Wikileaks’ latest: China’s resistance to US pressure over Liu Xiaobo

Wikileaks is the gift that keeps on giving. The latest revelation is about how Chinese diplomats reacted when the US expressed its displeasure over China’s treatment of Liu.

It was just before Christmas 2009, and Ding Xiaowen was not happy.

The United States ambassador had just written China’s foreign minister expressing concern for Liu Xiaobo, the Beijing intellectual imprisoned a year earlier for drafting a pro-democracy manifesto. Now Mr. Ding, a deputy in the ministry’s American section, was reading the riot act to an American attaché.

Mr. Ding said he would try to avoid “becoming emotional,” according to a readout on the meeting that was among thousands of leaked State Department cables released this month. Then he said that a “strongly dissatisfied” China firmly opposed the views of the American ambassador, Jon Huntsman, and that Washington must “cease using human rights as an excuse to ‘meddle’ in China’s internal affairs.”

On Friday, exactly one year after Mr. Huntsman wrote his protest, Mr. Liu, now serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion, will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in a ceremony that he is unable to attend. And if anything is clear, it is that China no longer resists becoming emotional.

In the two months since the Nobel committee honored Mr. Liu, China has waged an extraordinary and unprecedented campaign, domestically and internationally, to discredit the award and to dissuade other governments from endorsing it.

According to the cables, one of Ding’s arguments was that “the most fundamental human rights were to food and shelter,” an area in which China has made “huge progress.” I don’t disagree with him, but also don’t believe that one necessarily precludes the other, i.e., food needn’t come at the expense of human rights. However, Ding’s comment squarely represents the attitude of most Chinese people, one that I fully understand.

I never blogged a lot about Liu or Charter 8 because I thought it was a story of relatively little consequence for China, and the reaction to the petition in China seemed tepid at best. It was the CCP’s handling of his arrest and prickly response to his winning the Nobel prize that got me blogging. I still see it as a PR blunder that damages a government thirsting for soft power.


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.


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.