7 August 2017

China: Mandatory Spyware

July 26, 2017: In the northwest (Xinjiang province) the government has introduced mandatory spyware installation on all smart phones used by residents of the province. There are many Turks (Uighurs and other Central Asian minorities) in Xinjiang and most of them are Moslem and the source of most of the few Islamic terrorism recruits China has produced. The main cause of unrest in Xinjiang is ethnic and economic but China justifies (at least to the outside world) the growing list of restrictions in Xinjiang with the need to eliminate Islamic terrorism. Nationwide most of the violent unrest is because corruption and government failures but that sort of thing is not given as much media coverage as Islamic terrorism and other foreign threats (like American warships passing through the South China Sea). The new mandatory spyware in Xinjiang monitors smart phone use in much more detail and constantly reports back to the government censors. Normally most of the several million people working for the national Internet censorship bureaucracy look for anti-government activity online. The use of the new spyware is an earlier effort to introduce similar spyware nationwide. That generated more trouble (and backlash) than it was worth and was halted. The Xinjiang effort seems to be another test of the idea. Police in Xinjiang are checking locals (who must produce their ID cards at the many checkpoints established in the past few years) and those whose smart phones do not have the spyware are punished. Naturally the spyware is not popular but the government publicized some recent arrests (for incorrect through online) to the spyware.

Meanwhile Xinjiang is a problem and more so than Tibet, the other troublesome western province. Xinjiang has about eight times the population of Tibet but only a third more territory. Unlike Tibet Xinjiang is still angry enough to generate lots of violent attacks on security forces and recent migrants from eastern China. There was less violence in 2016 but at the end of the year three Uighurs drove into the government compound, set off a bomb and were shot dead by police. A policeman and a civilian also died. Aside from the bomb the Uighur attackers were only armed with knives.

The government has had a media blackout in Xinjiang for years but Chinese language media outside of China has been able to interview Xinjiang residents, including some who recently served in the security forces there. Those witnesses tell a different story, indicating that during 2016 there were about twenty protests and violent incidents a week in Xinjiang. Those familiar with how Chinese censors work point out that the government can get away with saying nothing is happening as long as no ethnic Han Chinese, with kin elsewhere in China, are killed. This is especially true when the dead are soldiers, police or government officials. These deaths stir up Internet chatter among the Han majority in China. The censors can suppress such forbidden chatter but cannot eliminate it. When the government does have to admit to anti-government violence in Xinjiang they describe the perpetrators as common criminals or Islamic terrorists.

The reality is that the Xinjiang problems are more about the native ethnic Turk population resisting being overwhelmed by Han Chinese migration to the area. China accuses Islamic terror groups among the ethnic Turks (Uighurs) of Xinjiang for all these problems. Unhappy Uighurs are increasingly aggressive in protesting, if not attacking, the growing Chinese presence among them. The Xinjiang Uighurs never responded well to growing pressure from Han Chinese soldiers and intrusive Han government officials. Because of that many Uighurs continue to support anti-Han activity and this made it possible for some Islamic terrorists to survive and operate there for a while. Most Uighurs are found in Xinjiang province where nine million of them are now less than half the population and most of the rest are Han Chinese. The government has been publicly urging soldiers and police to be more aggressive against uncooperative Uighurs and in 2015 the security forces were told to do whatever they thought necessary to keep the peace. That attitude has intensified since then. The government accuses Uighur activists of endangering state security and tries to keep the unrest out of the news. The same thing is happening in Tibet, where the government is using the same tools to keep everyone under control. Since 2011 several hundred have died in Xinjiang because of Uighur violence against Han rule. Thousands of Uighurs have been arrested and hundreds sentenced to prison, or death. While Islamic terrorism is seen as a major threat in the West the Chinese regard that threat in China as largely confined to Xinjiang. Despite the occasional attack, the Chinese now believe they have it under control but not eliminated.

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