The Daily Visionary: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Photo Credit: Economist

Photo Credit: Economist

Critics call Beijing’s new social credit system 'Orwellian'


Chinese state media has reported Beijing’s municipal government will assign citizens and firms “personal trustworthiness points” by 2021, implementing China’s controversial plan for a “social credit” system for the first time to monitor citizens and businesses. The social credit system, which is being built on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted” will encourage government bodies to share more information about individual and business misdeeds in order to coordinate punishments and rewards.


Critics say it could massively heighten the Chinese Communist Party’s already strict control over society and made comparisons to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Human rights groups are concerned that as the system is fully implemented it may widen its use of apps and citizens’ social media behaviour to rate them, including using information about political allegiances.


In a roadmap plan released by Beijing’s municipal government in 2014, China said it would create a “social credit system” to reward or punish individuals and corporations using technology to record various measures of financial credit, personal behavior, and corporate misdeeds. Lists of data, actions, and measures would be used to create a trial system of “personal trustworthiness points” for residents and companies in the Chinese capital; the term used can also be translated as “creditworthiness” or “integrity”. People in certain professions will face particular scrutiny, including teachers, accountants, journalists, medical doctors, veterinarians, and tour guides.


However, in a new plan released on Monday to improve the city’s business environment, there was no mention of using points, nor detail of how the point system would work. Rather, it said information from the system could impact market access, public services, travel, employment, and the ability to start businesses, with trustworthy individuals being provided a “green channel” and those who are blacklisted being “unable to move a step”.


China’s Xinhua news agency said the plan should serve as an example to the rest of the nation for how to improve the behavior of individuals and businesses. According to an unnamed municipal state planner, “This is an important novel approach by Beijing to assess individuals’ credit and tie it to their whole life.” A second system will also be set up to assess the trustworthiness of government officials and departments by measuring whether contracts and promises are honored, the results of which will be included in performance assessments.


Wen Quan, a Chinese blogger who writes about technology and finance, said the following when the plan was first announced: “Many people don't own houses, cars or credit cards in China, so that kind of information isn't available to measure. "The central bank has the financial data from 800 million people, but only 320 million have a traditional credit history. 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.


The Chinese government is watching the progress of Sesame Credit, a private credit system run by Ant Financial, which is owned by the world's biggest online shopping platform, Alibaba, with its 400 million users. Its unique database of consumer information compiles individual "social credit" scores, where 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.

Johan Lagerkvist, Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, told Wired: "It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It's Amazon's consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist.”


France and Germany want an EU Army to rival NATO


On November 6, French President Emanuel Macron called for the creation of a European army to protect the continent from growing military threats, saying China and Russia were becoming increasingly powerful, and claiming the United States (U.S.) could not be relied upon for defence claiming some of the actions taken by President Donald Trump could have negative consequences for security in Europe. A week later, on November 13, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the creation of a 'real, true' European army during a speech to European Union (E.U.) ministers.


Chancellor Merkel has called for a European Security Council that would be responsible for coordinating defence policy across the continent. In October 2018, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said a legal framework exists for a European Defence Union, declaring, “The structures that have been ‘sleeping’ for a long time inside the Treaty of Lisbon - now we have activated them.”


A European army is not a new idea. In the 1990s, French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl proposed a similar concept. The 1999 The Common Security and Defence Policy was strengthened with the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon, under the rarely used mutual defense clause Article 42.7.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, has helped to maintain peace in the West since the end of the Second World War. It is an intergovernmental military alliance that has existed since April 4, 1949 between twenty-nine North American and European countries, committed to the principle of collective defense, where an attack against one or several of its members is considered an attack against all.


American President Donald Trump has criticized the idea of a European army, saying European countries should continue to support NATO instead. The United States pays the most to fund NATO at 22 percent, followed by France and the United Kingdom (U.K.) at 11 percent and Germany at 10 percent. European countries are obligated to meet a threshold of 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) spending on military expenditures, though nearly none of them do. The U.K. will be leaving the E.U. in March 2019 and is a strong opponent of military integration and a long-term advocate of NATO. Nearly 25 percent of the E.U.’s current military expenditure comes from the U.K., which has blocked moves towards an integrated defence force.


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces immigration cuts


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had stated he will cut the number of migrants coming to Australia. As Cabinet determines a new population policy, PM Morrison predicted the impending changes would lower the annual immigration target from its cap of 190,000, saying, “Population growth has played a key role in our economic success. But I also know Australians in our biggest cities are concerned about population.” 162,000 permanent visas were approved in the twelve months ending June 30.


A Fairfax – Ipsos poll in October 2018 found 45 percent of voters supported a reduction in the annual intake as the population climbs past 25 million, and 52 percent backed the idea of keeping or increasing the number of immigrants coming to Australia. The survey showed a narrow majority of Coalition supporters wanted fewer migrants, with 54 percent saying they wanted “a little or a lot” cut from the annual intake compared toy 44 percent of Labour voters who said the same.


"The roads are clogged; the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments. I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear," PM Morrison said, noting "community sentiment" towards migration must be considered in addition to the economic impacts. He has requested state premiers create their own population plans to be discussed at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting, scheduled for December 12.


At the annual Bradfield Lecture, PM Morrison said the following: "The old model of a single, national number determined by Canberra is no longer fit for purpose … My approach will be to move away from top-down discussions about population to set our migration intake caps. I anticipate that this will lead to a reduction in our current migration settings … It is the states who build hospitals, approve housing developments, plan roads and know how many kids will be going into their schools in the future … The states and territories know better than any what the population carrying capacity is for their existing and planned infrastructure and services. So, I plan to ask them, before we set our annual caps."


Reasserting the economic benefits of migration to Australia, PM Morrison conceded population growth also had its costs, and Sydney and Melbourne had become "a victim of our success", saying, "Here in Sydney migrants accounted for around 70 percent of population growth last year. This has created its own pressure points – and pressure points in population always manifest themselves in housing and infrastructure." New figures show Melbourne is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants to halve the state's migration intake.


The center-right Coalition government believes it can revamp the current migration settings to better disperse new arrivals in regional areas. While the annual intake will be lowered, the changes may see the government increase the proportion of skilled migrants coming to Australia at the expense of others. Citing the mining boom, PM Morrison said the ability for migrants to move to areas where they had a good chance of finding a job was essential.


President Trump opens oil exploration in Alaska previously blocked by former President Obama


In 2017, United States’ Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered officials to re-write the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A) management plan written under former President Barack Obama’s administration, which had blocked nearly half of the 22 million-acre NPR-A from energy exploration.


The Interior Department is determining which areas can be open to oil and gas exploration and for conservation purposes. The new management plan aims to boost Alaska’s oil and gas industry, which has experienced declining production. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the NPR-A is estimated to hold 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The NPR-A is the largest block of land owned by the federal government, which was set aside by Congress decades ago for oil and gas production for the U.S. Navy. The Trump administration held the largest NPR-A lease sale ever in 2017, offering nine hundred tracts of land totaling around 10 million acres.


In 2013, the Obama administration declared 11.8 million acres of NPR-A off-limits to drilling, siding with environmental activists who argued enough land is already being developed, opening more land could harm the NPR-A’s ecosystem, and claiming there’s little industry interest in developing more. Energy companies and Republicans argued otherwise, saying the Obama administration’s plan hampered operations in the region and put potentially productive areas out of reach.


The Trump administration is also moving forward with opening the coastal “1002” area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Drilling is supported by the tribe that lives on the coastal plain but opposed by those living in ANWR’s interior where there will be no drilling.


Interior Secretary Zinke says California fires partly due to environmentalists


After visiting the California wildfire zone this past weekend, United States (U.S.) Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke has said that lawsuits by environmentalists who have attempted to stop forest management practices, such as forest thinning, are partially responsible for the deadly California wildfires. He said “radical environmentalists” have filed lawsuits insisting “nature take its course” and that the wildfires are the consequence of allowing nature to do so.


I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years and, you know what, this is on themRadical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forest,” Secretary Zinke said. He went on to say, “Forests need active management,” mentioning beetle kills and drought, and that “The amount of fuel in the forest is at historic highs.


Secretary Zinke said Germany was a model of forest management, and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto also recently told U.S. President Trump that their country rarely has wildfires because their forest management practices include clearing of the forest floor. Both Germany and Finland use prescribed burns late in the season to remove dead and dying timber.


U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said forest management practices need to be sped up and hoped federal agencies could get more authority under legislation. However, he said, years of neglect means it could take years for authorities to catch up to forest management, such as thinning out the fuel of dead trees and dry underbrush and improving emergency roads.