Wikileaks’ China/Google bombshell

Update: Do not miss James Fallows’ new post on the significance of the Google-China-Wikileaks revelations. Google, he concludes, comes out of this looking pretty good, its complaints of government-orchestrated harassment appearing to be confirmed.

The Wikileaks controversy isn’t going away, and the latest memos to fall under media scrutiny reveal that the US government had plenty of evidence about China’s obsession with Google, whose search engine was making them look bad. This obsession led to some very dirty tricks.

As China ratcheted up the pressure on Google to censor its Internet searches last year, the American Embassy sent a secret cable to Washington detailing why top Chinese leaders had become so obsessed with the Internet search company: they were Googling themselves.

The May 18, 2009, cable, titled “Google China Paying Price for Resisting Censorship,” quoted a well-placed source as saying that Li Changchun, a member of China’s top ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee, and the country’s senior propaganda official, was taken aback to discover that he could conduct Chinese-language searches on Google’s main international Web site. When Mr. Li typed his name into the search engine at, he found “results critical of him.”

That cable from American diplomats was one of many made public by WikiLeaks that portray China’s leadership as nearly obsessed with the threat posed by the Internet to their grip on power — and, the reverse, by the opportunities it offered them, through hacking, to obtain secrets stored in computers of its rivals, especially the United States.

Extensive Chinese hacking operations, including one leveled at Google, are a central theme in the cables. The hacking operations began earlier and were aimed at a wider array of American government and military data than generally known, including attacks on computers of American diplomats preparing positions on a climate change treaty.

One cable, dated early this year, quoted a Chinese person with family connections to the elite as saying that Mr. Li himself directed an attack on Google’s servers in the United States, though that claim has been called into question. In an interview with The New York Times, the person cited in the cable said that Mr. Li personally led a campaign against Google’s operations in China but that to his knowledge had no role in the hacking attack.

…Precisely how these hacking attacks are coordinated is not clear. Many appear to rely on Chinese freelancers and an irregular army of “patriotic hackers” who operate with the support of civilian or military authorities, but not directly under their day-to-day control, the cables and interviews suggest.

But the cables also appear to contain some suppositions by Chinese and Americans passed along by diplomats. For example, the cable dated earlier this year referring to the hacking attack on Google said: “A well-placed contact claims that the Chinese government coordinated the recent intrusions of Google systems. According to our contact, the closely held operations were directed at the Politburo Standing Committee level.”

…[T]he cables provide a patchwork of detail about cyberattacks that State Department and embassy officials believe originated in China with either the assistance or knowledge of the Chinese military.

Sorry for the long clip; be sure to read the entire article. It leaves no doubt about China’s top-down encouragement of and direct involvement in major hacking initiatives and cyber-terrorism.

Again, this should show the Chinese that the US is not determined to make China look bad. The government had this information and kept it secret. Wikileaks is an equal-opportunity whistle-blower and is leaking bombshells like this about the State Department’s dealings with everybody (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, etc.), and China is just one of many. The interesting thing is how quiet the diplomats were about what they knew and what they heard second-hand. If the US was out to demolish China’s reputation we’d have heard more about this long ago.

It raises the question of why the US went so far out of its way to keep the Chinese government’s involvement in the attacks a secret. It belies the arguments from the naysayers and idiots that Google fabricated or exaggerated the charges of cyber-terrorism because it needed an excuse to exit from China without looking defeated.


Facebook drops Taiwan from country list? (No.)

Update: Please see the comment from the blogger below. This is a non-story based on a false premise. Sorry for posting about it.
Update 2: The blogger who’s post started
this story says it is not a non-issue. See the comments.

According to this somewhat flippant but interesting article by a reporter based in Taiwan, “Facebook seems to have dropped China-rival Taiwan from its alphabetical drop-down menu of member countries for FB support problems….”

I don’t know if this is true, and if it is I’d like to know whether it was always this way or if the change was recent. The author seems to believe this was done because Mark Zuckerberg is about to depart for a long trip to China, where he hopes to make his case for greater openness. (For context about Zuckerberg’s trip, go here.) Facebook, of course, is blocked in China.

Back to the disappearance of Taiwan from the drop-down menu:

While Facebook is banned inside Communist China, it does have free reign in democratic Taiwan, where internet censors do not control the net and thousands of happy Facebook fans are busy updating their walls and playing Farmville. In fact, Facebook pages are wildly popular on Isla Formosa with both local residents and expat residents.

But the other day, when a Yankee expat with a regular Facebook account tried to log on, he was notified by an automatic FB message that he needed to send his cellphone number by a secure route to Facebook HQ, where a four digit code would be sent to him by text message.

The gentleman was asked to go to a drop-down list of countries on Facebook to find the country he was in, and then send his international cellphone number to FB HQ. He had run into similar security issues in the past with Google and his Gmail accounts, and never had any trouble finding “Taiwan” on the list that Google sent him.

On scrolling through the drop-down list that FB had supplied, our friendly expat couldn’t find “Taiwan” anywhere. He looked again. Of course, there was no ”China” since China is not part of the FB Empire. But there was no ‘Taiwan” either.

How could that be? He looked again, from A to Z. Nada. No “Taiwan”.

Under the “T” section, there was one nation listed: ”Thailand”. But no ”Taiwan”.

He searched again, but no ”Taiwan”, no UN-sanctioned “Chinese Taipei” and no China-sanctioned “Taiwan, China” or “Taiwan, Province of China.” Taiwan simply did not appear at all.

Stumped, he emailed the folks at Facebook. There has been no reply as of press. He also emailed Mark Zuckerberg’s personal email account. No reply….

Surely, not listing “Taiwan” on the drop-down listings on Facebook’s help and support pages is a mere sloppy oversight, and was not done to slight Taiwan, where millions of fans are FB members, chatting away in English, Chinese and Japanese, among other languages.

Mark? You there? Ever heard of Taiwan? Nice country just south of Japan, east of China, north of the Philippines? You might want to add its name to your drop-down support list of countries.

Again, I can’t verify this, but it doesn’t sound impossible. I remember the controversy when Google Maps listed Taiwan not as a country but as a province of China.

Zuckerberg’s is married to a woman girlfriend is of Chinese descent and has been studying Mandarin in preparation for the trip, according to the reporter. Exactly what he hopes to accomplish there remains to be seen.

Businesses come here for a billion customers, but Zuckerberg says he’s offering openness. The authorities aren’t totally sold on that, obviously. So, he’s already tweaked the channels a bit by saying in recent interviews that countries have different values and Facebook respects this, such as banning content about Nazis in Germany and pictures of Muhammad in Pakistan. He says China is “extremely complex” and he will humbly come here to listen and learn. This should appeal to Confucians.

It will be interesting to see what Zuckerberg gets out of this trip, if anything.


Wikileaks, Google and China

Buried inside the avalanche of documents released yesterday by Wikileaks is a tidbit that probably won’t get much notice amid all the noise: secret cables from the US embassy indicate the Chinese government may have directed the attack by Chinese hackers against Google:

The secret cables obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks said that China’s Politburo directed the hacking. It cited a cable from the US embassy in Beijing, which mentioned information from “a Chinese contact.”

“The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government,” the Times said, citing the cable.

Chinese operatives are also believed to have broken into computers of US and Western allies along with those of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, it said.

That Chinese authorities were involved in the attacks is no surprise. The surprise is that US officials seemed to have had more evidence than we thought that this was the case. If it’s true, it confirms the worst fears that China was actively engaged in criminal activities.

These cables were secret, and the US embassy clearly did not want us to know about this. So you can’t argue that this is an attempt by the US to embarrass China. It’s the US that’s embarrassed, and I suspect the US embassy is working now to contain the damage and to assure Beijing that the US didn’t mean to antagonize them.

AFP ink via CDT.

Update: Gady Epstein helped make sure this didn’t get drowned out:

We don’t know whether that is true, of course, since sourcing anything back to China’s secretive nine-member Politburo Standing Committee is, to the say least, a mean feat: We do know that if any part of this tip is true — and maybe even if not — some sources may now be at severe risk of long prison terms, now that Beijing has been alerted to these alleged leaks.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to much of the world that the hack on Google had government support, whether or not it was “orchestrated” at a high level as the Wikileaks reporting suggests so far. Quite a bit of good reporting has been done in the last few years on the loose, quasi-state nature of hacking in China, including at least tacit support for officially unaffiliated hacking activities that likely involves the ability to put hackers in service of government directives.

Epstein makes the point that we may never know for sure whether it’s true or not that the CCP Politburo ordered the attacks. Read the whole thing, which includes a lot of good context.


Instapundit’s North Korea Wisdom

A mature, sober, prudent response to today’s attack on South Korea.

JUST WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW: North Korea fires artillery barrage on South. If they start anything, I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs. They’ve caused enough trouble — and it would be a useful lesson for Iran, too. We can’t afford another Korean war, but hey, we’re already dismantling warheads. . . .

Kill them all!

And this is the leading to-the-right blogger?


Guest Post: What America needs to learn from China

This is a post from my friend in Taiwan Bill Stimson. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of The Peking Duck.

What America Needs to Learn From China
by William R. Stimson

It is evident now from this business of the rare earth elements, and from the way Beijing is handling its green technologies in general, that America can no longer afford to see China merely as a cheap labor force or a huge market to exploit. That phase is over. This hardly means America should view China as enemy or competitor, even though China’s military harbors that unenlightened attitude. That China poses a crisis to America cannot be denied – but it happens to be exactly the crisis America needs at this point to get itself up out of the rut it’s stuck in.

To not waste this important crisis must be America’s first order of business today. To rise to the occasion, it must begin to approach China and the Chinese people with the attitude that it has something to learn from them. Like China has done, America needs to make certain essential changes to its system without altering its fundamental beliefs – and, like China, it needs to do this by laying aside old dogmas. And, as China has taken ideas from America, so America needs to take ideas from China.

For all America’s recent failings in the Mid-East and at home, still democracy, human rights, personal freedom, and private entrepreneurial genius remain the cornerstones of the American way of life and the cauldron of its amazing track record of creativity and success. These will inevitably prevail over the authoritarianism, censorship, indoctrination, corruption, and injustice of the Chinese system – but only to the extent America manages to wrench itself free from some of its most cherished dogmas.

The market system is not all it’s cracked up to be. In the same way that America’s market has failed to generate a new generation of antibiotics to fight emerging superbugs (AIDS and cancer drugs are more profitable for pharmaceutical companies because patients take them for the remainder of their lives instead of just for a few weeks), it is now failing to protect and sufficiently promote Silicon Valley’s edge in the green technologies. Rather than crying “Unfair!” when the Chinese government affords fledgling green industries the support and advantages they need to get on their feet, the American government should be doing the same for its upstarts. In the end, these vulnerable new industries will benefit the entire country. America cannot allow them to migrate to China. In the same way a dab of free enterprise saved Chinese Communism, a dab of government responsibility and oversight can save American Capitalism. The government had no qualms about bailing out the big bankers. Why should it balk about bailing out the green start-ups? What’s un-American about helping the small guy?

Similarly, the whole globalization mantra blithely misses the point that giving away jobs inevitably leads to giving away the grassroots experience that feeds innovation, creativity, and the development of new expertise and products. By closing down its own biggest rare earth element mine and letting that operation go entirely to China, the United States forfeited its leadership in an entire technology – and maybe much more. Just as the market worshippers in Detroit failed until it was too late to see that the big gas-guzzlers were a thing of the past, Washington today can’t seem to grasp that across-the-board globalization serves the interests of the few richest Americans at the expense of the country as a whole. To feed the creativity and innovation that is the American system’s greatest advantage, America needs a full diversity of its own industries within its own borders, and it needs a full range of its own labor on all levels to be accomplished by American hands and American minds. To export the little jobs inevitably leads to giving away the big ones – and becoming a second-rate country. If the U.S. government wants the next Google, the next iPhone, or the next whatever to happen in America, it’d better keep more jobs there, and put more highly-qualified people back to work there – even if this means products become more expensive and the nation can’t continue to pursue its gluttonous and wasteful lifestyle.

Not America but China and the Chinese are in the lead today in certain essential ways. America has busied itself arrogantly talking down to both. Essentially it’s been right in what it’s been trying to get across to the Chinese. Only it hasn’t had the basic humility to notice the things the Chinese are doing that are superior and it hasn’t had the fundamental enlightenment to emulate them in these areas. Ancient Chinese texts teach that every crisis is an opportunity, not to be wasted. The opportunity for America in the crisis China presents today is to learn before it’s too late how to lay aside certain of its own outdated dogmas, adapt to new and challenging realities, and move ahead again blazing new trails by doing what America does best.

Only if America adapts this tact will America and China both emerge victorious – as cooperating partners, not vicious competitors; and as systems that are converging, not trying to replace one another.

* * *

William R. Stimson is an American writer living in Taiwan. An earlier version of this piece appeared in the Taipei Times.


Stop the TSA

There is one area (and probably many more) in which China is far saner and more reasonable than the US, and that is airport security. In fact, nearly every other country is saner. Airport security in the US is simply insane. We have crossed the brink and dived head first into insanity.

I was delighted to see the sudden flare-up of anti-TSA articles and blog posts this week, as thousands more of the infamous body scanners (and check out that link) are installed in US airports, and thousands of passengers refused to suffer the indignity and possible health repercussions of walking through them. And then there are the new, incredibly intrusive pat-downs. Don’t get me started.

In one especially shocking incident that has taken the intertubes by storm this weekend, the TSA were no better than thugs. It’s reached the point where something has to be done – like abolish the TSA.


Ever the voice of reason, James Fallows puts it all in perspective:

To make the point for the zillionth time — and, yes, I’d rather say this too often than not say it often enough — it is insane, destructive, and Maginot Line-like in thinking for the U.S. to pour out so many resources, intrude so deeply on liberties, and generate so much domestic and international ill-will in dealing with one area of potential threat, out of all proportion to what it does elsewhere. And, yes, I say this in awareness that the original 9/11 attacks were against airliners and that many terrorist groups seem to have a “terrorism theater” obsession with aviation. Even so, “security” measures that do not pass a common-sense logic test ultimately generate contempt for the entities carrying them out, and for their grasp of the challenge they are undertaking and the security/liberty balance that is involved.

It’s not airport security. It’s airport security theater, a show, an absurd, hideously expensive, intolerably invasive piece of theater, going through the motions for reasons that no one really understands. The airline pilots and flight attendants are up in arms, the travelers are up in arms, everyone is up in arms, yet the TSA keeps spitting out platitudes about keeping us safe through means everyone knows are unnecessary.

Fallows quotes from a friend of his who lived in Shenzhen for many years. This is delightful:

My favorite experience, though, was this: I tend to glower at the folks doing the bag searches before getting on the plane. I guess the agents sense the glowering because twice now, I’ve the Chinese security agents apologize to me for having to do this… one apologized and then whispered to me “Sorry. The Americans make us do this. It’s useless, I’m embarrassed.” On the other occasion, the agent verbally apologized and gave a quick head bow as he rezipped my bag.

On the flight where the first Chinese agent apologized to me, when we arrived in the US and deplaned, we were met by two US agents and a German shepherd which sniffed us all as we passed by. One of the agents must have been 250 pounds and towered over the deplaning passengers, most of whom were Asian. The agents had their batons out, guns visible, and tasers.

What a contrast – an apology from Chinese security agents at the start of the trip and intimidation upon arriving in the US. Welcome to the land of the free and home of the brave. That the governing classes who so piously mouth platitudes about American exceptionalism are silent in the face of these atrocities to the liberties of innocents says more about America’s decline than any of the numerous economic comparisons.

What is it about America that forces us into such extreme overkill? Why must we let Osama Bin Laden have the last laugh, showing him his evil act has left us so traumatized and frightened we have surrendered our critical faculties and become obsessed to the point of irrationality?

Possibly the craziest new TSA procedure is the one calling for intrusive pat-downs of the pilots as they walk to their planes. If the pilot is prone to terrorism, don’t these jackasses know that the pilots have in their hands the ultimate weapon – the plane. What’s the point of searching the pilots for weapons? Why do we keep adding more and more layers of nonsensical pseudo-security? For the answer, as usual, just follow the money.

Sorry if this is a bit overwrought, but as someone who travels a lot and who never ceases to be amazed at the hoax of airport security, I just had to let it out. Please do your part: Refuse to go through the body scanner. That’s the least we all can do. Fallows said in an earlier column some months ago that the only way to get the TSA to stop the nonsense is for enough people to object and to make their voices heard. I’m glad to see people are finally wising up and refusing to go along with this charade.

You have a far better chance of being killed crossing the street than you do of being killed in airline terrorism. Why on earth are we spending all these billions of dollars and putting people through such inconvenience for a threat that is so incredibly remote? Yes, we need airport security, but only within reason. We should follow China’s saner model – going through airport security there is relative bliss.


Someone making trouble? Send them to an insane asylum

This is shocking, if not too surprising.

LOUHE, China — Xu Lindong, a poor village farmer with close-cropped hair and a fourth-grade education, knew nothing but decades of backbreaking labor. Even at age 50, the rope of muscles on his arms bespoke a lifetime of hard plowing and harvesting in the fields of his native Henan Province.

But after four years locked up in Zhumadian Psychiatric Hospital, he was barely recognizable to his siblings. Emaciated, barefoot, clad in tattered striped pajamas, Mr. Xu spoke haltingly. His face was etched with exhaustion.

“I was so heartbroken when I saw him I cannot describe it,” said his elder brother, Xu Linfu, recalling his first visit there, in 2007. “My brother was a strong as a bull. Now he looked like a hospital patient.”

Xu Lindong’s confinement in a locked mental ward was all the more notable, his brother says, for one extraordinary fact: he was not the least bit deranged. Angered by a dispute over land, he had merely filed a series of complaints against the local government. The government’s response was to draw up an order to commit him to a mental hospital — and then to forge his brother’s name on the signature line.

It’s a long, painful article. Lots of things are way better in China than they were 10 years ago. The plight of those who question authority isn’t one of them. It’s all part of a campaign to maintain harmony at any and costs. Kudos to the NYT for having the patience to document this terrifying story so methodically.


How China turns its enemies into heroes

The media are abuzz today with stories on how China is trying to create an international boycott of the Nobel Prize awards in Oslo. Not surprisingly, it’s blocking Chinese activists who it believes may be leaving to attend the ceremonies, and it’s trying to strong-arm other countries from participating.

In addition to using its newfound economic might to warn world leaders away from the ceremony, China has waged an equally vociferous campaign at home to tarnish Mr. Liu’s reputation and delegitimize the award in the eyes of the Chinese people.

After a brief news blackout on the prize, the country’s state-controlled media began rolling out articles and editorials describing it as an insult to the country’s criminal justice system, a ploy to hold back China’s rise and a tactic to subvert the country’s political system. Other commentaries have painted Mr. Liu as a corrupt pawn of Western governments.

The warnings have already prompted a handful of European countries, among them France, Britain, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands, to announce they would hew to established protocol and send ambassadors.

Michael C. Davis, a law professor and human rights expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he thought China’s effort to organize a boycott of the ceremony — like its earlier campaign to dissuade the Norwegian Committee from selecting Mr. Liu — would probably backfire. In fact, he said Beijing’s overall handling of the matter was only drawing more attention to Mr. Liu’s plight and to the country’s checkered human rights record. “The Chinese often unintentionally turn their enemies into heroes,” he said.

Of course, the lady doth protest too much, and professor Davis hits the nail on the head: China has a knack for turning those it would seek to vilify into heroes and martyrs.

The fact that China is such an insecure child that it can’t stomach the notion of leaders of other countries attending the Oslo ceremony speaks volumes. Liu has won the prize. The ceremony is going to take place. The news of Liu Xiaobo winning is now old news, and the ceremony itself is anticlimactic (the big news having been the announcement of the winners).

There was only one possible way for China to keep the eyes of the world riveted on Liu’s winning the prize and to perpetuate the notion, true or false, that China is still a prickly, paranoid state, and that was to keep throwing gasoline on what should have been by now a smoldering pile of ash. That’s exactly what China has done, stopping people from leaving the country and making veiled threats to other nations about participating in Oslo.

Congratulations, China. Through your grit and determination, you’ve guaranteed continual media coverage of Liu’s plight and managed to convince the world yet again that you’re not yet made of the stuff of a superpower. At least you’re predictable. From the stream of slanderous articles about Liu to the online chatter of his being a stooge for the NED to blocking the travel of activists to your threats to hold your breath until you turn blue if other countries participate – well, it’s all from the same playbook you’ve been using for years, and none of it comes unexpected. I really wish, however, that one day you might surprise us and show your cleverness. I mean, maybe you could manage your loss of face without going all apoplectic and hysterical, and inadvertently giving greater power to the party you see as your enemy while weakening your own agenda.


China, technology superpower

The US media have been buzzing today about China having created the world’s most powerful supercomputer, which takes up a third of an acre. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t stir up yet another wave of panic that China is emerging as a threat.

A Chinese scientific research center has built the fastest supercomputer ever made, replacing the United States as maker of the swiftest machine, and giving China bragging rights as a technology superpower.

The computer, known as Tianhe-1A, has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer, which is at a national laboratory in Tennessee, as measured by the standard test used to gauge how well the systems handle mathematical calculations, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who maintains the official supercomputer rankings.

Although the official list of the top 500 fastest machines, which comes out every six months, is not due to be completed by Mr. Dongarra until next week, he said the Chinese computer “blows away the existing No. 1 machine.” He added, “We don’t close the books until Nov. 1, but I would say it is unlikely we will see a system that is faster.”

We all know the dichotomies, that China is now a technology superpower while also being largely impoverished and, some big cities aside, a third-world country. But this does help put to rest the notion that all China can produce are shoes and toys you buy at WalMart. (And I promise, I know some people who still view China that way.)

So once again China successfully invests a huge amount of money and effort to become No. 1, at least for the moment. They have to be given credit for achieving this, and from all I heard on National Public Radio tonight, this is a truly dramatic achievement, one that must be taken seriously. Now we just have to see what they do with it, and whether they can hold onto their No. 1 spot. No matter what, this was a PR coup and a big boost to China’s ego.


Edgar Snow comes to Kansas City

Living up to its reputation for insightful, intelligent, beautifully written posts, Mark’s China Blog offers us a treat with its description of the Edgar Snow Symposium held this week in Kansas City. (h/t Danwei.) Why don’t things like this come to Phoenix?

He described taking the train from Beijing to Xi’an and then heading into northern Shaanxi Province to find the mythical communist stronghold (some people, apparently, didn’t even believe the place existed). This was probably my favorite part of the conversation last night. It is also probably my favorite aspect of Edgar Snow’s life. I appreciate the story of a KC boy going to Xi’an and Shaanxi Province for the adventure of a lifetime (even if his story and mine are completely different in just about every way imaginable).

A beautiful description of Bao’an, the lush, low-lying valley where the communists had settled, was painted. Snow recounted meeting Mao and the subtle details of the man that would fifteen years later become the leader of China. He also talked about the general sense of camaraderie and excitement that one felt being at the camp.

The Symposium did not ignore the dark side of Snow’s legacy, which has become all but a dictionary definition of apologism.

Kemper [an interviewer] asked Snow to explain himself – “How did you not see this famine that historians estimate killed 35 million people?” The actor playing Snow did a wonderful job here. One could see the pain, embarrassment, and anguish on his face. He couldn’t come up with a good explanation. He knew that this mistake was one of the defining moments of his career and that history had punished him for it. After stammering a bit, Snow conceded that he’d been betrayed.

Oh well, we all screw up sometimes.

Read the entire post. I especially enjoyed the description of the Red-Color News Soldier exhibit; the book by the same name is one of my all-time favorites. Please read the entire post.