When it comes to China, the US need to figure out which fights are principled, and which fights are petty

Biden and Xi Jinping
Then Vice President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a California meeting aimed at strengthening Chinese investment in the state. China has now the lead in 5G infrastructure, but experts say don’t count Silicon Valley out yet.

  • John Kerry was in China this week discussing climate change and some people are upset about it.
  • They think cooperation on that issue could stop the US from being aggressive with Beijing about a host of other issues.
  • They’re delusional.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate, John Kerry, went to Shanghai this week to discuss how best the two largest economies in the world can address the threat of climate change. Despite the meeting being pretty standard stuff, it still has some US-China watchers completely losing their minds.

This freak out crew would prefer to have cordial relations between the two countries end tomorrow and instead have the US put maximum pressure on the Chinese Communist Party. They would prefer a world completely split in two, divided by a “digital iron curtain” with the US and fellow democracies on one side, and China, Russia, and their allies on the other. Economic ties would be cut, the flow of people would slow to a trickle, and the prospect of war would heighten across the world.

To them, Kerry and his message of cooperation on climate change could derail that future. That’s a false choice, but despite it’s absurdity the idea has become pervasive. Over at the Brookings Institution they decided that Kerry could go rogue, becoming a one-man wrecking ball for the entire government’s more muscular China policy. This is ridiculous on its face. Ultimately it is President Biden who will decide the direction of our China policy – and, as one former Obama administration Asia hand told me dismissing this theory, “John Kerry is no panda hugger.”

This is a delicate moment. The boundaries of the US-China relationship are being redrawn. We are watching trust rapidly dissipate between world powers in real time, and we shouldn’t waste what little trust we have now on empty antagonism. There will likely come a time when we wish we had that trust back.

A bomb and the time bomb

In the 1950s and 1960s the end of human civilization was staring its destruction in the face in the form of the nuclear bomb. The bomb was getting bigger and deadlier; spreading to more countries; and had already laid waste to cities and contaminated populations.

And so in 1963 during some of the most frigid times of the Cold War between the United States and USSR, the key nuclear powers of the time (which also included the United Kingdom), signed the Limited Testing Ban Treaty. The treaty regulated how and where countries could test their bombs, and it set up an emergency line of communication between powers to avert disaster – “the hotline.”

This all amounted to one critical thread of cooperation between the US and USSR during an otherwise entirely uncooperative period. The Cold War went on, but the prospect of nuclear winter shrank.

Today the threat facing human civilization is climate change, and the two countries that most need to work together to solve it – the US and China – are on the verge of another conflict that will force the planet to choose sides. In both countries there are people who are calling for a cessation of cooperative interactions. To them, every cooperative meeting is a Trojan Horse, during which one side will magically convince the other to forget every other issue pulling them apart.

But what we learned from the Cold War is that the US and an adversarial superpower are perfectly capable of sustaining fierce competition, while also cooperating enough to keep the world from destroying itself. When it comes to the US and China today, not only are we not in as dark a place as we were with the USSR in 1963, but we also have far more economic and business ties to break before we get there.

Until we’re serious about breaking those ties entirely (we’re not yet), we shouldn’t act like we are. That’s called posturing, and the United States ought to be above that.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t aggressive regarding issues that concern us – like Xinjiang, Hong Kong, North Korea, and Taiwan. It does not mean we aren’t aggressive when China bullies our allies, like Australia, or engages in cyber hacking. It does not shrink our commitment to democracy. But it does mean finding ways to cooperate where we can and keeping lines of communication open.

I mean my God, even in 1963 they had the hotline.

Cooperation

Here’s how I know we’re not serious about cutting commercial and social ties with China just yet. Right now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is working on a sweeping bipartisan bill to address China’s rising power. In it there’s hundreds of million of dollars for defense and programs to country China’s telecommunications rise. But for companies that want to move their operations and supply lines out of China there’s just $15 million. The US government loses $15 million in the couch cushions. That is not serious money.

But what people who do business in China will tell you is that getting public data, or having the mobility and access to interview customers to do business there, is getting harder. On March 19, Anne Stevenson-Yang, founder of China-focused investment firm J Capital Research Ltd testified before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Capitol Hill.

She told attendees that more and more of China is state run – that it’s not opening it’s economy anymore, that it’s closing it. Public economic data that used to be easy to get started evaporating back in 2015, shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping took power. This back pedaling does not just make Chinese society more brittle, she argued, but it also creates incentives in the Chinese economy that put investors and multinational corporations at risk. The solution, in some of those instances, is more cooperation – not less.

“The practical remedy for faked data, for example, on a corporate, industrial, and macroeconomic level, is to grant American researchers unfettered access to conduct surveys, interview individuals, and review financial records of all sorts in a legal proceeding, including tax records, audit papers, invoices, and communications,” she said. “A key impediment to such data collection is China’s law forbidding independent surveys. Survey teams need to be able to access respondents within a framework of privacy law but not one of data supervision.”

Achieving that requires cooperation, but that doesn’t mean Stevenson-Yang isn’t realistic about where it is not possible. For example, she recommends treating Huawei, ZTE, and other Chinese network gear as spyware and supports technology export restrictions.

If China closes and gradually makes itself a terrible place to do business, that is on China. It is on the US government to ensure that our multinational corporations are ethical, transparent, and consider our domestic interests at the center of their business. In the meantime the most productive thing to do is engage with China to protect investors and US businesses as best we can.

Besides, this is America and we do capitalism. If you want to do business in China and don’t mind the uncertainty of having your product randomly barred from military complexes and personnel; or you want to deal with your company being harassed and boycotted for not endorsing cotton from Xinjiang or whatever, knock yourself out.

Separating the principled from the petty

In this fragile moment, there is a danger of confusing the principled with the petty. When that happens, any slight can lead to a stand off.

There are petty new features of this more antagonistic relationship we all just have to get used to rolling off our backs. For example, China forced the world to get used to its hyper-aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, and now it has to get used to a US strategy that it dislikes – US led multilateralism. To China, when we rally our allies to make joint statements about things like human rights abuses in Xinjiang, that’s bullying.

Too bad. When the US is run correctly, that’s how we do things. Beijing will have to get over it.

This is to make space for the issues that Beijing and Washington cannot get over, most of which was discussed between President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday. Suga will be the first foreign leader to visit the White House since Biden took office. It is a sign of the gravity of the matters they have to discuss – like North Korea, Taiwan and a maintaining “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Kerry’s and Suga’s meetings fall at the same time, perhaps it’s not. Both are meant to address exigent situations that demand cooperation at highest levels of government and both must be had. Until the day comes when we are serious about ending the US-China relationship – and that day very well may come – we should continue to seek cooperation where it benefits the people and institutions of the United States of America. Anything else is an exercise in fantasy, or worse – just posturing.

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Huawei reportedly worked with 4 additional companies to build surveillance tools that track people by ethnicity, following recent revelations that it tested a ‘Uighur alarm’

Huawei China
  • Huawei has worked with at least four partner companies to develop surveillance technologies that claim to monitor people by ethnicity, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
  • Last week, The Post reported that Huawei in 2018 had tested a “Uighur alarm” — an AI facial recognition tool that claimed to identify members of the largely Muslim minority group and alert Chinese authorities.
  • Huawei told the The Post that the tool was “simply a test,” but according to Saturday’s report, Huawei has developed multiple such tools.
  • The reports add to growing concern over China’s extensive surveillance and oppression of Uyghurs and other minority groups, as well as increasing use of racially discriminatory surveillance tools and practices by US law enforcement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Huawei tested an AI-powered facial-recognition technology that could trigger a “Uighur alarm” for Chinese authorities when it identified a person from the persecuted minority group in 2018, The Washington Post reported last week.

At the time, Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss told The Post that the tool was “simply a test and it has not seen real-world application.”

But a new investigation published by The Post on Saturday found that Huawei has worked with dozens of security firms to build surveillance tools – and that products it developed in partnership with four of those companies claimed to be able to identify and monitor people based on their ethnicity.

Documents publicly available on Huawei’s website detailed the capabilities of those ethnicity-tracking tools as well as more than 2,000 product collaborations, according to The Post. The publication also reported that after it contacted Huawei, the company took the website offline temporarily before restoring the site with only 38 products listed.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading, Britain July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” a Huawei spokesperson told Business Insider. “We provide general-purpose ICT [information and communication technology] products based on recognized industry standards.”

“We do not develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group, and we do not condone the use of our technologies to discriminate against or oppress members of any community,” the spokesperson continued. “We take the allegations in the Washington Post’s article very seriously and are investigating the issues raised within.”

Huawei worked with Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft on products that made a variety of claims about estimating, tracking, and visualizing people’s ethnicities, as well as other Chinese tech companies on tools to suppress citizens’ complaints about wrongdoing by local government officials and analyze “voiceprint” data, according to The Post.

Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft could not be reached for comment.

Human rights groups, media reports, and other independent researchers have extensively documented China’s mass surveillance and detainment of as many as one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minority groups in internment camps, where reports allege they are subjected to torturesexual abuse, and forced labor for little or no pay.

To help it build the surveillance apparatus that enables such widespread detainment, the Chinese government has at times turned to the country’s technology firms.

“This is not one isolated company. This is systematic,” John Honovich, the founder of IPVM, a research group that first discovered the 2018 test, told The Post. He added that “a lot of thought went into making sure this ‘Uighur alarm’ works.”

In October 2019, the US Commerce Department blacklisted 28 Chinese government agencies and tech companies including China’s five “AI champions” – Hikvision, Dahua, SenseTime, Megvii, and iFlytek – on its banned “entity list,” thus preventing US firms from exporting certain technologies to them.

Still, some of those blacklisted companies have managed to continue exporting their technologies to Western countries, and BuzzFeed News reported last year that US tech firms, including Amazon, Apple, and Google, have continued selling those companies’ products to US consumers via online marketplaces.

In the US, law enforcement agencies and even schools have also increased their reliance on facial recognition software and other AI-powered surveillance technologies, despite growing evidence that such tools exhibit racial and gender bias.

But recent pushback from activists, tech ethicists, and employees has pushed some tech companies to temporarily stop selling facial recognition tools to law enforcement, and some US cities have issued moratoriums on their use, highlighting some divides between approaches to policing in the US and China.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Huawei reportedly tested facial-recognition technology that could set off a ‘Uighur alarm’ to the Chinese government when the software identified someone from the persecuted minority group

uighur protest china
Ethnic Uighur demonstrators take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey October 1, 2020.

  • Chinese telecom giant Huawei tested artificial intelligence software that could identify the faces of Uighur minorities and alert them to the government, according to a new Washington Post report.
  • Huawei published a document that detailed its testing of the software, which could set off a “Uighur alarm” when it finds someone apart of the community.
  • The document was removed from Huawei’s website after the Post reached out, but the company acknowledged that the report exists.
  • The Post’s report comes as the Chinese Communist Party continues its persecution of Uighur Muslims, who are native to Western China. Officials have detained up to one million Uighurs in detention camps.
  • Reports have emerged of torture at the centers, where prisoners subjected to rapes, medical experiments, and — for Uighur women — forced sterilization.
  • Huawei is the world’s largest telecom maker, and its reported involvement in China’s crusade against Uighurs also raises the question of how tech industry power players can aid nations in conducting what activists are condemning as human rights violations.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Chinese telecom giant Huawei tested AI software that could identify Uighur minorities to alert government authorities, according to a report from the Washington Post.

The outlet viewed an internal company document signed by Huawei representatives that revealed it worked with a facial recognition startup called Megvii in 2018 to test an AI-powered camera system that could scan faces and guess a person’s age and other factors. The software reportedly could set off a “Uighur alarm” when it pinpointed someone from the minority group. Uighurs are a largely Muslim group, and have been subjected to extensive persecution by the hands of the Chinese government.

The document was posted on Huawei’s website and was removed after the Post and the research group IPVM requested a comment, according to the report. Huawei and the startup confirmed to the outlet that the document is real.

The camera system was successful in taking real-time photos of people as well as replaying video footage when a face belonging to a member of the Uighur community was identified, according to the Post. 

Huawei did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but Huawei spokesman Glenn Schloss told the Post that the document was a test and has not been applied in a real-world setting. He also said Huawei does not provide “custom algorithms or applications.”

Since 2016, China has detained up to 1 million Uighurs – who are native to Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China – in internment camps, centers that the government has called “reeducation camps.” Officials at the camps force the Uighurs to abandon their culture and adopt Chinese customs, like learning the Mandarin language. Reports of torture have surfaced, including one woman who said she witnessed a gang rape and medical experiments on the prisoners while teaching Chinese propaganda in the camps. The government has also been accused of sterilizing Uighur women.

Authorities have justified their actions by claiming Uighurs are terrorists and religious extremists, as Business Insider’s Alexandra Ma reported.

The Chinese government has already been using high-tech surveillance tools to monitor Uighurs, including installing hundreds of thousands of cameras in Xinjiang to identify them and spying on them through their phones.

The Washington Post report raises the question of how technology, specifically AI, can be leveraged by world leaders to carry out political bidding, as well as the role that industry giants play in such agendas.

Read more: Europe is catching up with the US and China as all sides plow money into the ‘AI arms race’, experts say

International human rights activists and nations have condemned China’s actions – the UK said in July that it was considering sanctioning China due to the “gross and egregious” human rights violations that are surfacing in reports, according to the BBC.

Human rights advocates have also called Huawei out for its involvement in efforts to aid China and other nations in its oppression of minority groups. As the outlet notes, Uganda authorities have already employed Huawei technology as part of their mission to monitor protesters and political adversaries.

Megvii, the startup that Huawei reportedly worked with on the system, was also one of a few Chinese companies to be sanctioned by the US Commerce Department in 2019 over its contribution to China’s “campaign of repression” against Uighurs and other minorities, according to the Post.

Read the full report on the Washington Post here.

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