Lowy Institute

The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Google has overhauled its translation service using an AI-powered translator. Available now for Mandarin, Quartz journalists put the new AI method to the test.
  • As Indonesia becomes an increasingly digital nation, opportunities abound to use new technologies to bring Australia and Indonesia closer.
  • There has been no mobile internet in India-administered Kashmir for over two months.
  • North Korea has accidentally revealed it hosts only these 28 websites (as a comparison Germany has 16 million, China 10 million).
  • Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung received an online roasting via Facebook Live last week when his press briefing was flooded with angry emoticons.
  • The NY Times reports on China's start-up boom.
  • There is scepticism from all corners about India's preparedness for cyber attacks.
  • Chinese cyber operations are shifting and it appears operators previously attacking US and western targets have been re-tasked to exploit targets in Asia.
  • How social media is creating an alternative space for assembly, freedom of expression and a challenge to the political elite in Fiji.
  • Xinhua, China's state news agency,  is under fire for sexist tweeting via its sports-focused Twitter account.
  • Silicon Valley investors are trying to disrupt India's seafood market with new delivery service freshtohome.com.
  • China's most valuable company, internet giant Tencent (WeChat, QQ.com), tries to disrupt itself before it is forcibly disrupted. This style of 'intrapreneurship' involves enlisting multiple teams to work on the same products and problems (currently six teams are working on a new live-streaming service).
  • North Korea's state broadcaster KCTV has introduced a basic Netflix style on-demand streaming service called 'Manbang'. In a very 90s fashion, KCTV explains how it works:

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Mapping China’s opaque aid program in the Pacific Islands was more complicated and time-consuming than I had anticipated. I made peace with this fact when I found myself building a makeshift 270-degree visual cocoon out of every electronic device in my apartment so that I could cross-check the various colour-drenched excel spreadsheets feeding into the Lowy Institute’s updated Chinese aid in the Pacific map.

Earlier this month, the Lowy Institute’s Melanesia program launched a major update to the Institute’s flagship research mapping project on Chinese Aid in the Pacific.  The map now contains a decade of Chinese government aid activities in the Pacific Islands region, making it a valuable resource for anyone working on and interested in the region's shifting geopolitical landscape. Kudos to the map’s original architect, Dr Phillippa Brant, who set incredibly high standards for the project and left big shoes to fill. Here's how we did it.

A Chinese-language researcher was hired to help crawl through Chinese Government budget documents, embassy pages and media articles. With the odd exception, Chinese translations helped confirm what we already knew and provided another source to underpin project classifications. Pacific Government budget documents were a necessary input to extract information for large projects, particularly those which have received little media attention. However, these figures were often optimistic estimates and weren’t always a reflection of what was (or wasn’t) occurring on the ground.

More than 660 sources fed into the updated map, but thousands more potential sources were searched and discounted along the way.

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I encountered the usual combination of obstacles when trying to map even the smallest of grants: incorrect figures cited by the media, overlapping projects and announcements, missing budget documents and confusion about the true origin of the funds. Hours could be spent on research, only to discover that while a particular grant may have been publicly handed over by the Chinese embassy, the funds actually originated from a Chinese community association, a business association (see 'Olympus donation') or a provincial government.

Other reported flows of funds, including an A$99,500 ‘One China’ grant to Vanuatu and an A$332,500 donation to Fiji (to compensate for the cost of President Xi Jinping’s 2014 state visit) were tracked but considered outside the scope of development assistance.

Follow the trail of money online (especially via Facebook)

There is no substitute for in-field research. But when the budget doesn’t allow for hundreds of site visits across dozens of islands and when many official websites haven’t been updated in years (and are often coated in malware), social media becomes invaluable.  

Thanks to continued mobile broadband growth, Facebook is now a vital source of information for understanding political and social developments in the Pacific Islands region. Public profiles, discussion groups, images and videos posted on the platform provide a window into how capital citiesrural towns and even local debates are impacted and shaped by China’s development assistance and expanding engagement. Analysing images and extracting metadata from Facebook (ie. dates, locations, media type) often provided crucial missing pieces and final confirmation that a project has indeed entered the construction phase

There are plenty of Chinese aid projects (potentially) around the corner

It is worth noting what is not on the map. There are a lot of projects we researched but could not include for a variety of reasons. Some seem to have permanently stalled. Others have been announced but haven’t actually started. For example, Samoa has lined up funding for a police and overseas peacekeeping facility, a US$50 million China Exim Bank loan is in the pipeline to upgrade Dili’s drainage system in Timor-Leste (although there are setbacks), and maintenance repairs are planned for China-constructed buildings in the Cook Islands.

Another project in the works is PNG’s proposed National Broadband Network (NBN) which is majority funded by a $US59 million China EximBank loan. Huawei signed on to be the NBN technology partner in 2013 and Prime Minister O’Neill touted the project back in 2014. But since then information has been scant and with little concrete proof the project has begun, it was decided to omit it from the map.

Project run-off: Who else is settling into the region?

One of the interesting parts of working on a project like this, especially one with a heavy online component, is keeping an eye on what else and who else pops up on the fringes. Like China, most of the region’s newer and re-emerging partners are concentrating their resources in PNG and Fiji.

 

As previously covered by The Interpreter earlier in the year, Fiji has been on the receiving end of $A11.5 million worth of military ‘donations’ from Russia. This relationship is one to watch. It's hard to imagine Fiji-Russia relations taking off, but newly established bilateral mechanisms offer plenty of opportunities for the security-heavy relationship to expand.

Israel, via its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its development agency, has started providing aid to PNG and the Marshall Islands in the form of humanitarian assistance and professional training support. In a strange development, Israel also provides defence and intelligence support to PNG. Taiwan’s overseas development program is small but continues to have a surprisingly broad presence in the region, including in Pacific Island states that recognise China. It was surprising to find a fair bit of activity in Bougainville, where Taiwan has funded IT centres and computers, donated solar panels and provided agriculture training.

It was recently announced that South Korea is setting up a regional foreign aid office in Fiji.  South Korean ICT experts will be spending more time in PNG and the the country's navy is now also a regular regional visitor. But it's a $US300 million PNG-South Korea port agreement that signals South Korea's clear fisheries interests in the Pacific Islands.

One of the most interesting developments is India’s increased aid engagement in the region, particularly in PNG. A string of rare high-level visits culminated in an announcement this year that the Indian Government, through the Exim Bank of India, offered and signed a US$100 million credit line with PNG for infrastructure financing and HIV/AIDs medication. Also in the pipeline in PNG is a 'centre of excellence' for information and technology. Earlier in the year India provided assistance when Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji and has offered to help the Fjiian Government (as has China) with a proposed new naval base and officer training.

China Exim Bank funding and money laundering 

While social media content helped flesh out details of new Chinese aid projects, a lack of visible media and social media coverage also prompted questions, particularly when sizeable amounts of development money were budgeted and allegedly being spent.

For example, it’s hard to tell whether PNG’s 'distance education network community college' — which is being funded with a US$35 million EximBank loan — ever eventuated. The mysterious project was recently caught up in a high-profile money laundering case in Singapore after authorities detected suspicious transactions that led to the bank account of former PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare (of which he denies knowledge). PNG Government budget documents report the project funds are currently in a trust managed by law firm Young & Williams Lawyers (who were the subject of 2015 investigations by SBS  and Fairfax). 

This development,  which may unravel further and is gathering steam across PNG's online discussion forums, should spook Chinese Government officials working in the region. An opaque aid program is already a tough sell in the Pacific Islands where mistrust, misinformation, frustrations and resentment about China's regional intentions abound.

Foreign aid programs are important tools of soft power and therefore linkages between aid and corruption, whether concrete, alleged or completely unfounded, equates to terrible PR for any donor. This is particularly true for China, which is already undergoing its own anti-corruption crackdown and dealing with domestic debates that charity should begin at home. PNG, a country marred by its own corruption issues, is wasting no time in lining up more Chinese concessional loans. The Chinese Government needs to make sure it steers well clear of any future allegations of corruption. Providing greater transparency around development assistance is the crucial first step. 

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  • The President's office is at the top of Mexico's digital diplomacy efforts.
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  • The Economist's data team looks at the Russian Government's media network Russia Today (RT) and finds its social media supporters are a peculiar bunch.
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  • New Senator Pauline Hanson warned this week that Australia was in 'danger of being swamped by Muslims'. The hashtag #swamped was soon trending and Spain's Embassy in Canberra had the perfect riposte (h/t @JohnMGooding): 

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Today the Lowy Institute’s Melanesia program launches a major update to the Institute’s flagship research mapping project on Chinese Aid in the Pacific.*  The map now contains a decade of Chinese government aid activities in the Pacific Islands region, making it a valuable resource for anyone working on and interested in the region's shifting geopolitical landscape.

This latest update includes 48 new projects that commenced over the last 18 months. It also includes updates to 18 previously mapped projects. These new projects amount to $US297 million (or $A392.7 million) to eight countries in the South Pacific plus Timor-Leste (it does not include six countries that recognise Taiwan). This bring China's total aid spend in the region to $US1.78 billion, spread across 218 projects, since 2006.

The origins of this project go back to Fergus Hanson’s 2005-09 series of papers on China in the Pacific: New Banker in Town and Jenny Hayward-Jones’s work on Pacific geo-strategic competition. In 2015 former Lowy researcher Dr Philippa Brant, with a strengthened data collection process, a rigorous methodology, and research funding from the Australian government, built an online map to visualise 2006-14 Chinese aid activities (in US dollars) on this interactive map.

There has been substantial movement across this now-updated map, and the data, painstakingly collected and debated, speaks for itself. The Chinese government has overtaken New Zealand and Japan (foreshadowed here) and is also on the verge of overtaking the United States in terms of total aid delivered to the region since 2006. This means China will soon be the second largest aid donor, behind Australia, to the Pacific Islands. This isn’t a surprising finding. In fact, if you take out Micronesia where the bulk of US development funds flow, the US aid footprint across Melanesia and Polynesia – where most of the region’s population live – is surprisingly small.

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The updated map draws on over 660 multi-language sources including public budget documents, media articles, tender contracts, community newsletters, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and tweets. The 48 new projects range dramatically in size and scope. They include small grants of goods and services such as new indoor rowing machines gifted to Samoa, a red electric guitar to Fiji and a collection of water supply systems built for small towns in Tonga. 

Medium sized projects include the redesign and construction of Vanuatu’s Prime Minister’s Office and a large fleet of flashy quad bikes for Cook Islands MPs. Finally there are the large multi-year infrastructure projects, including the Prime Minister O’Neill-driven Western Pacific University in the Southern Highlands of PNG which has just started construction.

While the data speaks for itself, it doesn’t speak to the western constructed system  of international development assistance, which has long dictated how countries have traditionally delivered and reported their foreign aid.  This is why comparisons with other donors, including OECD DAC donors Australia, the US, Japan, NZ and the EU, are tricky. Non DAC donors present in the region including China, Taiwan and India don’t report regional aid data in a systematic way that is available to the public. Importantly, many of China's large development projects in the region are actually loans with terms that are not made publicly available. So while China's aid program continues to rapidly expand in the Pacific Islands, users of the map should keep in mind that China provides aid in three main forms (i) grants; (ii) interest-free loans administered through state finances (i.e. Ministry of Commerce) and (iii) concessional loans administered through China EximBank (usually 2-3% interest rates). And it's these concessional loans, that must be paid back by recipient governments, that are boosting the size of China's aid program.

While comparisons may be difficult, the Lowy Institute’s Chinese aid map displays a decade of cumulative development flows so we can track clear and emerging trends. For example, China remains the largest donor in Fiji and is on track to overtake Australia and become the largest donor to both Samoa and Tonga. China is also the second largest donor to the Cook Islands (behind NZ) and the third largest donor to the Federated States of Micronesia (behind the US and Japan).

China may be elbowing DAC donors out of the way across the region, but the Australia Government remains - by far - the dominant donor in PNG. Unless there are further cuts to the Australian aid program, it’s hard to see that changing any time soon. However, this updated map also shows that the overwhelming majority of new Chinese development funds coming online are in fact flowing to Papua New Guinea. PNG’s absorption of such a dominant share of China’s regional aid distribution was among the more surprising findings. The bulk of Chinese aid funds to PNG take the form of concessional loans to build large infrastructure projects, many of which have been mooted for years but often delayed.

Overshadowing the rest of the map is the new $US162 million New Enga provincial hospital project that appears to be the most expensive development project ever undertaken by China in the Pacific Islands region. A China EximBank concessional loan, the project is in the advanced stages of pre-construction.

Traditional partners, including Japan and the US, have been losing ground to China in the Pacific Islands for a decade. Foreign aid is, of course, only one measure of global engagement and influence. But in the Pacific Islands region, where most countries don’t have a strong and sustainable economic base, and not all public funds eventuate or are spent in line with public expectations, aid engagement plays an outsized role in bilateral relationships.

Beyond the obvious intended (and much debated) benefits of development assistance, a diverse and flexible aid program like China’s gives politicians and Chinese contractors a ‘go-to-place’ to voice, successfully and unsuccessfully, their latest aid wishes. Providing this platform and playing this role in the region has worked out well for the Chinese government, which is just doing what all governments do – engaging internationally to promote its own interests.  But those interests don't always benefit Pacific partners - debt distress, local business frustration, poor aid management, aid quality complaints and high-level corruption are some of the issues that have arisen from China's style of foreign aid delivery in the Pacific.

Much like Australia, China brings so much more to the table than aid. It offers up a bundle of tangible benefits to Pacific partners: a booming trade relationship; a web of direct investment flows; an abundance of visits; training and scholarships; new provincial linkages; growing police and military cooperation; training and engagement; as well as increasingly well-publicised civil society support, including an expanding regional Confucius Institute presence.

As China’s aid program increasingly rivals Australia’s in size and scope, a key issue for the government will be gaining a better understanding of the totality of China’s engagement with the region; much of the dynamic and ever-expanding China-Pacific relationship remains incredibly opaque, and hence, poorly understood. Prime Minister Turnbull's attendance at this week's China-funded Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Micronesia provides the perfect opportunity to articulate and reinforce Australia's longstanding and deep commitment to our nearest neighbours. It should also give pause to think more about the future of Australia's role in the region. 

* Danielle Cave is a contractor for the Lowy Institute on this project. Please contact JPryke@lowyinstitute.org if you have feedback or data to share on Chinese aid activities in the Pacific Islands.

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 The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Google's path to world domination goes straight through Indonesia.
  • Hong Kong is witnessing an online platform shift in political discourse which is shaping the city's Legislative Council Elections.
  • Tencent, Asia's largest internet company, intends to use its new US$600 million headquarters in Shenzhen as 'massive testing field for the next generation of smartphones and technology'. 
  • Bangladeshi authorities are blocking news websites and conducting internet shutdown drills in case of 'emergency'.
  • Taiwan's new Digital Minister is 35-year transgender civic hacker Audrey Tang. She is taking questions about her new role here.  
  • The Citizen Lab research that led to last month's urgent iPhone security update (the iOS 9.3.5 patch) from Apple found fake Pokemon domain names were used to lure targets with the aim of infecting user's iPhones with highly sophisticated commercial spyware.
  • There has been a sharp spike in Chinese cyber attacks on Russian defence, aviation and nuclear assets (h/t APSI cyber wrap).
  • How many real internet users are there in India?
  • Beijing has clamped down further on news sites, with the country's Cyberspace Administration using a meeting of 60 media, tech and academic representatives to list several new demands including avoiding publishing to 'attract eyeballs' and shifting round the clock monitoring responsibilities to editors-in-chief. 
  • Facebook has cemented itself as the key platform shaping Myanmar's new political playing field, but it's also brought with it a host of problems. (h/t Nich)
  • Chinese internet firms are being forced to choose between their home market and everywhere else. Those operating only in China are still changing your internet:

 

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  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and why the unmediated photo is the message.
  • The new Hillary Clinton app has taken a page out of Kim Kardashian's mobile app playbook.
  • The Australian Army, which has taken a leading role in the ADF's digital diplomacy efforts, has a new podcast. Hosted by @sharonmascall, the podcast takes a behind the scenes look at Exercise Hamel (#ExHamel), the Army's largest annual joint exercise.
  • Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both using Pokémon Go to lure in voters.
  • Australia's Antartica Division is building a fantastic Twitter presence via  @AusAntarctic; use #icytweets to quiz them on drones, droids and robots.
  • Who owns your country's Twitter handle?
  • The White House has a launched a Facebook bot so that anyone around the world can 'send their stories, ideas and concerns' to President Obama. The White House's Chief Digital Officer explains how it works.
  • Is Sri Lanka ready to engage with networked diplomacy?
  • A refreshingly frank outline  from Australia's Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet (PM&C) on their short and sharp digital journey (three years ago PM&C had no communications branch, and then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott saw social media as electronic graffiti). 
  • With help from Facebook, the Indian Government has launched an app which streamlines engagement with its citizens overseas by bringing together the social media presence of its 170+ overseas missions.
  • ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie spoke about the importance of digital disruption and diplomacy in her recent Lowy Institute speech.
  • Australia's new Free Trade Agreement portal (built by CSIRO's data innovation group and DFAT) includes an API, allowing third parties to potentially display the data in innovative ways (h/t Dave).
  • Advice from the US on how Samoa can leverage data-driven diplomacy.
  • China's ministries and state-owned media agencies are on a video-making spree in order to influence opinion and get their messages out globally. The latest, on China's South China Sea position, is popping up as a video advertisement: 

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Fairfax reports that an ANU PhD student is behind an ultra-nationalist viral video posted on Weibo by the Chinese Government this week. The topic being studied by the PhD scholar? Chinese e-diplomacy.
  • Stitching together satellite imagery from a variety of sources, The Phnom Penh Post shows readers how the city has dramatically transformed over the last 15 years.
  • New documentary Jihad Selfie outlines the role of social media in inspiring potential ISIS recruits in Indonesia.
  • Facebook contest in Taiwan to satirically 'apologise to China' (started after a series of Taiwanese actors and pop stars posted online apologies to the mainland) has attracted a response from Chinese netizens on Weibo.
  • Fiji's Prime Minister has called on citizens to expose cyber thugs who he alleges are misusing social media.
  • Does the sale of Uber's China division to hailing app Didi Chuxing signal the end for US tech companies in China?
  • Inside the Singapore Government's lab of the future.
  • Africa's mobile market is booming and China's largest messaging platform WeChat (currently 5 million users across the continent) is hoping its suite of features will make it an attractive alternative to the more dominant WhatsApp.
  • How Prime Minister Hun Sen became Cambodia's Facebooker-in-Chief.
  • A great piece in the NY Times on how Cantonese cuisine helped this journalist's parents become YouTube Stars.
  • Chinese hacker group 1937CN has denied it launched cyber-attacks at two major airports in Vietnam last week, in the wake of the 12 July Hague ruling. The hacks, which distorted flight information and posted insulting messages about Vietnam and the Philippines online, also took over the airport's loudspeaker system (h/t Peter):

 

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  • Pakistan's Interior Minister is concerned Indian intelligence may be using social media to spread rumours that could bring down the morale of Pakistani forces.
  • Five experts review and respond to Naked Diplomacy: Power and Statecraft in the Digital Age, a new book by former British Ambassador Tom Fletcher.
  • There's a new tool to take down terrorism images posted online. Is it a game changer?
  • Israeli diplomat @EladRatson on how Israel became a digital diplomacy powerhouse and (allegedly) the first country to use algorithms and code to revolutionise public diplomacy.
  • The US State Department has changed its approach to countering ISIS messaging abroad.
  • Power has been drastically realigned and this academic argues Canada needs a whole-of-government digital strategy in order to engage with the emerging global digital system.
  • Emoji gender equality is finally here and emoji users now have more diverse female options than salsa dancer, princess and bride. 
  • An Al Jazeera debate on whether the UN's #NextSG process is transparent enough.
  • Turkey's President turned to social media to help foil last weekend's coup; it's not the only way cyberpower shaped Turkey's future this week.
  • As China considers its options on how to manage new forms of media, a boutique agency run by Egyptian Sameh El-Shahat is behind a series of online videos promoting China's global ties. 
  • Bougainville (approx. population: 300,000) must have one of the world's smallest communications budgets, which is why this video is so impressive.
  • NZ's Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief executive on how his diplomats are easing into the world of social media.
  • New app game PokemonGO may be the digital phenomenon of the decade and it's no surprise to see governments (including UK, Canada and Italy) jumping in on the action given the enormous potential:  

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

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  • 'Have you been to Tibet bro?' This signalled the beginning of a recent slang-filled Twitter outburst from China's State Information Office. 
  • Russia recently cracked into the top-30 rankings of this soft power index (Australia came 6th). But how real is Russia's soft power clout?
  • The Queen is a slow, but steadyconvert to the Twittersphere.
  • New Zealand Story is the NZ Government's interesting new initiative designed to better communicate the country's value to the world. Involving extensive consultation and international market testing, the initiative can be followed via #NZStory
  • This is what it looked like when Iran's all-male delegation met an all-female EU team in Norway.
  • India's Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, has developed a reputation for her hands-on approach to using Twitter to help resolve consular crises, but that doesn't mean she has time to fix your fridge.
  • A Canadian political advisor argues cyber communities should be used to help solve diplomatic problems.
  •  #KosovoUNESCO was disrupted by social media users in Serbia who drove #NoKosovoUNESCO
  • A British diplomat on why you should be tweeting about what's happening in Afghanistan.
  • Helen Clark has added Snapchat and Instagram to her UN Secretary-General campaign toolkit.
  • A Twitter spat erupted between the US Embassy in Jamaica and the country's attorney-general after a rainbow flag was flown by the embassy following the Orlando shootings.
  • Canada's intelligence agency has an academic outreach program and this foresight report (pdf), which looks at the drivers influencing security risks to 2018, is one of its major projects.
  • Tips from Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma on how diplomats should and shouldn't use social media.
  • On 4 June, the Canadian Government turned to Facebook to commemorate the 27th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.
  • The Indian Government has published an online book promoting its path-breaking diplomacy.
  • This slick new video from China urges citizens to pray for smooth sailing in the South China Sea if they want continued access to the newest fashions and electronics. Buoyed by the popularity of Weibo, it's a very smart strategy and only the latest addition in this ongoing propaganda battle:

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Why Google Maps works better in Pyongyang than in Seoul.
  • China's Communist Youth League misses Taiwan, and this love letter explaining why has gone viral on WeChat.
  • Social media is driving political change in Cambodia, but will the country's Facebook boom move beyond urban centres?
  • How the digital innovation and data revolution is impacting governance in Indonesia.
  • China's video-streaming apps (estimated at 80 so far) are creating an 'Internet celebrity economy' which generates more sales than the country's box office.
  • 100,000 public servants in Singapore will be blocked from accessing the internet on work computers from May 2017. Prime Minister Lee, who has gone without work internet access for four months, said the move is necessary to protect government systems from cyber attacks.
  • Two pieces on why WeChat's global expansion has been a disaster (and why most Chinese apps fail overseas).
  • It's open season on online hate speech in Myanmar.
  • This big data initiative aims to tap real-time traffic data to deal with road safety and congestion in the Philippines.
  • Code words and Facebook enabled some Chinese youth to discuss Tiananmen on 4 June. 
  • A multi-year, multi-technology cyber-espionage attack targeting Indian diplomats and military personnel included phishing emails, fake blogs and news sites. Here's how India's Ambassador to Afghanistan was targeted
  • housing crisis in Shenzhen, China's Silicon Valley, is leading to a flow of tech talent, resources and money to cheaper locations, including nearby Dongguan.  
  • Designer and technologist Keiichi Matsuda provides a terrifying insight into what a media saturated future could look like:

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  • The Russian Government's use of the internet to spread disinformation, particularly in Germany, is prompting calls for a direct and visible response.
  • Why was a Q&A with the US Embassy in Beijing on 'discovering America' scrubbed from Chinese social media?
  • Earlier this month ISIS launched a social media campaign involving supporters from European cities, in response citizen-journalists tracked those supporters down
  • New research (pdf) has found China's 50-cent party is mostly public servants who are fabricating almost 490 million social media posts a year, primarily designed to distract the public and deter protests.
  • Drenched in hashtags, periscopes and vines, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is aiming for 'less propaganda, more deep and truthful discourse'.
  • DFAT is beginning to use social media to publicly advocate for LGBTI rights overseas (h/t Lucy).
  • China is doing cross-Straits damage control after a Xinhua op-ed attacked Taiwan's new president for being unmarried. After demanding it be deleted, local media were instructed: 'In the immediate future, all reports touching on the Cross-Straits issue must go through responsible media personnel before they are published'.
  • A new Future FCO report by former Ambassador Tom Fletcher contains 36 ideas for modernising British diplomacy, including accelerating digital diplomacy and ramping up open-source data use.
  • This NY Times Magazine piece on how Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, rewrote the rules of diplomacy for the digital age sparked a storm of controversy (Rhodes, the NYT and the journalist respond).
  • An Australian Army officer blogs on counter intelligence threats in the age of social media, including a warning for the 4675 defence employees on LinkedIn.
  • The US Government created a stir by using Weibo to announce and share photos of the same-sex marriage of its Consul-General in Shanghai to his partner.
  • The UK's cyber intelligence agency @GCHQ has joined Twitter. It's not the first intelligence agency to join social media (CanadaSouth Africa & many in the US tweet) and it won't be the last. 

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy, and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • The personal information of Chinese Communist Party officials and business people may have been exposed on Twitter in one of the country's biggest online leaks of sensitive information.
  • How are China's state-controlled media agencies crushing it on Facebook?
  • China's robot revolution is happening
  • The People Liberation's Army has developed counter espionage software so soldiers can continue to browse online via encrypted mobile terminals and military Internet cafes.
  • The Chinese Government is luring 'sea turtles' home to launch start-ups.
  • The Cyberspace Administration has demanded an overhaul of the country's largest search engine Baidu following the death of a university student whose choice of cancer treatment was influenced by poorly labelled paid search results.
  • But Baidu can also cause trouble for the communist party, as explained via this tweet-storm from NYU Professor Clay Shirky. 
  • Are Chinese net users concerned with privacy?
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook is allegedly set to visit high-level officials in Beijing later this month in an attempt to deal with the litany of issues the company is facing in its second largest market.
  • Apple's uphill battle is a reminder that tech isn't borderless.
  • I argue that Twitter is uncomfortably wedged in China.
  • The scale of Chinese cyber attacks on Taiwan has reached 'quasi war' level according to Taiwan's Government.
  • Again in Taiwan, public servants have been told to avoid mobile phones that use Chinese navigation satellite systems for fear they can be tracked via embedded malware.

Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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As Australian digital diplomacy strives to catch up to rest of the world, these monthly links highlight the most creative and effective ways countries are leveraging the internet for foreign policy gain.

  • A fantastic blog post by @Lorey explaining how the UK's UN mission used Twitter (and hashtag #NextSG) to bring the public into the room while Secretary-General candidates were questioned. Note the UK came no.1 in this digital diplomacy ranking. (h/t @mattpdmorris)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Mankowski is the latest contributor to the Australian Army's blog debate about strategic deterrence.
  • Ukraine’s Foreign Minister answered questions on NATO cooperation, countering Russian aggression and EU relations in this reddit session.  
  • Israel has serious digital diplomacy clout but admits to struggling with engaging the Arab world online.
  • Anne-Marie Slaughter argues it is connections and influence over digital flows that make a country powerful today, not armies.
  • Plenty of lessons in this post on the genius of House of Cards' Frank Underwood's (#FU2016) campaign.
  • Canadian Ambassador @BenRowswell outlines his department’s experiments with BuzzFeed, live video app Periscope, online advocacy campaigns and open-source analysis.
  • Online engagement remains the Achilles heel of diplomatic institutions, so here's advice on how ministries can move beyond an obsession with social media and experiment with a broader range of tech and online tools.
  • The US State Department hopes its new SoundCloud podcast Meet the Ambassadors will help it move past perceptions of diplomats portrayed in film and TV.
  • Pope Francis has become a serious foreign policy player; he is now also on Instagram.
  • This important statement by Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely (context here) might be the most re-tweeted tweet (766) by an Australian public servant.
  • Former Hillary Clinton advisor Alec Ross discusses messy online spaces, Russia’s propaganda arm and the pain of the departmental clearance process in this Khan Academy tutorial:

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It was unfortunate that the day Kathy Chen was announced as Twitter’s inaugural managing director for ‘Greater China’ (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) last week was also the day she signed up to the 9th largest social network in the world. Clearly a first-timer — although there’s no denying there is immense value in fresh eyes — her entrance to both Twitter the social network and Twitter the multi-billion dollar company has attracted serious carping from a wide range of stakeholders. Many of whom, of course, turned to the network itself to tweet their disapproval.

Aside from selecting a Twitter handle with an expiry date, @KathyChen2016’s opening gambit displayed an unintentional knack for playing on the fears of western social media users who are increasingly concerned about privacy, surveillance, and freedom of speech. Their concerns include the extent to which tech companies work with their own governments, and extend to the moves and expansion plans these companies may have overseas. There was this conversation with Xinhua, the official news authority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), where Chen said she was looking forward ‘to [a] closer partnership in the future.’ In response to state television broadcaster CCTV she stated the two should ‘work together to tell great China story to the world’. It was a clear reference to President Xi Jinping’s 2013 appeal ‘to tell the China story well’ that was subsequently adopted as a slogan by various limbs of the Chinese Government. President Xi Jinping recently reiterated this motto and last month the Communist Party’s publicity chief attended a ‘how to tell China stories well’ seminar and called on experts and celebrities to get involved. 

But as the Chinese Government travels on this journey to tell its story better, something all governments are struggling with, it should come as no surprise that social media users don’t want Twitter actively involved. Tweeted all on day one, Chen's posts attracted intense scrutiny and were perceived as a blatant attempt to cozy up to a government which excels in, and has disturbingly re-defined, the meaning of Internet censorship. But, on the other hand, this will be a big part of the managing director's job. Given Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009 and will certainly remain so for some time to come, Chen’s role from her Hong Kong office will be to work closely with Chinese businesses and organisations who want to use Twitter to reach global audiences and new markets. Government departments and state-run media agencies will be some of her most important clients.

Twitter is not the only banned Internet-based company with a physical presence in China. Google, Facebook and LINE all have China offices and/or shops, and these are in Beijing and Shanghai, not Hong Kong. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to woo the Chinese government have become legendary and he has copped plenty of slack for them from Chinese netizens, despite the country's censors coming to his rescue.

While Chen’s tweets to state-run media could be dismissed as too much, too soon, her comments about a ‘cute’ People Liberation Army (PLA)-capped dog hit too close to home. A Baidu wiki biography and various interviews briefly outline Chen’s post-university seven years in PLA’s Second Artillery Corps (now the Army Rocket Force). In addition to her role as CEO of CA Jinchen (1999-2005), a joint venture between China’s Ministry of Public Security and a California-based software company. Given the sensitivity involved in such roles, one can assume Chen held a high security clearance in at least one, and likely in both positions. In a 2004 interview, Chen described the antivirus software produced by CA Jinchen as an ‘email filtering gateway’ and cited Falun Gong as an example of the type of politically sensitive and harmful information the company could filter. One of CA Jinchen’s clients was the technical centre behind China’s Great Firewall.

None of this is good news for Twitter. It must have known appointing someone with connections to the country’s opaque military and security agencies and links to organisations that facilitate Internet censorship would create a stir. And Chen’s hasty series of tweets that were perceived as pro-CCP made this stir a spectacle. But perhaps Twitter didn’t think this through. For example, changes made to Chen’s LinkedIn account to delete references to the Ministry of Public Security were made only this week.

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Across two op-eds, China’s Global Times attacked those complaining about Twitter’s new appointment and used the occasion to promote China’s global role as an Internet giant. And indeed China is such a giant. Its rapidly-growing tech and mobile industries are some of the most innovative in the world and there’s a lot at stake. Which is why the Global Times shouldn't be shocked that background checks are done on senior foreign nationals employed in the industry, a procedure large Chinese tech companies surely undertake as well. Imagine if Internet company Tencent picked an individual with close CIA and US military connections to lead its push into the US and that person kicked off their Weibo presence with a series of posts about working with Fox News and the NY Times to share the ‘American dream.’ One would expect a bemused, and possibly angry, reaction from Chinese netizens.

While there don't seem to be any current links between Chen and her ex government employers, China’s public security apparatus would undoubtedly benefit from information she now has access to. The Chinese government would be foolish not to reach out to someone who was (at one time) one of its own. That's its job. Insights that can be gleaned on the inner workings and politics of Silicon Valley, including interactions these online companies have with their own and overseas governments, would be a valuable commodity. Any well-resourced intelligence community would be seeking to generate such a line of reporting. But that’s a conundrum for Twitter’s management and any organisation around the world that hires an overseas national with close links to his or her home country's national security community.

Like other western Internet companies, Twitter finds itself uncomfortably wedged. Caught between its mission statement, which its current consumer base subscribes to, and the compromises it would have to make to break into the lucrative Chinese market. Its current users are keeping it afloat but it is still makes a net loss. Access to the Chinese market could vastly improve its balance sheet. But at what cost? Its position is not dissimilar to those in which many states now find themselves. Australia is wedged more than most. Grappling to show strength in the face of uncomfortable moves by China, such as those in the South China Sea, while burdened by the highest exposure in the world (as a share of total exports) to the Chinese economy. Like states, many large Internet companies are caught on these thorny realities. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, Twitter's own users will be holding the network accountable every step of the way. 

Cartoon: https://twitter.com/badiucao

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