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China Enacted New Data Security Law

The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress passed the Data Security Law (DSL) on June 10, elevating government regulation of private sector data. The new law, which will take effect on September 1, regulates the collection, use, processing and transmission of data and demonstrates Beijing’s growing ambition for data control.

The DSL provides that companies that violate the national core data management system, “endanger national sovereignty, security and development interests,” or illegally transfer “important national data” overseas will face fines of up to 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) and may be forced to close down.

The law applies a broad definition of “core data.” It refers to any data “related to national security, the lifeline of the national economy, important people’s livelihoods, vital public interests, and other concerns.”

DSL details how data collected by enterprises inside China should be exported, including operators of “critical information infrastructures,” energy, transportation, finance, public communication and other fields. The cross-border transfer of such data will be subject to the provisions of the Cybersecurity Law.

In the Cybersecurity Law enacted effective in 2017, Chinese regulators formally made data localization a prerequisite for foreign financial institutions attempting to gain a foothold in China. In the same year the U.S. tech giant Apple promised to store its customers’ cloud-based data in a company owned by the Chinese government, and to set up data centers in China.

On May 12, China also released “Certain Regulations on the Security Management of Automobile Data Security (Draft for Public Opinion),” which prohibits the transmission of driving data involving road traffic, vehicle location, images and other data outside China. Soon afterwards, Tesla announced that it would set up several data centers in China. On June 11, the second of the enactment of DSL, Tesla posted on its Weibo account, “(We) will strictly comply with the data security law.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is increasingly inclined to tighten data control. Radio Free Asia cites sources familiar with internal discussions that Xi once said in a closed-door meeting, “Whoever controls the data has the initiative.”

Source: Radio Free Asia, June 14, 2021

Police Respond to Student Protests with Violent Crackdown

After the educational authorities told independent colleges in Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces about China’s intention that they merge with vocational institutes to form a “vocational and technical college,” unhappy students from several schools staged demonstrations and lodged protests on campus. Some petitioned at the education department of the provincial governments. The police responded with a violent crackdown; some students were beaten and some were arrested. After the outbreak, the local government called a halt to the merger.

The cause of the student’s demonstrations was the Ministry of Education’s mandate to merge independent colleges and vocational institutes into vocational and technical colleges. Because the vocational institutes or colleges are viewed as less prestigious, students from independent colleges fear their degrees will be devalued after the merger.

Some students petitioned at the Department of Education at the Jiangsu Provincial government last Saturday, before the riot police forcibly dragged them into buses. Several thousand students from Xinglin College of Nantong University, Zhijiang College of Zhejiang University of Technology, and Zhongbei College of Nanjing Normal University, have also protested on campus.

The videos circulated online show that a large number of police surrounded the campus. Some students were dragged away, while some were badly beaten. A student from Zhongbei College posted that the school, instead of responding to students’ requests, sent police to block the campus and prevent students and parents from entering and exiting. The student said, “There have been bloody incidents of violent law enforcement in which students on campus were injured.”

One student explained in a post that what they opposed was not the merger, but the downgrading of the college. They worked through the college entrance exam and paid the expensive tuition in order to earn a bachelor’s degree only to see the college downgraded to a vocational school at graduation. This could affect their future if they attend graduate school or it could affect their career in public service.

After the clash between the police and the students, the Department of Education of Zhejiang Province and Jiangsu Province announced a complete suspension of the merger, stressing that they “will seriously listen to the opinions and suggestions from the students and faculty of the independent colleges.”

In mainland China, an independent college is a joint venture between government operated universities and the private sector. Although the tuition fee is three or four times higher than normal universities, they are popular among some students because of the low admission standards and the mention of the university on the graduation certificate. The Ministry of Education issued a notice last year, demanding all independent colleges to make a plan to end the venture. They can either switch to a pure private or public college, or simply terminate operation.

Source: Radio Free Asia, June 8, 2021

Nigerian Government in Talks with China’s Cyber Regulator to Build Nigerian Internet Firewall

According to a report from the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), a Nigeria based not-for-profit organization, Internet users in Nigeria suddenly found themselves unable to log on to Twitter over the weekend and had to use a virtual private network (VPN) to access it. The report indicated that the Nigerian government is discussing plans with the Chinese government to build an Internet firewall, with the intention of following China’s lead in controlling social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

For the past several years, the Nigerian government has been seeking a way to control online speech. Less than a year after the new president Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, he stepped up legislation to control cyberspace as well as news media.

In November 2017, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ordered the shutdown of 21 websites that supported anti-government groups. Between 2018 and 2019, the government was exploring the use of Open Source Internet Intelligence (OSINT) to track Internet users on social media who are critical of the government. 2019 saw the introduction of two bills in Nigeria’s parliament: a comprehensive bill to ban hate speech and a bill to prevent fake news and other related crimes on the Internet. Such proposals caused a public outcry in Nigeria and did not receive a final vote in parliament.

The FIJ has learned that the Nigerian government, through the office of the President, reached out to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to discuss plans to build an Internet firewall. This would enable the Nigerian government to control the media space and to create laws that would criminalize speech against the government.

The CAC is the central internet regulator, censor, oversight and control agency for China. It answers to the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, headed by Xi Jinping, China’s President. Since it came into existence, the CAC, which also gives approval to the data of Chinese companies outside of China, has been regulating user names on the Chinese Internet, licensing news information services, and banning comments that “harm national security” or “harm the nations honor.”

Nigeria’s surveillance capabilities rank high on the continent. In 2018, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) was allocated $12.8 million for a surveillance project called Stravinsky Project 2. Other budget allocations intended to increase the surveillance capabilities of both the ONSA and the Department of State Security (DSS) included a ‘Social Media Mining Suite,’ a ‘Wolverine Next Generation SDRIMSI,’ a ‘Surveillance Drone’ and ‘Mobile Surveillance Facilities.’

Freedom House, a US-based advocacy group, revealed that the surveillance projects such as Stravinsky Project 2 still received allocation in the 2019 and 2020 budget proposals.

Source: Radio France International, June 7, 2021

China Considers Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law

Xinhua News Agency reported that, on July 7, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) of China was deliberating the “Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law (Draft).”

A spokesperson of the Standing Committee was quoted as saying that “certain Western countries, out of a need for political manipulation and ideological bias, have grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs on issues related to Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and have imposed ‘sanctions’ on China in accordance with their own laws.”

The spokesperson said that, many people proposed that it was necessary for the country to enact a special anti-foreign sanctions law to provide “strong legal support and protection for China to counter discriminatory measures from foreign countries in accordance with the law.”

In addition, the Standing Committee of the NPC also proposed in one report to “enrich the legal ‘toolbox’ to deal with challenges and prevent risks, considering the sanctions and interference.”

In recent years, China and Europe and the United States have been engaged in battles of sanctions against each other over Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Following China’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong, the U.S. sanctioned 14 vice chairmen of the National People’s Congress, as well as Hong Kong and the Macau Affairs Office Director Xia Baolong, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and a couple of senior Hong Kong officials, among others. In retaliation, China sanctioned former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a group of “anti-Beijing” Members of Congress by banning them from entering China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Source: Central News Agency, June 8, 2021

For a Third Time, Hungary Vetoed EU’s Criticism of China on Hong Kong

On June 7, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, in his annual speech to German diplomats, criticized Hungary without naming it. “We can’t let ourselves be held hostage by the people who hobble European foreign policy with their vetoes. If you do that then sooner or later you are risking the cohesion of Europe. The veto has to go, even if that means we can be outvoted.”

Hungary is seen by the media as a Trojan horse that China planted into Europe. It has become the spokesman for China in the EU and has repeatedly prevented the body from condemning human rights in China, putting Europe under the risk of being divided. After Hungary used its veto three times within two months to prevent the EU from issuing statements on Hong Kong’s national security law and electoral reform, German Foreign Ministry of State Secretary Miguel Berger tweeted against Hungary. “Hungary again blocked an EU statement on Hong Kong. Three weeks ago it was on the Middle East. Common foreign and security policy cannot work on the basis of a blocking policy.”

Asked to comment on the Friday veto, the Hungarian government’s media office said EU sanctions on China were “pointless, presumptuous and harmful.” Hungary blocked an earlier EU statement in April criticizing China’s new security law in Hong Kong, thereby undermining the bloc’s efforts to confront Beijing’s curbing of freedoms in the former British colony.

Berger’s tweet raises concern because it is unusual for a member state to criticize another member state publicly over diplomatic issues, reflecting the fact that other EU countries, especially large ones like Germany, are getting closer to the bottom of their tolerance for Hungary. Some member states and the EU may already be thinking of taking action against Hungary.

Three weeks ago, Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, complained about Hungary’s obstruction and warned that the other 26 member states may issue their own joint statement on Hong Kong. Maas called on the EU to stop making decisions on foreign action by unanimity. Because the EU’s foreign policy decisions are made by unanimous vote, any member state can boycott them, making it difficult for the EU to speak out in a unified voice.

The EU said it would investigate Hungary for violating democratic values. The European Court of Justice said that Hungary’s public displeasure with the EU and its request to dismiss the accusation of serious violations of democratic values against Hungary was rejected. Next, Hungary will be investigated by the European Court of Justice and, if it is found to be in serious violation of democratic values, it will be subject to economic and political penalties .

Source: Radio Free Asia, June 9, 2021

Chinese Customs Announced List of Unqualified Imports, Naming H&M and Nike

On June 1, China’s General Administration of Customs announced a list of unqualified imported children’s products. Swedish clothing brand H&M and U.S. sports brand Nike are on the list for using hazardous materials. H&M and Nike were targets of a boycott in China after Chinese netizens unearthed old statements from the brands stating that they had taken a stand against cotton sourced from the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang over concerns about reports of forced labor involving the Muslim Uyghur minority.

The official website of the General Administration of Customs (GAC) of China reported the quality of some imported children’s products investigated over the past year, involving 81 batches of imported children’s products in five categories: clothing, toys, toothbrushes, shoes, and pacifiers and bottles. Among them, ten brands including H&M, Nike, MUJI, ARCELO BURLON, Bonton, GAP, GU, mikiHOUSE, STORY LORIS, and ZARA allegedly failed to pass the standard for rubbing color fastness, or the ability to sustain the original color of dyed fabrics when rubbing. GAC claimed there is a risk that dyes or harmful substances may be absorbed by the human body through the skin, mouth and other health hazards.

Source: Central News Agency, June 1, 2021

Chinese Investment in Eastern Europe’s Clean Energy

China’s state media People’s Daily reported the official launch of a 100 MW solar power plant in Kaposvár, Hungary last week. The project, built by China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CMC), is expected to generate 130 million kilowatts of electricity per year, saving 45,000 tons of standard coal and reducing 120,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions after it is connected to the grid.

The Kaposvár plant is the largest solar power plant in Hungary in terms of installed capacity. The paper quoted the Hungarian Minister of Innovation and Technology, Laszlo Palkovics, “The ‘Belt & Road Initiative’ is highly compatible with Hungary’s policy of ‘opening up to the east.’ The Kaposvár solar power plant is a key project of cooperation between Hungary and China in the field of clean energy.”

The paper continued, “Due to the high proportion of coal in the energy structure, Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries are generally facing the challenge of energy transition. … CEE countries have set their own emission reduction targets and energy transition tasks and are vigorously investing in hydrogen, nuclear, solar, wind and other clean energy. Many Chinese enterprises have actively participated in the energy transition of CEE countries. Many Chinese manufacturers of new energy vehicles, lithium battery and parts have set up factories in CEE countries. A large number of green, low-carbon, eco-friendly and popular clean energy projects have been steadily promoted. Projects such as the Mozura wind farm in Montenegro, the combined cycle power plant in Pančevo, Serbia, and the hydropower plant in Dabar, Bosnia and Herzegovina have completed or started construction, bringing huge economic and environmental benefits to the local communities.”

The report also mentioned the solar power plant in Poland. The China-Central and Eastern Europe Investment Cooperation Fund invested in it and acquired it. In February, the plant’s first batch of four projects were officially completed and connected to the grid after one year of construction. Poland’s Minister of Climate and Environment Michał Kurtyka said, “By 2040, half of Poland’s installed power generation capacity should have zero-emissions. We very much hope that Chinese companies actively participate in the development of Poland’s clean energy industry and look for mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation opportunities.”

Source: People’s Daily, June 3, 2021

Italian Parliament Condemned China’s Human Rights

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the lower house of the Italian Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, passed a motion on May 26 expressing its strongest condemnation of “the various human rights violations that China has committed against its ethnic minorities and religious groups.” It called on China to grant the UN High Commissioner access to “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. The resolution from the parliament of the first European country who joined China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” certainly dealt a blow to China.

The motion shows that the pro-China trade and economic policy of the former Italian government has begun to falter. In particular, since he became prime minister in February this year, Mario Draghi, the former president of the European Central Bank, has come to the forefront of the European Union’s efforts to strengthen its tough stance on China. Draghi had recently invoked its so-called Golden Power to block China’s takeover of a semiconductor firm in Italy.

The Chamber of Deputies did not adopt the use of the term “genocide”, which has been used by the Canadian and U.S. governments. In Europe, the British Parliament first proposed to adopt the finding that the Chinese government’s serious and systematic violations against the Uighurs in Xinjiang were genocide. Because the discussion of “genocide” caused a serious political division, the motion ultimately chose to avoid the word.

The motion calls on the Draghi government and EU partner countries to take a “firm stand” against China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which include illegal birth control, the repression of religious freedom, forced labor in detention camp factories, arbitrary detention and the use of digital technology for surveillance purposes.

Laura Harth, campaign director of Safeguard Defenders, a human rights non-governmental organization, told Radio Free Asia, “The bill was debated in Parliament and the media made a big deal out of it. Before it was very difficult to discuss the Uighur issue in Italy, but the epidemic from China has significantly changed the attitude of the MP’s.”

Italy, single-handedly signing the “Belt and Road Memorandum” with Beijing among EU member states, has been seen as an important bridgehead for China to conquer EU. The Italian public began to see the other side of China upon the outbreak of the epidemic, as well as from receiving the fake news spread by Chinese diplomats on Twitter, claiming that Italians were grateful for Chinese aid and were playing the Chinese national anthem. In March, Deputy Foreign Minister Marina Sereni summoned the Chinese Ambassador to protest against the sanctions that  China imposed on several European parliamentarians and to reiterate Italy’s position in defense of human rights and freedoms.

Source: Radio Free Asia, May 31, 2021