Geopolitics

Why Russia And China See Eye-To-Eye On Cyber Security

Unlike with Washington, Moscow and Beijing agree on how the state can monitor the Internet. Kommersant reports on a new Sino-Russia partnership set to be signed next month.

The penguins are watching at Tencent headquarters in Guangzhou, China
The penguins are watching at Tencent headquarters in Guangzhou, China
Elena Chernenko, Vladislav Novyii and Ivan Safronov

MOSCOW — During President Vladimir Putin's visit to Beijing next month, he is expected to seal a bilateral agreement on cyber-security between Russia and China, according to a source close to the Kremlin and confirmed by two other federal officials. They say presidential advisor Igor Shchyogolev is overseeing the document's final draft, but the final text is not yet available.

Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are also expected to make their first joint announcement about cyber-security, which Kommersant sources say will be substantially broader than last year's agreement between Russia and the United States.

In 2013, Putin and Barack Obama signed the first-ever bilateral agreement on measures of trust in cyberspace, almost like an electronic "non-aggression pact." Included as part of this agreement was the creation of a direct hotline from Washington to Moscow meant to prevent the escalation of cyber incidents, much like the Cold War hotline designed to prevent nuclear war. The agreement also created channels for bilateral exchange of information related to national cyber-security and preparedness. These channels were created during the preparations for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Russia had hoped to reinforce its relationship with the United States in this arena, with a special working group envisioned to continue working on online security. But because of the events in Ukraine, Washington halted its participation in the working group, although the agreement (including the hotline) continues to be in force.

Instead, Russia and China are now busy forging a new partnership on cyber-security. According to Valeria Yashchenko, vice director of the Institute of Cyber Security at Moscow State University, "a bilateral agreement between Russia and China — two major cyber powers — is long overdue."

When asked if the two sides might be trying to protect themselves in case of potential conflict (as was the case in the agreement with the U.S., which was reminiscent of nuclear-arms agreements), Yashchenko says, "Not necessarily. Moscow and Beijing just want to work together."

Protecting sovereignty, hunting terrorists

Russia and China certainly have more in common when it comes to cyber-security and Internet management than either country has in common with the United States. This was clear in a recent announcement regarding the Russian-Chinese interagency consultation on international information security. That document clarified that both sides would act against the use of information technology "for the use of interfering in the internal affairs of a country; to undermine the sovereignty or the political, economic or social stability of a country; to disrupt the peace, as propaganda for terrorism, extremism or separatism; to incite inter-ethnic or inter-religious hate or for the use of any criminal or terrorist goals."

Xi and Putin last year. Photo: Kremlin

The document also said that both countries support the "internationalization" of Internet management, which would entail a weakening of the American role in web oversight. Both China and Russia also favor the "sovereign right" of a government to control Internet sites in "its own national segment." The United States, instead, does not recognize the existence of "national segments."

Collaboration between China and Russia in IT and communications has increased in very concrete ways over the past several months. In May, the Russian state telecom company signed a $60 million contract with Chinese company Huawei to build an underwater communication line in the Russian Far East.

In August, the head of the Russian Ministry of Communications reached an agreement with his Chinese counterpart to increase exports of Russian software to China, as well as imports into Russia of servers made by China's largest server manufacturer, Inspur Group. The technology will be used by the Russian government to work on systems related to the production of passports and managing elections, among other uses.

At the same time, the partnership between China and the United States on Internet issues seems to be stuck. "The United State's incorrect position does not permit us to renew the Sino-American talks on this subject," former Chinese foreign minister and State Council member Yang Jiechi said during a recent visit to Washington. Yang was referring to Washington's accusations that China is involved in industrial and governmental cyber espionage.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ