South China Sea: Xi Jinping attends massive naval display

China’s leader Xi Jinping has attended a massive naval display in the disputed South China Sea.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, Mr Xi said the need for a strong navy had “never been more pressing”.

More than 10,000 naval officers, 76 fighter jets and a flotilla of 48 ships and submarines took part in the drill.

Several nations claim parts of the resource-rich South China Sea, but recent years have seen Beijing reasserting its claim.

The naval display, described by Chinese media as the largest of its kind, came ahead of planned live-fire military drills by China in the narrow strait separating it from Taiwan on 18 April.

Chinese man caught by facial recognition at pop concert

Chinese police have used facial recognition technology to locate and arrest a man who was among a crowd of 60,000 concert goers.

The suspect, who has been identified only as Mr Ao, was attending a concert by pop star Jacky Cheung in Nanchang city last weekend when he was caught.

Police said the 31-year-old, who was wanted for “economic crimes”, was “shocked” when he was caught.

China has a huge surveillance network of over 170 million CCTV cameras.

Chinese police unveil camera sunglasses

China sets up huge ‘social credit’ system

China’s Orwellian future?

Mr Ao was identified by cameras at the concert’s ticket entrance, and apprehended by police after he had sat down with other concert goers.

“The suspect looked completely caught by surprise when we took him away,” police officer Li Jin told state news agency Xinhua.

“He didn’t think the police would be able to catch him from a crowd of 60,000 so quickly,” Mr Li, from Honggutan police station in Nanchang city, added.

Mr Li also told China Daily that there were several cameras at the ticket entrances equipped with facial recognition technology.

‘I wouldn’t have gone’

Mr Ao had reportedly driven 90km (56 miles) from Zhangshu to Nanchang with his wife specially to catch the concert.

News site Kan Kan released footage that appeared to show the suspect speaking in police custody, saying: “If I knew, I wouldn’t have gone [to the concert].”

This is not the first time Chinese police have used facial recognition systems to catch suspects.

In August last year, police in Shandong province arrested 25 suspects using a facial recognition system that was set up at the Qingdao International Beer Festival.

China is a world leader in facial recognition technology and regularly reminds its citizens that such equipment will make it almost impossible to evade the authorities.

The country has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”.

An estimated 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and some 400 million new ones are expected be installed in the next three years.

Many of the cameras use artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology.

Why China has fallen in love with a baby radish monster

Huba, cat-sized, resembling a radish with four arms and pointy ears, is the star of China’s biggest local film to date.

The green-haired creature is the main character of Monster Hunt, which has swept the box office since it opened on 16 June.

The plot is, well, unconventional and yet it has collected more than 1.317bn yuan ($212m, £137m) to date. The BBC’s Tessa Wong explains why.

Surreal slapstick

Monster Hunt tells the story of hapless villager Tianyin who gets impregnated with Huba by a monster queen.

Tianyin becomes the target of monster-hating humans as well as monster revolutionaries bent on capturing Huba, who is the heir to the monster kingdom.

Though it sounds bewildering – The Hollywood Reporter called it “a confused and confusing fantasy adventure” – the film has become a huge hit, in part thanks to its familiar appeal to Chinese audiences.

Its slapstick humour – one gag involves Tianyin breastfeeding Huba – is typical of many Chinese comedies, and is best exemplified by the Hong Kong mo lei tau (Cantonese for nonsensical) films of the 1990s.

Two veterans from that genre, Sandra Ng and Eric Tsang, play bit parts in Monster Hunt.

Mo lei tau comedy was a style popularised by Hong Kong comedian Stephen Chow, and in fact Monster Hunt bears some similarities to one of his biggest hits, CJ7, which previously held the China box office record.

The 2008 film starred Chow as a construction worker who discovers a green alien.

Both films feature a fantasy-comedy theme, a bumbling main character who has to protect a cute monster, and a blend of live-action and computer-generated imagery.

Kung Fu fighting

With its elaborate costumes and sets, fight sequences, and fantasy setting which resembles ancient China, Monster Hunt has the look and feel of a wuxia (martial arts hero) film.

Wuxia is a hugely popular and classic genre in Chinese literature, film and opera, and features the swashbuckling adventures of a young male protagonist as he embarks on an epic journey.

The twist, in Monster Hunt, is that Tianyin is not quite the hero as he goes on the run.

Instead he is protected by female warrior Xiaonan, who is a trained monster hunter and agrees to protect Tianyin if she gets to later sell Huba for a profit.

Foreign restrictions

One reason why the film may have done so well is that China severely restricts the release of foreign films to just 34 titles a year so that local titles have a better shot at scoring at the box office.

Those that do get approved for release often get delayed opening dates so that local films can get maximum exposure – a restriction especially apparent in the summer.

In Monster Hunt’s case, there was only one foreign film that was allowed to be released in the same week – Shaun the Sheep Movie – reported Variety.

China is not likely to see another foreign film opening until the end of July, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Controversial ending

Fans have been lapping it up with the film generating buzz online – though some have taken issue with its denouement (warning: spoilers ahead).

After several trials and tribulations, Huba parts ways with Tianyin and Xiaonan and returns to the monster world.

The ending has sparked controversy on social network Weibo, with many calling for a happier ending.

A post by Weibo user Healer_ChenXuelian commenting on that scene has since gone viral and been shared more than 9,000 times. “The ending where Huba was abandoned really made me feel anguished,” she wrote.

Her post attracted hundreds of replies, many of them with crying emojis. “That last scene when Huba… finds that it’s all alone is just too cruel,” said one user.

Trump trade war: China tells US it will defend national interests

China warned the US it will defend its interests on trade, Chinese state media says, after US President Donald Trump backed tariffs on Chinese goods.

The comments came in a phone call between China’s vice-premier Liu He and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mr Trump has announced plans to impose tariffs on up to $60bn (£42.5bn) of Chinese goods, accusing China of intellectual property theft.

The move has rattled markets and stoked fears of a trade war.

Mr Liu, who is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser, told Mr Mnuchin that Beijing was “ready to defend its national interests” but hoped that “both sides will remain rational and work together,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

During the telephone conversation, which is thought to be the highest-level contact between the two governments since Mr Trump announced the tariffs on Thursday, Mr Liu also accused the US of violating international trade rules following its investigation into Chinese intellectual property practices.

  • What is a trade war – and how would it affect me?
  • Trump: Tariffs on $60bn in Chinese goods
  • What could China do in a US trade war?

    Amid the tensions on trade, World Trade Organization Director General Roberto Azevêdo has warned that new trade barriers would “jeopardise the global economy”.

    Mr Trump, however, has said that the US move to raise tariffs against China was already beginning to get results.

    “Many other countries are now negotiating fair trade deals with us,” the president said on Friday.

    Following Mr Trump’s move, China said it was planning to retaliate with its own set of proposed tariffs worth $3bn, including tariffs on groceries and aluminium scrap.

    Beijing has warned the US that it is “not afraid of a trade war”, but has said that it hopes to avoid one through continued dialogue.

Trump trade war: China tells US it will defend national interests

China warned the US it will defend its interests on trade, Chinese state media says, after US President Donald Trump backed tariffs on Chinese goods.

The comments came in a phone call between China’s vice-premier Liu He and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mr Trump has announced plans to impose tariffs on up to $60bn (£42.5bn) of Chinese goods, accusing China of intellectual property theft.

The move has rattled markets and stoked fears of a trade war.

Mr Liu, who is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser, told Mr Mnuchin that Beijing was “ready to defend its national interests” but hoped that “both sides will remain rational and work together,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

During the telephone conversation, which is thought to be the highest-level contact between the two governments since Mr Trump announced the tariffs on Thursday, Mr Liu also accused the US of violating international trade rules following its investigation into Chinese intellectual property practices.

  • What is a trade war – and how would it affect me?
  • Trump: Tariffs on $60bn in Chinese goods
  • What could China do in a US trade war?

    Amid the tensions on trade, World Trade Organization Director General Roberto Azevêdo has warned that new trade barriers would “jeopardise the global economy”.

    Mr Trump, however, has said that the US move to raise tariffs against China was already beginning to get results.

    “Many other countries are now negotiating fair trade deals with us,” the president said on Friday.

    Following Mr Trump’s move, China said it was planning to retaliate with its own set of proposed tariffs worth $3bn, including tariffs on groceries and aluminium scrap.

    Beijing has warned the US that it is “not afraid of a trade war”, but has said that it hopes to avoid one through continued dialogue.

China cracks down on video parodies

China’s media regulator has announced a crackdown on video parodies.

It says video websites are banned from featuring videos that “distort or spoof” classical literature or art, and videos that re-cut or re-voice radio, TV and online programmes.

Chinese bloggers regularly produce spoof videos, including some that mock state media and current events.

China’s internet is tightly controlled – although social media users often try to circumvent the censors.

In a new directive, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said that video platforms should not allow the dissemination of videos that “had been edited to distort the original meaning”.

In 2013, state media reported that the government employed more than two million people to monitor and censor content online.

Correspondents say public discourse has been increasingly censored since President Xi Jinping came to power.

  • Why China is censoring Winnie the Pooh again
  • ‘Two million’ monitor web in China

    Last month, phrases such as “I don’t agree”, “constitution rules” and “Winnie the Pooh” were also censored on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo, after the Communist Party proposed removing a clause in the constitution which limits presidencies to two five-year terms.

    The change has since been approved by the National People’s Congress – effectively allowing Mr Xi to remain in power for life.

Chinese police spot suspects with surveillance sunglasses

Police in China have begun using sunglasses equipped with facial recognition technology to identify suspected criminals.

The glasses are connected to an internal database of suspects, meaning officers can quickly scan crowds while looking for fugitives.

But critics fear the technology will give even more power to the government.

The sunglasses have already helped police capture seven suspects, according to Chinese state media.

Police used the new equipment at a busy train station in the central city of Zhengzhou to identify the suspects.

The seven people who were apprehended are accused of crimes ranging from hit-and-runs to human trafficking.

  • China sets up huge ‘social credit’ system
  • Fear and resentment in Xinjiang state

    Police also identified 26 people who were using fake IDs, the ruling communist party’s People’s Daily newspaper reported.

    The technology allows police officers to take a photograph of a suspicious individual and then compare it to pictures stored in an internal database. If there is a match, information such as the person’s name and address will then be sent to the officer.

    But there are fears that China’s authoritarian leaders will use the sunglasses to track political dissidents or profile ethnic minorities.

    China is a world leader in facial recognition technology and regularly reminds its citizens that such equipment will make it almost impossible to evade the authorities.

    The country has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”.

    An estimated 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and some 400 million new ones are expected be installed in the next three years.

    Many of the cameras use artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology.

China ‘social credit’: Beijing sets up huge system

In most countries, the existence of a credit system isn’t controversial. Past financial information is used to predict whether individuals will pay their mortgages or credit card bill in the future.

But China is taking the whole concept a few steps further. The Chinese government is building an omnipotent “social credit” system that is meant to rate each citizen’s trustworthiness.

By 2020, everyone in China will be enrolled in a vast national database that compiles fiscal and government information, including minor traffic violations, and distils it into a single number ranking each citizen.

That system isn’t in place yet. For now, the government is watching how eight Chinese companies issue their own “social credit” scores under state-approved pilot projects.

One of the most high-profile projects is by Sesame Credit, the financial wing of Alibaba. With 400 million users, Alibaba is the world’s biggest online shopping platform. It’s using its unique database of consumer information to compile individual “social credit” scores.

Users are encouraged to flaunt their good credit scores to friends, and even potential mates. China’s biggest matchmaking service, Baihe, has teamed up with Sesame to promote clients with good credit scores, giving them prominent spots on the company’s website.

“A person’s appearance is very important,” explains Baihe’s vice-president, Zhuan Yirong. “But it’s more important to be able make a living. Your partner’s fortune guarantees a comfortable life.”

More and more of Baihe’s 90 million clients are displaying their credit scores in their dating profiles, doing away with the idea that a credit score is a private matter.

However, Sesame Credit will not divulge exactly how it calculates its credit scores, explaining that it is a “complex algorithm”.

The company refused to give an interview to the BBC, citing concerns that the government would refuse to grant a permanent licence to issue credit scores if it engaged with the foreign media.

Instead, their spokeswoman issued a statement, discounting persistent rumours that the organisation monitors users’ social media activity when assessing their social credit.

Sesame Credit tracks “financial and consumption activities of our users, and materials published on social media platforms do not affect our users’ personal Sesame Credit score,” explained spokeswoman Miranda Shek.

Sesame rates the online financial transactions of those using Alibaba’s payment system, in addition to data it obtains from its partners including the taxi service Didi Kuaidi, rating whether users bothered to settle taxi payments.

Controversially, the company does not hide that it judges the types of products shoppers buy online.

“Someone who plays video games for 10 hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility,” Li Yingyun, Sesame’s technology director told Caixin, a Chinese magazine, in February.

The Chinese authorities are watching the pilot process very carefully. The government system won’t be exactly the same as the private systems, but government officials are certainly taking cues from the algorithms developed under the private projects.

A lengthy planning document from China’s elite State Council explains that social credit will “forge a public opinion environment that trust-keeping is glorious”, warning that the “new system will reward those who report acts of breach of trust”.

Details on the inner workings of the system are vague, though it is clear that each citizen and Chinese organisation will be rated. A long list of people in certain professions will face particular scrutiny, including teachers, accountants, journalists and medical doctors. The special list even includes veterinarians and tour guides.

A national database will merge a wide variety of information on every citizen, assessing whether taxes and traffic tickets have been paid, whether academic degrees have been rightly earned and even, it seems, whether females have been instructed to take birth control.

Critics say the social credit system is “nightmarish” and “Orwellian”. However, some believe that some kind of credit system is badly needed in China.

“Many people don’t own houses, cars or credit cards in China, so that kind of information isn’t available to measure,” explains Wen Quan, a blogger who writes about technology and finance.

“The central bank has the financial data from 800 million people, but only 320 million have a traditional credit history.”

‘Very convenient’

Credit systems build trust between all citizens, Wen Quan says.

“Without a system, a conman can commit a crime in one place and then do the same thing again in another place. But a credit system puts people’s past history on the record. It’ll build a better and fairer society,” she promises.

In a trendy neighbourhood in downtown Beijing, many were enthusiastic when asked about their Sesame Credit ratings, proudly displaying them on their mobile phones.

“It is very convenient,” one young woman smiled. “We booked a hotel last night using Sesame Credit and we didn’t need to leave a cash deposit.”

Sesame has promoted the consumer benefits of a good credit score, from a prominent dating profile on the Baihe matchmaking site to VIP reservations with hotels and car rental companies. A mobile phone game designed by Sesame Credit encourages users to guess whether they have higher or lower credit scores than their friends, encouraging everyone to openly share their ratings.

But few people seemed to understand that a bad score could hurt them in the future, preventing them from receiving a bank loan or signing a lease.

And, even more concerning, many didn’t know they were being rated by Sesame at all. For now, the pilot credit system is voluntary, though it’s difficult to circumvent. Online shopping is a part of life in modern Chinese cities and Alibaba’s financial payment service is ubiquitous.

“We repeatedly remind our customers that using Sesame Credit is voluntary,” explains the matchmaking site’s vice president, Zhuan Yirong.

“But people really care about trust and honesty. Alibaba’s data can provide certain kind of proof. It’s not 100% accurate, but at least it’s one more filter for people to know each other better.”

Perhaps it is good for all citizens to learn quickly about the concept of a “social credit” score, while it is still partly voluntary. Within five years, the government’s mandatory system will rank everyone within China’s borders.