China Chatbot Goes Rogue: “Do You Love The Communist Party?” “No”
Louise Lucas, Nicolle Liu, & Yingzhi YanG, FINANCIAL TIMES
Two chatbots with decidedly non-socialist characteristics were pulled from one of China’s most popular messaging apps after serving up unpatriotic answers about topics including the South China Sea and the Communist party. Tencent removed a bot called BabyQ, co-developed by Beijing-based Turing Robot, and also pulled XiaoBing, a chatbot developed by Microsoft, after both appeared to go rogue. Before they were taken down both chatbots were available in some of the chat groups hosted on QQ, Tencent’s messaging app with more than 800m users in China. A test version of the BabyQ bot could still be accessed on Turing’s website on Wednesday, however, where it answered the question “Do you love the Communist party?” with a simple “No.”
China Is Perfecting A New Method For Suppressing Dissent On The Internet
Sean Illing, VOX
The art of suppressing dissent has been perfected over the years by authoritarian governments. For most of human history, the solution was simple: force. Punish people severely enough when they step out of line and you deter potential protesters. But in the age of the internet and “fake news,” there are easier ways to tame dissent. A new study by Gary King of Harvard University, Jennifer Pan of Stanford University, and Margaret Roberts of the University of California San Diego suggests that China is the leading innovator on this front. Their paper, titled “How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, Not Engaged Argument,” shows how Beijing, with the help of a massive army of government-backed internet commentators, floods the web in China with pro-regime propaganda. What’s different about China’s approach is the content of the propaganda. The government doesn’t refute critics or defend policies; instead, it overwhelms the population with positive news (what the researchers call “cheerleading” content) in order to eclipse bad news and divert attention away from actual problems.
Chinese Police Detain Guangdong Man For Seashore Memorial Of Liu Xiaobo
Xin Lin, RADIO FREE ASIA
Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained an online activist who posted in memory of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died in custody of liver cancer on July 13. Qin Mingxin was detained by police in Guangdong’s Foshan city after taking part in an online memorial campaign that involved photographs taken on the seashore, in a reference to the burial of Liu’s ashes at sea by the authorities, activists told RFA. He is currently being held in Foshan’s Xinhui Detention Center, Guangdong-based writer Ye Du said, adding that Qin isn’t the only person in the province to have been detained in connection with Liu’s death. “There have been a few like-minded people here in Guangdong who have been treated in a similar way by the authorities for making memorials,” Ye said. “We think that any form of memorial should count as the expression of one’s personal feelings [and not a political act].” “One guy, Qin Mingxin, was detained, and is now being held under criminal detention,” he said. He said Qin was among a number of activists detained at the beach in Xinhui, near Guangdong’s Jiangmen city, as they marked a full seven days since Liu’s death on July 19. Hong Kong media named another detainee as Li Zhaoqiang.
China Tests Missiles During The Weekend, US Officials Say
Lucas Tomlinson, FOX NEWS
In a brazen broadside to America, China performed a dramatic series of missile tests this weekend—targeting mock United States missile batteries and jets—as the superpower flexes its muscles amid global tensions with North Korea and the threat of US intervention, US officials told Fox News. US spy agencies detected the Chinese military launching a series of 20 missiles at mock targets designed to look like American THAAD missile batteries and advanced US Air Force F-22 stealth fighter jets. “You don’t need to build a mock-up of an F-22 or THAAD to see if you could hit one with a missile,” said a US defense official who was not authorized to speak with the media. “This was a clear message by the Chinese.” China has long protested the deployment of US THAAD anti-ballistic missiles to South Korea, and doubled down on its condemnation after the government in Seoul said they want four more American launchers over the weekend, following North Korea’s Friday test of a second KN-20 intercontinental ballistic missile, a record-setting launch that flew the farthest distance in the regime’s history. Officials believe the Chinese military tested intermediate, medium and cruise missiles and say the tests were also meant to coincide with China’s Army Day celebrations on Aug. 1, when China staged a massive military parade involving 12,000 troops in the desert along with dozens of tanks, jets and missiles. Chinese state media said it was the first time China ever celebrated Army Day with a parade, attended by Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and Beijing’s military chief.
Human Rights Watch Calls On Laos To Investigate Missing Thai Activist
RADIO FREE ASIA
Officials in Thailand and Laos said Tuesday they had no information about a missing activist linked with the Thai pro-democracy Red Shirts, while Human Rights Watch called for a full investigation into his alleged abduction in Vientiane over the weekend. Thai activist Wutthipong Kachathamkhun (alias Ko Tee), who was living in exile in Laos since 2014, was allegedly abducted after getting out of a car in the nation’s capital on Saturday. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported witnesses said they saw 10 armed men dressed in black clothes and balaclavas assault Ko Tee, his wife and a friend as they were about to enter Ko Tee’s house in Vientiane. The assailants hit and shocked them with stun guns, tied their hands with plastic handcuffs, covered their eyes and gagged their mouths before driving off with Ko Tee. “Wuthipong’s shocking abduction by armed men in Vientiane needs to be fully investigated; it should not be treated with silence or swept under the rug,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement Tuesday. “The Lao government needs to move quickly to ascertain the facts and publicly report their findings, including an assessment of Wuthipong’s whereabouts and who might be responsible for this crime that was so boldly carried out in its own capital city.”
Chinese Residents Of North Korea Forced Into “Security” Training
RADIO FREE ASIA
Ethnic Chinese residents of North Korea planning to travel to China are being coached by state security officers in what they are allowed to discuss outside the country, with “security training” enforced by threats they may not be allowed to leave, North Korean sources say. The education sessions have been ordered because the government believes that sensitive details of life inside North Korea are being too easily disclosed, a source from North Hamgyong province, near the border with China, told RFA’s Korean Service. “Chinese residents living in North Korea often make their living working as small-time traders or merchants, and they now have to attend security education sessions to learn what to keep in mind when traveling to China,”RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At least once a month, ethnic Chinese who make frequent trips to China must visit the ethnic Chinese committee office in Chongjin city’s Pohang district to be briefed on the latest instructions from the foreign affairs division of the State Security Department,” the source said. Estimates of the number of ethnic Chinese in North Korea range from 4,000 to 10,000, according to Chinese and South Korean media, but the small community plays a big role in cross-border commerce.
Daniel Brown, BUSINESS INSIDER
Much confusion and mystery surrounds the 105-story, pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel, also known as the “Hotel of Doom,” in North Korea. Last week, Pyongyang took walls surrounding the building down, unveiling walkways to the hotel, fueling speculation that construction might start again, according to Fox News. Construction on the hotel began in 1987, under Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather. It was supposed to be finished in the late 1980s, but construction was stopped short in the early 1990s because of an economic depression.
Trump Signs Russian Sanctions Into Law, With Caveats
Peter Baker, THE NEW YORK TIMES
President Trump signed legislation on Wednesday imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting his own authority to lift them, but asserted that the measure included “clearly unconstitutional provisions” and left open the possibility that he might choose not to enforce them as lawmakers intended. The legislation, which also includes sanctions on Iran and North Korea, represented the first time that Congress had forced Mr. Trump to sign a bill over his objections by passing it with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities. Even before he signed it, the Russian government retaliated by seizing two American diplomatic properties and ordering the United States to reduce its embassy staff members in Russia by 755 people. The measure reflected deep skepticism among lawmakers in both parties about Mr. Trump’s friendly approach to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and an effort to prevent Mr. Trump from letting the Kremlin off the hook for its annexation of Crimea, military intervention in Ukraine and its meddling in last year’s American election.
US To Begin Blocking North Korea Travel At End Of August
Joshua Fatzick, VOA
The United States will officially begin banning its citizens from traveling to North Korea on September 1. The restriction, which was published Wednesday in the Federal Register, forbids US nationals from traveling to North Korea due to a serious risk of “arrest and long-term detention.” “All United States passports are declared invalid for travel to, in, or through the DPRK unless specially validated for such travel,” the published restriction reads. Humanitarian travel and, in some cases, travel for journalistic purposes, will be exempt from the ban, which will remain in effect for one year unless it is rescinded sooner by the US State Department. The decision to ban travel came after the death of US student Otto Warmbier, who passed away after falling into a coma into a North Korean prison.
Venezuela Reported False Election Turnout, Voting Company Says
Nicholas Casey, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Venezuelan government reported false turnout figures for its contentious election over the weekend, announcing a tally that had been altered by at least one million votes, a software company involved in setting up voting systems for the country said on Wednesday. “We know, without any doubt, that the turnout of the recent election for a National Constituent Assembly was manipulated,” the company, Smartmatic, said in a statement. The vote was part of an ambitious plan by the government to consolidate power. President Nicolás Maduro instructed Venezuelans to select from a list of trusted allies of the governing party—including his wife—who will rewrite the nation’s Constitution and rule Venezuela with virtually unlimited authority until they finish their work. Voters were not given the option of rejecting the plan. Venezuela’s new governing body, known as the constituent assembly, will soon take charge of the country with the power to dismiss any branch of government, including the opposition-controlled legislature. The National Electoral Council said on Sunday that nearly 8.1 million people had turned out to vote, just over 40 percent of eligible voters. But many Venezuelans rejected those figures as unrealistically high, pointing to the absence of lines or crowds at polling places.
Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s President, Says New Assembly To Convene Soon
Michael Weissenstein, THE WASHINGTON POST
President Nicolás Maduro’s government says it is close to convening a special assembly endowed with powers to rewrite the constitution, override other branches of government and punish opposition leaders. Two of his leading foes already were dragged from their homes by heavily armed security agents and thrown in a military prison Tuesday, drawing condemnation from the United States and some Latin American countries. But many other nations and international organizations were silent or limited themselves to expressions of concern. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were accused by the government-allied Supreme Court of violating the terms of their house arrest by plotting to escape and releasing video statements criticizing Maduro. Both men’s supporters denied the charges and vowed to continue to try to push the ruling socialist party from power. However, they gave little indication of how they planned to do that, and the capital was unusually quiet after months of sometimes violent protests. Lopez’s supporters released a video that he taped last week saying he expected to be imprisoned again soon, and calling on Venezuelans to be firm in resisting Maduro.
Trump Factor Weighs As Vietnam Intensifies Crackdown On Dissidents
Matthew Tostevin, REUTERS
A crackdown on communist Vietnam’s increasingly vocal dissidents has become the biggest in years and activists say authorities have been emboldened by the Trump administration’s lack of emphasis on human rights. US President Donald Trump’s early decision to drop the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal also removed a clear incentive for Hanoi to show a better rights record, they said. The US State Department, however, said it continues to insist that better bilateral ties will depend on Hanoi’s progress on human rights. Vietnam has stepped up measures to silence bloggers and critics whose voices over issues such as a steel mill’s toxic spill last year have been amplified by social media in a country that is among Facebook’s top 10 by users.