat, Chandana Prajapati places her thumb on a fingerprint scanner. A list of the staples she and her family are entitled to this month appears on the shopkeeper’s computer: 10kg of rice, 25kg of wheat, some cooking oil, salt and sugar. The 55-year-old housewife has no cash nor credit card, but no matter. By tapping in an identifying number and presenting her thumb one more time, Mrs Prajapati authorises a payment of 271 rupees ($4.20) straight from her bank account. It is technical wizardry worthy of Stockholm or New York; yet outside buffaloes graze, a pot of water is coming to the boil on a pile of firewood and children scamper between mud-brick houses.

Like most Indians, Mrs Prajapati would have struggled to identify herself to the authorities a few years ago, let alone to a faraway bank. But 99% of adults are now enrolled in Aadhaar, a scheme which has amassed the fingerprints and iris scans of over 1.1bn people since 2010. With her authorisation, any government body or private business can check whether her fingerprints or irises match those recorded against her unique 12-digit identifying number in its database. When it comes to identification, India has unexpectedly leapfrogged every country with the possible exception of Estonia, a tiddler with a penchant for innovation.

Being visible to the state is assumed in rich countries, if only because the taxman insists on it. But India had no equivalent of a Social Security number, and less than half of all births are registered. Only a small minority are required to pay income taxes. Plenty of those entitled to government services, meanwhile, have not received them, because they have not been identified as eligible or because middlemen have stolen their share. At the same time, the benefits rolls are filled with fake beneficiaries, created by those seeking to palm undeserved rations of fertiliser, food or some other subsidised good.Ghosts v the machineLinking ration cards to an Aadhaar number, and thus to the biometric data tied to it, means a single person cannot have more than one and ghosts can have none. The original pitch to politicians—the scheme was adopted by the previous government, but has been embraced by Narendra Modi, the prime minister—was that Aadhaar would help make welfare more efficient. The potential gains are huge. One official estimate suggests that “leakage” in subsidy payments meant that only 27% of the money ended up in the right hands: not so much a leaky bucket as a sieve.

Over 400,000 ghost children were struck off school rolls in just three states after schools were required to match their pupils to Aadhaar numbers to keep receiving state funds. By weeding out false claims, authorities say they have saved $8bn in two-and-a-half years; the annual central-government budget for subsidies is about $40bn. That may be an exaggeration, and critics say there are other ways to improve the administration of subsidies. But the savings clearly outstrip the roughly $1bn cost of deploying Aadhaar.

Changing the mechanics of how a benefit is received is often just as important as the benefit itself. Development experts like the fact that, at least in theory, a villager can gain access to a subsidy in a distant city. This removes a big barrier to internal migration. A project to purge electoral lists found 800,000 fictitious voters in Punjab, a state of 30m. The authorities suspect that 30% of driving licences are fake, many of them duplicates to help drivers evade bans—a ruse that would be impossible if all licences were linked to Aadhaar.

Indeed, the improvements in accuracy and efficiency are so enormous that the government now wants to use Aadhaar more broadly than originally advertised. Recent edicts propose to make it compulsory for everything from booking train tickets to owning a mobile phone. If implemented, these new uses would put paid to the notion that enrolling in Aadhaar is voluntary, which was the promise of its backers—led by Nandan Nilekani, an IT grandee who used to chair the agency that set up Aadhaar. This in a country with no overt privacy laws, let alone a tradition of handling sensitive data competently (many ministries’ websites contain spreadsheets teeming with Indians’ personal data).

But Aadhaar is a poor way to build up an Orwellian panopticon, Mr Nilekani argues, given the wealth of information already available from telephone records, GPS data, bank statements and the like. A bigger problem may be the impracticalities of the system. Unlike reading an ID card, checking someone’s identity through Aadhaar requires an internet connection and, often, electricity. Ration-shop owners in out-of-the-way places are known to march their customers to the top of a hill, roof or tree—wherever a phone signal can be found—to check their identity. Even then, samples seem to show that roughly a third of authentications come back negative, an extraordinarily high failure rate for a technology that people rely on for necessities. The chafed fingers of manual labourers often cause problems, for example.

Those high failure rates are just teething troubles linked to Aadhaar’s many new uses, says Ajay Bhushan Pandey, the head of the agency overseeing the scheme. Devices that scan irises (which offer more reliable readings) are becoming cheaper and should become the norm, he says. Already the Aadhaar database is being tapped 20m times a day, 20 times the rate of a year and a half ago. That thrills cheerleaders as much as it alarms critics.

Source: Digital dawn: India’s ID system is reshaping ties between state and citizens | The Economist

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24/03/2017

The subtleties of soft power: China is spending billions to make the world love it | The Economist

The subtleties of soft powerChina is spending billions to make the world love itCan money buy that sort of thing? From the print edition IMAGES of China beam out from a giant electronic billboard on Times Square in the heart of New York city: ancient temples, neon-lit skyscrapers and sun-drenched paddy fields. Xinhua, a news service run by the Chinese government, is proclaiming the “new perspective” offered by its English-language television channel. In Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, children play beneath hoardings advertising swanky, Chinese-built apartment complexes in the city.

Buyers are promised “a new lifestyle”. Across the world, children study Mandarin in programmes funded by the Chinese state. Some of them in Delaware don traditional Chinese robes and bow to their teachers on Confucius Day.

For many years, shoppers around the world have been used to China’s omnipresence: “Made in China” has long been the commonest label on the goods they buy. More recently, however, the Chinese government has been trying to sell the country itself as a brand—one that has the ability to attract people from other countries in the way that America does with its culture, products and values. A decade ago the Communist Party declared a new goal: to build “soft power”, as a complement to its rapidly growing economic and military strength. It spends some $10bn a year on the project, according to David Shambaugh of George Washington University—one of the most extravagant programmes of state-sponsored image-building the world has ever seen. Mr Shambaugh reckons that America spent less than $670m on its “public diplomacy” in 2014.

The party borrowed the idea of soft power from an American academic, Joseph Nye, who coined the term in 1990. Mr Nye argued that hard power alone was not enough to wield influence in the world. It had to come from “the soft power of attraction”, too. China was acutely conscious that it lacked it. Many in the West were deeply suspicious of its authoritarian politics. In Asia people feared China’s emergence as a regional hegemon. China knew it could use its economic might to win over governments, such as by building roads, railways and stadiums for them. But Mr Nye saw those kind of investments as expressions of hard power. China decided it needed more of the soft kind as well, so that foreigners would feel naturally inclined to do its bidding.After several years of debate about soft power, or ruan shili, among Chinese academics, China’s then president, Hu Jintao, spoke up on the topic in 2007, telling a party congress that China needed to build it. Mr Hu’s successor, Xi Jinping, has stepped up the effort. In 2013, about a year after he took over as China’s leader, Mr Xi convened a meeting of the ruling Politburo to discuss soft power. Its members agreed that it was a vital ingredient of Mr Xi’s “Chinese dream of the great revival of the Chinese nation”—the term “Chinese dream” being one of Mr Xi’s favourites.

Mr Xi has made himself promoter-in-chief of this new form of power (helped when he travels abroad by the highly visible presence of his elegant, smiling wife). His efforts to boost it were on display at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, where he won plaudits for extolling globalisation and calling for unity in the fight against climate change. Even Mao Zedong, who enjoyed a cult status abroad among some left-wing academics, put far less work into winning over foreigners.

Raise the red lanterns

According to Mr Nye, whom Chinese officials acknowledge as a guru on the topic, there are three main ways that a country can gain soft power: through its political values, its culture and its foreign policies. But winning on all fronts is not easy. The party knows that its ideology has little chance these days of attracting others. Arguably China’s soft power was stronger in the 1950s and 1960s when Mao, a brutal but charismatic dictator, espoused a socialist Utopia that inspired many people around the world. Nowadays some Chinese academics speak of a “China model”—the winning combination, in their view, of authoritarian politics and somewhat liberal economics (with a big role for the state). But Chinese leaders prefer to gloss over the politics when describing their country to foreigners. In 2008 the opening ceremony of the Olympics Games in Beijing barely hinted at the party or its principles.

Instead, China’s soft-power strategy focuses mainly on promoting its culture and trying to give the impression that its foreign policy is, for such a big country, unusually benign. The culture that the party has chosen for foreign consumption is mainly one that was formed long before communism. Confucius, condemned by Mao as a peddler of feudal thought, is now being proffered as a sage with a message of harmony. Since 2004 China has established some 500 government-funded “Confucius Institutes” in 140 countries. These offer language classes, host dance troupes and teach Chinese cooking. Many of them are on campuses (an activity involving one, at the University of Delaware, is pictured). China has also set up more than 1,000 “Confucius Classroom” arrangements with foreign schools, providing them with teachers, materials and funding to help children learn Mandarin.

Let there be no confusion about Confucius

China hopes foreigners will take up some of its traditional customs. For example, it has set out to make Chinese new year as popular as Christmas. In 2010 the government put on fewer than 100 new-year events in foreign countries. This year it sponsored some 2,000 of them in 140 countries to mark the year of the chicken. Red-coloured Chinese lanterns swayed in city streets thousands of miles from the home of the lunar festival. The Communist Party wants China’s cultural presence to reach everywhere: it recently staged a fashion show in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, featuring the qipao, a sleeveless dress that gained popularity among fashionable Chinese women in the 1920s.

China’s diplomats have been busy trying to convince foreigners that China’s rise is nothing to fear. Mr Xi speaks of a “new type of great-power relations”, suggesting that China can co-exist with America without the kind of rivalry that caused the two world wars. His “One Belt, One Road” scheme—involving Chinese investment in infrastructure across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe—aims to reinforce China’s image as a country eager to use its newfound wealth for the good of the world (see article).

To help craft such an image, China has been investing massively in its foreign-language media. Xinhua, the government’s main news agency, opened nearly 40 new foreign bureaus between 2009 and 2011, bringing its total to 162—at a time when cash-strapped media organisations elsewhere were shutting them down (it hopes to have 200 by 2020). The number of Xinhua correspondents based overseas doubled during that time. In December the state broadcaster rebranded its international media service, calling it China Global Television Network. Its six channels aim to compete with global services such as the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. (Mr Xi urged the network to “tell the China story well, spread China’s voice” and “showcase China’s role as a builder of world peace”.) China Daily, the government’s main English-language mouthpiece, pays for inserts in newspapers such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

The government is trying to extend its reach online, too. Last year a government-affiliated media group spent 30m yuan ($4.35m) to launch a free, English-language website called Sixth Tone. It tries to sell China’s message by being more sassy, and sometimes more critical, than other state media. With the party’s blessing, private companies are getting involved, too. In 2015 Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce firm, paid $260m for the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s flagship English-language newspaper which has incisive—and often critical—reporting on Chinese politics. The deal has raised fears that Alibaba will try to turn the newspaper into a cheerleader for the party. China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, is trying to buy film studios and production companies in Hollywood, the epicentre of American culture (China’s clampdown on capital outflows may have been frustrating his efforts recently—earlier this month he withdrew a $1bn bid for Dick Clark Productions, an iconic Hollywood firm).

China wants its message to be clearly visible in the heartland of America’s capitalist culture. It began advertising itself in Times Square in 2011 (see picture). Last year Xinhua used its billboard there to broadcast a video 120 times a day for two weeks defending China’s territorial ambitions over disputed rocks in the South China Sea. Sometimes the party uses covert means to sway foreign opinion. In 2015 an investigation by Reuters, a news agency, revealed that a Chinese state broadcaster, China Radio International, controlled at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries, including the United States, but was using front companies to mask its ties with them. Reuters said the stations avoided airing anything that might portray China in a negative light.

Sweet and sour

 But when Mr Nye wrote about soft power, he suggested that governments could not manufacture it. He argued that much of America’s had sprung from its civil society: “everything from universities and foundations to Hollywood and pop culture”. The party is distrustful of civil society; its soft-power building has been almost entirely state-led. China has tried to combine elements of soft power with the hard power of its illiberal politics. Far from enhancing China’s global image, this approach has often served to undermine it.

Take the Confucius Institutes and Classrooms. In 2007 a senior party leader described these as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” But many cash-strapped universities have gratefully supplanted their own language courses with ones led (even funded) by Confucius Institutes. In some places Confucius Institutes have replaced or started up entirely new China-studies programmes. Most of them do not actively push the party line, but Confucius Institutes usually skate over sensitive political topics such as the crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1989.

They often attract controversy. In 2013 McMaster University in Canada severed ties with its on-campus Confucius Institute after one of the institute’s employees was forbidden to follow Falun Gong, a spiritual sect that is banned in China (the institute subsequently closed down). At a European Chinese-studies conference in 2014, the Chinese head of Confucius Institutes worldwide ordered pages referring to a Taiwanese educational foundation to be ripped from each programme. Such attempts at censorship only help to reinforce Western misgivings about China’s politics and undermine its soft power.

China’s efforts to use its global media to paint a rosier picture of the country also face a tough challenge. Its television networks employ foreign anchors (and plenty of panda footage) to try to win audiences abroad. But foreigners can also see the Chinese state’s heavy hand, such as when it mobilises pro-China crowds to drown out protesters during visits by Chinese leaders, or when it arm-twists foreign politicians not to complain about China’s human-rights record (Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human-rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2010, languishes in a Chinese jail, rarely mentioned in public by Western leaders). In February an official at the Chinese embassy in London warned Durham University not to host a vocal critic of the party: a former Miss World contestant who was born in China and raised in Canada—the country she represented.

As for China’s message of peace to other countries, many in Asia are far from convinced. Its grabs for territory in the East and South China Seas have fuelled widespread resentment. The rapid expansion of its navy and air force, and its build-up of missiles, have sown anxiety in America, too.

China’s soft-power push has made some gains. In global opinion polls respondents from Africa tend to be more positive about China than people from other regions. That is partly because of the money China has poured into the continent—in Angola every professional football match is staged in one of four, Chinese-built, stadiums. Younger people everywhere often view China more favourably than older people (see chart). This is a sign, perhaps, that the country is capable of being cool—who does not get a buzz out of Shanghai’s skyline? Portland Communications, a public-relations firm, has conducted surveys of public attitudes towards 30 countries—most of them, apart from China, rich ones. China ranked bottom in 2015. Last year it crept two places higher, above the Czech Republic and Argentina.

But money has not bought China anything like the love it would like. A year before Mr Xi took over, just over half of Americans had positive impressions of China, according to the Pew Research Centre. By the end of 2016 that share had fallen to 38% (see chart). Pew found a similar trend in other countries. In 14 out of 19 nations it polled between 2011 and 2013, views of China became less friendly.

No thanks to the party

China’s rapid economic development has won it many admirers. But the social and environmental costs of this have also produced many critics. A country can have soft power and smog as well (America has had plenty of both in much of its recent history). But China’s air pollution undermines its soft power: it is widely seen as evidence of a callous government that cares more about making the country richer than the health of its people or the planet. Many foreigners now associate the country with smog—an important reason why 37% fewer international tourists visited China in 2015 than in 2007. (Other reasons for the drop included the cost and increasing hassle involved in obtaining visas, and the yuan’s exchange rate.) Mr Xi’s eagerness to join the fight against global warming is partly driven by a desire to regain the soft power China has lost owing to its environmental horrors.

Some people in China privately grumble that the party itself, with its intolerance of dissent, is the biggest obstacle to the country’s soft-power development. Since taking office, Mr Xi’s relentless efforts to clamp down on civil society have hardly helped. He has also been trying to strengthen the party’s control over the arts: in 2014 he said they should promote socialism rather than be “slaves to the market”. That is unlikely to help China emulate the success of America’s television shows, which project an attractive vision of American culture into people’s living rooms the world over.

Few people outside China want to watch its programmes, which are often thinly disguised propaganda. The success of China’s most successful film globally, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, a co-production involving American companies, has not been repeated since its release in 2000. “Kung Fu Panda”, an American-made animated film series, has perhaps done more to boost China’s soft power than any movie made by the country itself. Small wonder that China was keen to enter into a co-production for the third in the series, which came out last year.

State-controlled media in China have reported with relish on commentary in America suggesting that Donald Trump’s presidency may deal a heavy blow to the United States’ soft power. If that arises from the appeal of a country’s culture, political ideals and foreign policies, as Mr Nye reckons, then America’s soft power is threatened in two of these domains. China’s political system may not exert much of a global pull, but it could begin to look a bit more attractive to some people when compared with America’s.

China has some attributes that it can play to its advantage. For example, it has no colonial history beyond its current borders and has started no wars in nearly 40 years. In a turbulent world, China’s leadership appears relatively stable and predictable (at least to the casual observer—Mr Xi’s determination to crush dissent suggests he sees serious threats to his power).

When Mr Xi became the first Chinese president to address the global elite at Davos, only days before Mr Trump was inaugurated, he appeared to sense an opportunity to bask in a rare glow. But the upswing in China’s soft power is likely to be limited. Chinese officials themselves quietly ask whether China’s strategy can ever succeed. In 2015 a senior official, Zhou Hong, wondered aloud what state-sponsored soft power could achieve. “Without the broad participation of the people,” he wrote in the party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, “the external propagation of culture not only loses its meaning, but also loses its intrinsic energy.” Mr Zhou was right about the Chinese people’s role. China will find it hard to win friends and influence nations so long as it muzzles its best advocates.

Source: The subtleties of soft power: China is spending billions to make the world love it | The Economist

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08/03/2017

The partition of India: “Viceroy’s House” is an antidote to colonial triumphalism | The Economist

THE fetishisation of British Imperialism is inescapable. Last December, Theresa May cited the East India Company as an example of Britain’s historical trading prowess. Contestants on a recent season of “The Apprentice”, an entrepreneurial reality show, created batches of “Colony Gin”; Marks & Spencer, a retailer, included an “Empire Pie” as part of its Gastropub collection. This nostalgia is borne out by a YouGov poll from 2016, which found that 44% of respondents are proud of Britain’s colonial history.

Those colonised, though, see the empire rather differently. A charge sheet of Britain’s efforts in India—and every territory colonised can produce an equivalent—might list partition, the man-made Bengal famine in 1943 (which resulted in an estimated 3m deaths), the wretched labour system of indenture and the looting of state wealth. Partition alone resulted in 1m deaths and created 15m refugees in a matter of weeks; Hindus and Sikhs fled their homes in what was the become the Muslim state of Pakistan, while Muslims in India took flight in the opposite direction.

“Viceroy’s House”, a new film written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, seeks to document Britain’s role in partition and the cleaving of the Punjab region. In the final months of the Raj, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) arrives to oversee the transfer of power to Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), and reconcile the demands of independence leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru with those of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow)—who had never set foot in India before—is drafted in to assess how 175,000 square miles, home to 88m people, should be split. Ms Chadha carefully balances high politics with its impact on ordinary citizens; relations between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim staff become tense as the prospect of annexing India’s Muslim-majority regions emerges.

The film is good in exposing the Machiavellian motives behind this rushed decision, as well as the gut-wrenching suffering that followed (the house, which “makes Buckingham Palace look like a bungalow”, becomes a camp for the displaced). It is not perfect, however. “Viceroy’s House” absolves everyone—Lord Mountbatten, the British, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims—of blame for the suffering. Some critics have complained that it does not give any attention to the Indian independence struggle, or catalogue the horrors of British rule. These are deserving of films in their own right; Ms Chadha’s decision to focus her lens solely on how partition unfolded is a wise one.

With millions of people involved in the story of partition, “Viceroy’s House” was always going to be a tricky undertaking, likely to be deemed unsatisfactory by many. Ms Chadha tells the story of this multifaceted moment in the region’s history through the lens of one building, framing it as the tale of “the people’s partition” rather than dealing in factionalism and blame. She has subverted the period-drama genre—how many period dramas close on a shot of a desperate refugee camp?—to produce something akin to a “Dummy’s Guide to partition”.

Yet even as a superficial primer, “Viceroy’s House” fills a gap in Britain’s collective consciousness and cultural memory. In the canon of modern British films about India, partition features in “Gandhi” (1982) and “Midnight’s Children” (2012) but gets scant treatment elsewhere. “Viceroy’s House” stands out from these offerings as a British film narrated with heart, soul and profound sadness by a Punjabi film-maker with a personal investment in the story: the closing credits reveal that Ms Chadha’s grandmother lost a child to starvation while fleeing to India.

It will be hard for some to maintain a sense of nostalgia and triumphalism for Britain’s empire after watching “Viceroy’s House”: Ms Chadha intersperses the drama with Pathé news footage of communal violence and Churchill’s dejected newscasts explaining the collapse of law and order. The film has ensured that partition, which is rarely taught in British high schools, has a place in the nation’s shared public culture again. Too right. Partition is as much a part of modern Britain—home to 700,000 Indian and Pakistani Punjabis, many of whom are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of partition—as butter chicken, saag paneer, naan, bhangra and Bollywood.

Source: The partition of India: “Viceroy’s House” is an antidote to colonial triumphalism | The Economist

28/02/2017

US-China relations: Trump meets senior official Yang Jiechi – BBC News

State Councillor Yang Jiechi is the first senior Chinese official to meet Mr Trump since his inauguration.

Mr Yang also discussed security matters with the new US national security adviser, HR McMaster, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

It follows tensions over trade and security between the two countries.

On 9 February Mr Trump spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping by telephone.

In that call he agreed to honour the “One China” policy, backing away from previous threats to recognise the government of Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province.In December Mr Trump, as president-elect, had spoken on the phone to the president of Taiwan – a break in protocol which angered Beijing.

In his visit on Monday, Mr Yang also met Vice-President Mike Pence and strategist Steve Bannon, Chinese state media reported.White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Mr Yang then “had an opportunity to say hi to the president”.

The talks with the Chinese delegation covered “shared interests of national security”, Mr Spicer said.

In January, China’s foreign ministry warned Washington against challenging Beijing’s sovereignty in parts of the South China Sea.

It came after Mr Spicer said the US would “make sure we protect our interests there”.

Barack Obama’s administration refused to take sides in the dispute.

Source: US-China relations: Trump meets senior official Yang Jiechi – BBC News

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24/02/2017

The missing middle: Women in South Asian politics have not empowered women | The Economist

ON THE Indian subcontinent, as in no other part of the world, women have risen to the pinnacle of politics. Indira Gandhi of India, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar are all famous names. Less well known is that Sri Lanka was the first country ever to elect a woman prime minister, or that it has also had a female president. For 22 of the past 25 years Bangladesh, a largely Muslim country with more people than France and Germany combined, has been led by a woman. And the chief ministers of numerous country-sized Indian states, from West Bengal in the east to Tamil Nadu in the south, have also been women.

India’s democracy is not pretty; these are the winners of bare-knuckle contests.

Yet for all such headline-grabbing successes, the fine print tells a different story. Although there has been steady progress in such things as stamping out female infanticide and spreading women’s education, statistics continue to reveal a stark sex divide. At 27%, the share of Indian women who work, for instance, is less than half the level in China or Brazil (and also in neighbouring Bangladesh, although slightly higher than in Pakistan). In 2012 a household survey found that four-fifths of Indian women needed their husband’s or family’s permission to visit a local clinic. A third said they would not be able to go alone. More than half also said they could not visit a shop, or even a friend, without someone else’s approval. For many, the very idea of going out was alarming: 70% said they would feel unsafe working away from home, and 52% thought it normal for a husband to beat his wife if she ventured out without telling him. In November, following a shock government move to scrap higher-denomination banknotes, a domestic violence hotline in the city of Bhopal in central India registered a doubling of calls, largely from women whose spouses had discovered they had secretly been saving cash.

On your bike

For wealthy and middle-class Indian women, freedoms have steadily grown: Anubha Bhonsle, a television anchor, recalls the strangeness of being the sole female driver of a motor scooter on many streets when she started commuting 15 years ago. “No one would give a second glance now,” she says. Yet in many professions women remain rarities. Barely 10% of the 700 judges in India’s higher courts are female, and only 17% of the 5,000 officers in the Indian Administrative Service, the elite corps of bureaucrats that runs the country.

Women are scarce even in politics. In the lower house of India’s parliament only 12% of MPs are women. State legislatures are similarly male. True, women’s share of seats has risen, but slowly: 50 years ago the proportion of women in the lower house was 6%.

It is only in village and district councils that women hold much sway, but this is partly due to laws that assign either a third or half of seats to female candidates. Earlier this month tribesmen objecting to efforts to impose a women’s quota in local elections rioted in Nagaland, a state on the border with Myanmar that is one of the few exceptions to such rules. Naga men insist that local custom precludes female village chiefs.

Such troubles reveal one cause of slow progress to sexual equality: Indian politicians have generally found it more rewarding to cater to subgroups defined by caste, religion, ethnicity, language or local grievance, rather than to broader categories such as women. This is equally true of female politicians, and of regional leaders less constrained by democracy. Sheikh Hasina, the current, iron-fisted prime minister of Bangladesh, has recently moved to reduce the legal age of marriage from 18 to 16. Given that child marriage is already common, especially in the impoverished countryside, women’s-rights activists are upset. But analysts explain that apa, or “big sister”, who has hounded opposition parties including Islamists, is looking for ways to deflect conservative anger. In order to succeed female politicians in the region often make a point of acting tough. Mamata Banerjee, the diminutive but formidable chief minister of West Bengal, once dragged a male colleague out of the well of parliament by the collar when she was an MP in Delhi. Like Sheikh Hasina and Mayawati, a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, as well as Jayalalithaa, a recently deceased former film star and long-serving chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms Banerjee has carefully repressed her sexuality. These women are ostentatiously “married” to their cause or their party.

Such care is understandable. Male rivals have not shied from using sex to malign female politicians. One party leader in Uttar Pradesh lost his job for accusing Mayawati, who comes from a downtrodden caste, of “selling tickets like a prostitute”. A colleague went further against Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party. Absurdly, he accused the head of the Gandhi dynasty of having worked for a Pakistani escort agency.

With so many obstacles blocking the path to power, it is hardly surprising that so many of the region’s successful female politicians got a head start. Amrita Basu of Amherst College finds that more than half of India’s female MPs in the past decade had family members who preceded them in politics. Quite often such dynastic links have been dramatic. Ms Suu Kyi in Myanmar and Sheikh Hasina are both daughters of slain independence heroes. Sonia Gandhi and Khaleda Zia, a former Bangladeshi prime minister and bitter rival to Sheikh Hasina, are both widows of assassinated leaders. Both Jayalalithaa and Mayawati entered politics as devoted lieutenants to charismatic, populist politicians; in Jayalalithaa’s case her mentor also played the lead in many of her films.

For women to play a more normal political role in the subcontinent, perhaps it is in films, and in popular culture in general, that change needs to happen first. All too often on the region’s screens, actresses who are paid a fraction of what male stars get portray women who lack agency in their lives. There is, though, an inkling of change. This season’s blockbuster and already the highest-earning film in Bollywood history, “Dangal”, tells the heart-warming story of sisters who become champions in the male-dominated sport of wrestling. Yet the main hero is not one of the girls, but the father, a former wrestler, who bends them to his will.

Source: The missing middle: Women in South Asian politics have not empowered women | The Economist

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