Mercenary Espionage and Chinese Deniability.

US Chamber of Commerce

Despite it happening at the business end of 2011, the hacking of the US Chamber of Commerce ( seemingly  by Chinese agents), shocking as it wasn’t in this information age, seemed as nostalgic and interesting an example as any of the diplomatic intrigue and excitement of the Cold War. In 2012 this comparison hardly needs more encouragement, as online at least and in the world of espionage, a war has been running between the US and China since the war in Kosovo. The narrative of China enacting nefarious schemes against US interests has gained mainstream acceptance in the West and vice versa in China. But just how true are the now countless, recent reports of Chinese state culpability in hacking attacks against the West, and are they indicative of conflicts to come and the PRC’s future policies?

Certainly China has a huge footprint in terms of web users (300 million netizens and rising) and is known to account for a relatively proportionate percentage of the net’s hacking activity, though little of this can be attributed to hackers with State support, let alone to the State itself. China vigorously denies all allegations of hacking and is perhaps a bigger victim of Chinese hackers than the US, but there are many very clear, recent examples of attacks on foreign nations that demonstrably are connected to China.

Recent attacks on the Chamber of Commerce, Google, the website for the Nobel Foundation, the offices of the Dalai Lama, the US’s armed drone fleet, US Meteorological satellites and other examples all have an undeniable Sino tang to them. They were certainly perpetrated either by the PRC or by pro-PRC groups with State protection or support. The evidence regarding the attack on the Chamber of Commerce, for example, points to perpetrators with an interest in the CoC officers assigned to Asian affairs, was traced back to Chinese IP addresses and resulted in the CoC network printing out error messages in Mandarin for a week. Likewise these attacks were well organised and informed, pointing at the very least to PRC coaching if not direct involvement. Similar attacks on Google and the Nobel Prize Foundation’s site can only really link; motive-wise, to the PRC, whereas the recent hacking of US satellites and the US drone fleet via infected versions of Adobe Reader could have only been achieved by China or Russia.

 By now the Americans are used to what the rise of Chinese net power means for them, but they still have no real way of ensuring against it. As Mr Chavern; the CoC Chief Operating manager said to Wall Street Journal reporters; “It’s nearly impossible to keep people out. The best thing you can do is have something that tells you when they get in”. Though they have no real defence against it, or perhaps underlining that fact, America’s relative impotence in this area sees them threatening war over it. In May of 2011 the Pentagon released a report stating that computer sabotage by another country could, in the right circumstances, constitute an act of war. None of the Pentagon’s tough ‘Cold War talk’ seems to mean anything to China though, as when it comes to aggressive acts of computer espionage, they more often than not resort to outsourcing to keep their hands clean.

Publicly China’s go-to team for Cyber-espionage matters is the ‘Blue Army’ a recently publicised elite taskforce drawn from an ‘exceptionally deep’ talent pool of civilian and military personnel. The Blue Army could probably account for most of the hacking activity attributed to the CPC, if only they didn’t spend most of their time defending China. But the CPC doesn’t need a state run force when it can turn to civilian groups to get the job done. In an interview with a former PLA general who gives the game away with an admission of guilt, he states that China’s online strength lies in the nation’s hacking culture; “It’s just like Ping Pong. We have more people playing it, so we are good at it.” The Blue Army, are for the most part a wholly defensive force (according to the CPC), and there is little direct evidence to question this, notably because most of the high profile attacks from China can been attributed to three civilian hacking syndicates: the Honker Union, GhostNet and the Red hacker Alliance.

These civililian groups, with CPC guidance, are more than capable of taking down most targets, whether that means hacking the offices of the Dalai Lama, taking down Google Asia or stealing from the lightly defended Chamber of Commerce website. Mostly these groups are made up of self-sufficient cells of hundreds and thousands of hackers who just like any other group, go after foreign targets for money or fame. But whether these groups obtain PRC assistance, occasionally work for the PRC or are a front is irrelevant, they have tacit impunity in China. The best of the hacking community, like with what happens to some arrested hackers in the West, are co-opted and some are even idolised as national heroes. The difference is that the US certainly doesn’t allow their hackers a free pass for attacking foreign nations and they certainly wouldn’t hand them the reins. In China outsourcing net attacks to these groups, whether through direct channels or not, is beneficial as a case of deniability, whereas in the West the opposite is true; it would be considered a huge liability.

Liability or not, for the meantime it does seem like it will be Chinese policy to hide behind, enable and outsource to these domestic groups, who while off the leash will launch many more (albeit sometimes clumsy) attacks on anti-PRC targets. Deniability trumps tact, but how this strategy would play out in a worst case scenario; with one or more Chinese groups taking it upon themselves to do real damage to the US or its allies?  The possible consequences make this strategy, if that is what it is, look reckless. Though it may be technically true, foreign nations will not buy claims of Chinese innocence if domestic hacker groups hiding under the grey areas of Chinese policing take it upon themselves to do something big out of turn. IT experts and governments worldwide all know about the relative freedom that some hackers operate under in China and this effectively de-fangs their effectiveness as a scapegoat. Rather than a baseless threat, this may be the point of the Pentagon’s warning in 2011; reign in the hackers, we are prepared to punish you for their behaviour.

Considering China’s vast internet security system deniability is no defence.


Fishing disputes; a proxy for territorial conflict.

The South China Sea

Over-fished and under-policed by a corrupt, negligent bureaucracy, China’s territorial fish stocks, after sustaining the worlds most populous nation for thousands of years, are now collapsed. Conversely the consequences of this development seem to be being felt by China’s coastal neighbours the strongest, as China’s 300,000 boat fishing fleet looks elsewhere for their catch. As China’s local waters yield less and less fish, Chinese fishing boats can now be seen trawling (sometimes illegally) across the oceans of the world; in the Mid to South Pacific in the East and around the coasts of Africa in West. Because of this and the large distances to new open fishing grounds, China’s huge fleet has also continuosly been caught illegally operating in the national and contested waters of its neighbours.

Though the CCP has admitted in some news releases to the development of legislation to solve the problem by reducing the national fishing fleet by a third, the reality of the situation is that China’s food demands are growing faster than they can be satiated. The CCP (like with its other industries) is unlikely to endanger its maritime food industry for the sake of conservation or East Asian diplomacy. Likewise on issues of upholding the sanctity of its neighbour’s territorial China has a long standing belligerent stance that is unlikely to change. However when its fleet provokes international headlines like in the recent stabbing of two Korean Coastguard members by a Chinese fishing captain, has China attempted to tone down the overly nationalistic responses of the past. Chinese worries about balancing its ambition against alienating its neighbours into greater collusion with a more engaged US are more meaningful as Beijing sees its superpower ambitions hemmed in by its wary ASEAN and North Eastern neighbours. Recent anti Chinese protests in friendly Vietnam, along with anger in the less diplomatically friendly nations of Korea, Japan and Taiwan are the results of China overextending itself, and considering America’s new interest in the region, it now seems that China is in desperate need of a new strategy.

Chinese fishermen resisting the Korean Coastguard

Unfortunately for the region as a whole, China is in a bind; it cannot easily climb down from previous nationalistic assertions over contested waters, nor can it easily reign in its fishing fleet, the members of which seem determined to act forcefully, even when they are caught illegally fishing in foreign waters. The result seems to be that Beijing, through its media, wants to straddle both a nationalistic stance and that of an innocent and rational actor until the issue dies down; so far it has been unconvincing.

On the issue of the conflict between the South Korean coastguard and illegal Chinese fishermen, especially regarding the recent murder of a member of that Coastguard service, China has only clumsily played the part of the good neighbour. Articles by the Global Times and Xinhua news began their PR responses poorly by challenging the truth of South Korean allegations, downplaying the murder as an “alleged stabbing” and then condemning the response of the angry Korean press and people as “overheated”, “out of control” and “irrational”.

Still having not offered any more condolence than “If the… coast guard was truly stabbed… Chinese public opinion will not take the fisherman’s side”, an editorial from the Global Times then went on to belligerently attack the Korean response to the event. It began by challenging Korea’s jurisdictional right to arrest Chinese fishermen caught in their waters, offers excuses for an “unjustifiable defence” against the murder; ‘that perhaps the Coastguard provoked the attack’ and then called into question the fairness of Korea’s judiciary in bluntly implying that the fisherman could be treated poorly and may not be given a fair trial. Unbelievably the article then went on to sincerely state its disbelief at the Korean media’s continual attacks on China and warned against further Korean provocation. This despite the fact that this is not the first time a South Korean Coastguard member has been killed by Chinese fishermen (one was killed and six were injured in 2008) as the rate of apprehensions for illegal Chinese fishing boats increases (20% this year alone to 470!).

This clumsy churlishness from Beijing beggars belief and makes one think that either it’s a deliberate provocation or proof that China really has no clue how to constructively and sincerely solve disputes with foreign states. Now, more than two weeks after the incident, China has yet to apologise or offer any kind of condolence more than noting the “unfortunate” nature of the death and paying lip service to its obligation towards respecting the territorial integrity of its neighbours. For their part the Korean side is still demanding an apology, is considering arming their Coastguard and is increasing the fines for illegal fishermen.

Unsurprisingly Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines; all close Chinese maritime neighbours have experienced similar issues with bolshie Chinese fishermen recently and all have condemned, to varying degrees of boisterousness (none have had success) the CPC’s indifference. Taiwan, a nation with complicated ties to the mainland has not been engaged in violent conflict with fishermen or the Chinese Coastguard, but the large numbers of Illegal Chinese boats in Taiwanese waters have also resulted in a large increase in fines and promises to step up its policing measures. Likewise have Vietnam and the Philippines have had trouble with ever increasing numbers of Chinese fishermen in their territorial waters. On the flip side, Vietnam especially has had its own fishermen blatantly intimidated and harassed by patrolling Chinese Coastguard boats in contested (and sometimes their own) waters on the orders of the Chinese government in Hainan.

Issues with Chinese fishing boats and the Japanese however, perhaps in equal parts due to historic tensions and Japan’s significantly larger and more powerful Coastguard, have been much more incendiary than run ins between the Chinese fishing industry and other nations. Notably the Japanese have resolutely patrolled the oceans around their nation, including areas that China claims as its own, and has made prosecuting illegal fishermen a priority. With both the fishermen and Japanese Coastguard being as equally determined it is obviously no surprise that the increasing conflict generated by more boats and belligerent crewmen could lead to a serious incident. That incident came in 2010 when a Chinese fishing boat rammed a Japanese Coastguard vessel near the contested Diayou/Senkaku Islands, resulting in the arrest of the captain and a diplomatic fight which led to anti Japanese protests across China, trade sanctions, the downgrading of relations and eventually a Japanese back-down. What was originally a stubborn battle concerning differing versions of the conflict was eventually put to bed when a Japanese Coastguard member  released a video of the incident confirming the Japanese version of the story, but by then Japan had already backed down and the issue had ran its course. In Japanese waters however the war against illegal fishing is ongoing, the Japanese feel bullied by the Chinese who certainly manufactured the conflict and let down by their government; the issue could very easily relapse should either side wish it.

It seems regardless of whether a fight breaks out in contested waters, Chinese citizens are arrested or if foreign nationals are killed or injured that the impetus for conflict has been the attitude of Chinese fishing crews, encouraged by the CCP’s nationalistic responses. As such the two fundamental factors of the issue are China’s refusal to reign in its fleet and its wishy-washy responses to the confrontations that result; whereby incidents will be played down as “a normal fishery case” or inflated to impassioned diplomatic shut-downs seemingly at random.  China seems willing to play the conflict game to their benefit as situations warrant.  Chinese culpability is compounded in this case by its refusal to do anything about it, and means that the theory that this could be a strategy of Chinese escalation through ‘soft power’ cannot be ruled out. These disputes may be useful in compelling some neighbours to come to the negotiating table in a more compliant manner than would otherwise be the case, at the same time it allows China to size up the fighting spirit of its neighbours. Though China has in some cases tried to be diplomatic, the overwhelming amount of noise coming from Beijing on fisheries cases will not have been welcoming news to its neighbours, this could badly backfire. If China cannot find a more sincere and respectful way to address this issue in public then it is likely that the US will be able to increase the resolve of ASEAN nations in conjunction with its Korean and Japanese allies; tightening the noose around China even further.

China’s Petulance Makes for Unhealthy Relationships

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilllard in China

On overseas trade and diplomatic trips Chinese leaders will always make a point of publicly citing the strengths and benefits of the trade relations between itself and the host country. This relationship is often framed by talk of mutual respect and friendship from both sides, as well as the characterising of the relationship as one of fairness and balance. In these cases China is cast as being prepared to “assist in the development” of the host nation as a “partner” rather than merely an investor.

This talk of “economic friendship”, specifically regarding the West, has recently looked tenuous and has in fact come to a head, mainly regarding developments on Chinese undervaluation of the Yuan against the US dollar. Regardless of the strength of trade relationships however, overtures of sincere Chinese friendship has been shown to come with demanding preconditions, sometimes involving the internal policy decisions of ‘friendly’ nations. In the way that China commits political overreach like this, it damages its reputation as a rational state and also risks alienating moderate actors in the West; it also belittles the concept of “Chinese friendship”, consigning it to nonsense.

Kadeer and the Dalai Lama

Specifically on issues of human rights has China recently made the loudest demands of its ‘friends’. In 2009 for example, the visit of a Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, a Chinese minority rights advocate to Australia was met with condemnation and the cancellation of a high level diplomatic exchange between the two nations. The conflict intensified when Beijing tried to stop the woman from speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra at the same time as it attempted to halt the screening of a film of the Muslim woman’s life at the Melbourne film festival (whose website was later the victim of a Chinese hacking).

Similarly, Norway’s people and internal affairs have also been harangued after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo; a pro democracy campaigner in 2010. Furious with the incident, Beijing demanded an apology and through their ambassador, threatened damage to trade deals and relations with the small nation. To add to the vitriol, three weeks after the awards, the Nobel Prize website was also hacked. These Chinese threats and condemnations (like those to Australia), came regardless of the fact that the government had little to do with the events as they transpired. In both of these cases China’s behaviour was condemned by many Western commentators as bullying and a blatant attempt at interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations.

On the issue of international visits by the Dalai Lama, China also has a long record of voicing loud indignation, interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign nations and engaging in threatening behaviour. Recently, the Archbishop of South Africa angrily attacked the ANC government for what he argued was the ceding to Chinese demands to greatly delay the visitor Visa of the Dalai Lama. In the past, China has also attempted to interfere in Australian, French and American government meetings with the Tibetan political leader and it has threatened both the US and Australia with a worsening in relations and Nicholas Sarkozy personally, with trade sanctions against his country if he met with him.

Chinese consumers protests French businesses

More subtly, China has also used its monopoly over the media to mobilise consumer sentiment against the economic interests of foreign nations who it disagrees with. Notably during the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, the state media ran angry stories on what it saw as French complicity in pro Tibetan rallies. The resulting public outcry led to angry rallies and a damaging consumer boycott of French goods, all of which were later publicly supported by the Chinese Foreign Minister and republished for effect in the Chinese news sphere.

In 2011 this behaviour reached, what is hopefully a watershed moment in Sino-Western relations, regarding Western legislation aimed at punishing lower Chinese industry standards and Yuan currency manipulation. On these issues China hit back by blatantly threatening both the US and EU with damaging trade wars both in its press and through diplomatic channels. Specifically regarding recent legislation to combat Chinese currency undervaluation in the US and an emissions trading scheme that would tax Chinese air carriers in Europe, China has made the ultimate faux pas of friendship; openly threatening to harm ones friends.

The aggression and indignation that China deals with its ‘trade friends’ when they exercise their right to self determination or defend their citizens right’s toward freedom of speech and expression is bad PR for a nation that is already mistrusted in the West. It implies a lack of respect for important Western moral institutions and in effect asks them to take up Chinese domestic policy as their foreign policy; namely that human rights come second to state power, all Chinese dissidents are terrorists and that China’s monetary controls are fair. The Chinese media is wont to complain week in and week out about Western distrust and disrespect of China, but their behaviour belies an inability or refusal toward tactful diplomacy in their dealings with the West. This stance, which is commonly interpreted as being disrespectful, runs the risk of reinforcing hard-line political sentiment in the West to mirror China’s own; potentially resulting in more brinksmanship and conflict.

The Great, Phoney Currency War

Led by the United States, many western nations’ strong concerns about the undervaluation of the Chinese RMB have been public knowledge for half a decade. Following China’s recent economic rise, these concerns have slowly gained critical urgency and widespread support however, especially so after the 2009 recession which saw Western unemployment numbers spike as Chinese trade surpluses skyrocketed. The undervalued RMB, which is closely controlled by the Chinese government, is a large reason for the worldwide trade imbalance and despite Western complaints has only risen from 8.3 to 6.5 RMB against the dollar in five years, this despite the dollar losing two fifths of its value over the same period and the Chinese economy overtaking both Europe and Japan.

Looking at these figures, coupled with the almost universal acknowledgement of financial trackers, there seems little doubt that the CCP is deflating the Yuan’s potential via currency exchange manipulation. This method, according to Paul Krugman of the New York Times is “a combination of an export subsidy and an import tariff”; both designated illegal by the WTO and involves pegging the RMB to the dollar and strictly controlling the exchange rate as the it fluctuates.

Despite these arguments however, the CPC seems deaf to the indignation of the West and violently opposed to any outside interference or criticism of their monetary system. This Chinese disregard came to a head last month as lawmakers in the US crossed party lines to attempt to rectify the issue in the senate through a trade tariffs bill.

The Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011, was passed by the US senate in mid October by a relatively non partisan group of Republicans and Democrats whose co-sponsors; senators Brown and Shumer stated after the bills passing that; “today we are fighting back”, the United States has ended “the unilateral disarmament approach we have taken for the past decade.”

This fighting talk has been mirrored in the warnings from the Chinese media too, who have threatened nothing less than a tit-for-tat trade war if the bill is passed by the US house and President’s Office. Citing economic and trade “analysts”, Wang Jianhua and Li Yunlu argued in a People’s Daily article that “long-held fears of a brewing trade war between the United States and China will become a horrible reality, hurtling the world economy into disorder and recession” if the new law goes ahead. The article went on to quote the vice director of a CPC department of economics, Zhao Jinping who all but confirmed the sentiment regarding the senate bill by saying that its implementation would make “a trade war between China and the United States… inevitable”.

Second and third and fourth articles written on the 12th , 13th and 14th, two from People’s Daily and one from the Global times aped the sentiment of Jianhua and Yunlu’s article in predicting the inevitability of a trade war, whose menace would usher in a great depression to make the 1930’s look tame. On the more extreme end of the spectrum according to Jianhua and Yunlu this would see “millions” more unemployed Americans as well as the repatriation of millions more Chinese migrant workers back to their hometowns. Furthermore this bill could damage the mining sector in South America, Australia and Africa as well as the high-end manufacturing sectors of Japan, the European Union, and North America. The two go on to state in their apocalyptic vision, that the resulting protectionism of nations could plunge markets “into prolonged turmoil, and the already severe European and U.S. debt crises may escalate rapidly”.

Cui Tiankai, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister

The aforementioned October 12th article from People’s Daily carried quotes from the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s vice minister, Cui Tiankai, which placed serious weight behind these threats. Cui, in claiming that the bill violated WTO regulations concluded that “the only result would be a trade war between China and the US” and that ominously, “it would be a lose-lose situation for both sides.”

The result of all of this conflict, according to the Chinese press, is that the incident serves the crass political needs of the two US parties heading into elections looking for outside sources to blame for the economy. This Chinese narrative; that American scapegoating of the RMB is the beginning and end of an issue already mired in the failings of the democratic system, belies an inability to consider Western concerns and is no good for international relations. The rancorous and condescending way in which the CPC has responded to the bill and the historical grievances behind it will do their reputation no favors either. In effect the CCP has done very little in the last five years to allay Western concerns, further, not once in any of the articles released in the aftermath of the bill did any Chinese publication make mention of the ‘undervaluation’ other than to simply say that Western claims were “supposed” or “unfounded”.

On this issue China seems to be publicly prepared to let the ‘world burn’ rather than to cede or negotiate in any capacity to Western concerns, despite the strong evidence behind them. As such, Chinese worries about the “high tech” and “mining sectors” of foreign regions seems facetious; it is evident that this conflict is another example of Sino/US conflict, especially when considering China’s expressed threats to engage in brinksmanship and eye for an eye diplomacy. It all seems for nothing though, whether because of timidity or the development of alternative strategies to deal with the trade surplus, both the house majority leader John Boener and the White House have signaled that they will scupper the tariffs bill.

Considering the bill’s impotence, and acknowledging that the CCP is most likely aware of it, is it best to assume that on this issue that China is just trying to look tough by scaling a monetary ‘molehill’?


China’s new KGB mindset?

The recent amendment of China’s longstanding “Criminal Procedure” Law, specifically passages concerning the legalisation of “secret detentions”, has created a level of home-grown concern and criticism not heard since the arrest of the prominent Chinese artist and government critic Ai Weiwei in early 2011. The wide ranging reform of the justice system, the largest and most important changes in 15 years, has been heralded via a period of public consultation in order for the Chinese people to become familiar with the new ammendments. Of particular note to some non-party political voices however, including close associates of Mr Weiwei, is the content of just one paragraph in the new proposal;

“the public security organ shall take a detained person into custody (and) within 24 hours notify his family or the unit to which he belongs of the reasons for the detention and the place of custody, unless it is impossible to notify or (his/her crime is related to) endangering State security or terrorism (for) such notification would hinder investigation“.

On paper this reading differs very little from the original 1970’s clause wherein;

“within 24 hours after a person has been detained, his family or the unit to which he belongs shall be notified of the reasons for detention and the place of custody, except in circumstances where such notification would hinder the investigation or there is no way of notifying them“.

Though Ai Weiwei, formerly imprisoned for “tax evasion” can’t speak to the media (the terms of his probation), his wife Lu Qing can, and has attempted to raise awareness of the potential consequences of this change in wording though. Her complaint, recently echoed by Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia in the Western media, is that the law offers further loopholes to a police force already accused of over judicious behaviour with regards to policing civic rights campaigners. Claiming that the laws’ enabling of detention without charge, away from police stations and prisons, would slow “China’s progress toward civilization”, Lu Qing appealed against the malevolence of the bill by drawing on her own experiences; “It’s horrible not to know where your family is” and “a notice to the family members is the most basic right”. Meanwhile Hu Jia, in comparing the law to the worst of the former KGBs’ practices, stated that it “violates the minimum humanity of the suspect who is not yet convicted… and the innocent family members” and only makes legal what activists in China believe the police have been doing “illegally” since the “Jasmine Revolution” this year.

Ai Weiwei in hospital in Germany, recovering from brain swelling after a Police beating in China months before.

The concerns shown by some over this amendment, though largely ignored in China, have found airtime in the West, where coverage of Ai Weiwei, his contemporaries and Chinese human rights issues is attracting more attention. Pre-emptively perhaps, China Daily, weeks before the issue became major news in the West, responded to the ‘issues’ of the bill in a relatively even handed dissection of the issue on the 13th of September. The article, titled “Debate: Criminal Procedure Law”, featured three Chinese experts, all with differing opinions of the bill,  discussing the consequences of its enaction and the concerns of its  detractors.

The opening argument, by Wan Danhong, an associate professor of law at the China University of Political Science and Law, titled “A welcome move in the right direction”;  simply states that the further clarification and honing of the law can be only a good thing. Danhong argues against the belief that “secret arrests” will result from this legislation by reminding readers that only under the serious crimes of “endangering State security, or… terrorism” is it prosecutable. Instead, she argues that the law clarifies the position of the police in terms of publicising arrests and goes on to imply that this law will impede rather than encourage incorrect police actions in the future and that the amendment solidifies defendant rights with “the exceptions in two specific conditions”. Denhong concludes that this should definitely be seen as progress “in the transparency of laws and regulations” and that “misinterpretations of the clauses are not the best way(s) to analyze an amendment.”

The second opinion of the new amendments in the article comes from Zhang Benqiang, who was notably more cautious in naming his piece “Public must be protected from ill effects”. Benqiang begins by questioning assertions made from government sources and apologists about the harmless nature of the bill to Chinese civil liberties. In opening he states that “it is difficult to define severe crimes such as “endangering State security” in China and that, abuses of these designations have occurred before; notably in the case of Anhui Legal, a journalist detained for gathering information on ‘forced removals’, who was charged for “harming social security”. Following on from this Benqiang states that the “right to interpret” actions such as “endangering state security” will lie solely with the police and is a “farce” that could result in public apathy with the system. He also elaborates on the clause which allows for secrecy when “it is impossible to notify” families; wherein he states that the change in wording sounds like the bill is allowing authorities to withhold information when they “do not want to notify”, giving free reign in the implementation of secret arrests. In concluding Benqiang states that one result of the vague nature of the law will be that Chinese citizens will suspect police motives in its implementation and that they will not accept it as an “excuse to justify secret arrests”, if that is indeed its purpose.

The third opinion on the bill, from Zhang Yuzhe, titled “Vague clauses have to be clarified in detail” echoes Zhang Benqiangs’ point on the vagaries of the law and the negative consequences that its “loopholes” could have on the credibility of the Chinese justice system. Yuzhe does, however elaborate on some of the benefits of the amendments, not least the supposed enaction of legal protection against “self incrimination”: torture, which in 2011 seems less than timely. Yuzhe also makes pains to explain the history of the bill, putting the argument into perspective; “even the existing law allows police not to notify relatives… if they think doing so could impede an investigation”. As such Yuzhe implies that looking at the bill on its own makes the criticism seem overblown, especially considering the new draft does not create new laws, only expands old ones. Furthermore there certainly are situations, Yuzhe concedes; legally warranting “non notification” of the relatives of accused citizens, for the which, the application of this law seems valid. The author’s main thrust is still similar to that above however; whatever the case, the law should notify families and provide evidence in a timely manner after an arrest. Yuzhe stresses that the clause ‘impossible to notify’ ”provides too large (a) space for police discretion”; potentially allowing “secret arrests”; which will impede suspects rights and damage the credibility of legal system. Like Benqiang, Yuzhe also provides examples of what the new law change could encourage via the story of another journalist arrested in secret and only publicly charged (and his family notified) five days after intense local media coverage. Considering the law from this perspective, not from in a vacuum, worries surrounding the bill and police behaviour do seem valid, on this Benqiang concludes “the new draft…may create bigger loopholes that…undermine human rights”.

Despite the fact that it could break international law (forced disappearances are illegal) if used to silence “dissidents” and journalists, the passage of the new law through public consultation could proceed unchanged and could be a huge blow for artists and protesters like Ai Weiwei and Hu Jia. The more interesting facet of this story however is not so much the implications of the bill as the veracity of the China Daily debate on it; which has been uncharacteristically open-minded and fair in allowing for discussion of a politically sensitive issue. Whether this article’s even-handedness implies CPC uncertainty over whether the bill should be passed (they want to measure public reaction), is the result of strong journalistic pressure or is because of some other reason (only Wan Danhong’s ‘positive’ stance was “previously published”; it may have only been fully published in English) is difficult to say however. Regardless, considering China’s sordid history of “secret arrests” going back to the 1950’s, this law, if passed could very well herald the emergence in popularity of ‘KGB’ styled action against Chinese political expression and would be a very definite step away from the human rights goals that China argues it aspires to. In-fact, if this becomes the case, it would be very illegal and would put the current CPC caucus on par with that of the the cultural revolution era government for human rights abuses and misleading sentiments.