The World Today for October 11, 2018

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Ploughshares, Swords and Chips

Vice President Mike Pence delivered what some saw as a rather incendiary speech recently on Sino-American relations.

In part, the speech echoed a popular talking point on the American political right and left that challenges moderates who have argued for decades that stitching China into the global trade system would engender democracy in the world’s most populous country.

“Previous administrations made this choice in the hope that freedom in China would expand in all of its forms – not just economically, but politically, with a newfound respect for classical liberal principles, private property, personal liberty, religious freedom – the entire family of human rights,” he said, according to Quartz. “But that hope has gone unfulfilled.

Still, Pence called for more than a change in attitude toward China. He claimed that Beijing leaders had sanctioned the theft of technology that someday might be deployed on the battlefield against American troops.

“Using that stolen technology, the Chinese Communist Party is turning plowshares into swords on a massive scale,” he said.

The speech raised eyebrows. “Pence’s China Speech Seen as Portent of ‘New Cold War,’” read the headline in the New York Times.

Chinese leaders denied Pence’s claims in a statement.

Recent incidents give credence to Pence’s wariness, some say.

In a major escalation of the fight against Chinese spying, US Justice Department officials on Wednesday said they’d successfully extradited a Chinese intelligence official from Belgium to face espionage charges in America. Yanjun Xu, a deputy division director in China’s main spy agency, the Ministry of State Security, is accused of trying to steal proprietary technology from US firms like GE Aviation, the New York Times reported.

Chinese subcontractors making computer server components might have sneaked “stealth doorway” chips onto their products in order to eavesdrop or disrupt big American companies like Amazon, which is building secure cloud solutions for the CIA and other government offices, Bloomberg reported.

The Defense Department also recently issued a report saying China represented a “significant and growing risk” to materials vital to the US military, Reuters wrote.

Meanwhile, China is adopting a more muscular approach in advocating for its model of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Ted Piccone, a Brookings Institution senior fellow in foreign policy, wrote in an NPR op-ed.

It’s no secret why the Chinese are more confident. Chinese leaders point to divisions among Americans, economic decay in the US and the growing Chinese economy and ask developing countries in Africa and Asia whether they might want to rethink their enthusiasm for liberal democracy and the West.

Writing in the Guardian, Michael Fuchs, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who worked in the State Department under President Barack Obama, argued Pence was making a mistake with his confrontational tone. The US needs to be more realistic in order to leverage change here or there, he wrote, rather than inaugurate a new Cold War.

On the American side, everyone appears to agree that something needs to be done. Hopefully, they’ll come to a consensus before the most extreme of alarmist warnings come to pass.



#MeToo, Bollywood Style

The #MeToo movement has finally hit India’s media and entertainment industries.

The momentum began with a social media campaign in support of former beauty queen and Bollywood actress Tanushree Datta, who originally lodged a complaint with the police in 2008 against actor Nana Patekar: Late Wednesday, she filed a second complaint against him along with three others, according to India’s NDTV.

While Patekar has insisted she’s lying, hashtags like #IBelieveYouTanushreeDutta have sparked fiery exchanges and encouraged more women to name names, CNN reported.

Allegations against one of its film directors resulted in the dissolving last week of Phantom Films – the production house behind the two biggest Indian original series on Netflix, and a raft of commercially successful and critically acclaimed movies. And allegations have hit various top journalists, the most prominent of which, former newspaper and magazine editor MJ Akbar, is now a minister in Narendra Modi’s government.

How far can the movement go? Long before it started, it was public knowledge that nearly 50 members of parliament and the various state assemblies face charges related to crimes against women. But a new era of accountability – or witch hunt, detractors say – may be here.


…Doth Protest Too Much

German police arrested a suspect in the rape and killing of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova Wednesday even as Bulgarian Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov said the suspect’s likely motive was sexual assault – he downplayed claims that Marinova had been targeted for her investigative reporting work.

“At this stage, it can not be said that the murder is related to the professional activity of the victim,” Tsatsarov said, according to National Public Radio. Bulgarian Interior Minister Mladen Marinov said DNA and other evidence linked the 21-year-old suspect, a resident of the city of Ruse where Marinova’s body was discovered, to the crime.

Various European leaders, including European Union Vice President Frans Timmermans, had previously suggested the killing must be linked to Marinova’s work exposing alleged corruption.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov hit back against those allegations on Wednesday, saying, “It is completely undeserved that our country was tarnished in such a way.”

On the other hand, Reporters Without Borders says journalists there are “exposed to many forms of pressure and intimidation when trying to perform their reporting duties.”


What Goes Around

Police in Peru arrested opposition leader Keiko Fujimori on suspicion of money laundering involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

The 43-year-old politician, who is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori and was instrumental in toppling former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in a corruption scandal in March, was detained for 10 days when she reported to the prosecutor’s office to give evidence, Al Jazeera reported.

At least 19 others have been arrested in the case, which is linked to contributions to the Popular Force during Keiko’s 2011 presidential campaign. Keiko’s arrest comes a week after the country’s top court revoked the presidential pardon granted to her 80-year-old father for crimes against humanity associated with his right-wing government’s counterinsurgency campaign against leftist guerrillas from Shining Path.

The case could weaken her Popular Force party, which has a majority in parliament, and help President Martin Vizcarra in his bid to push through additional anti-corruption measures.


AI Versus Feelings

Automation is making humans redundant in many occupations. But will artificial intelligence (AI) even replace artists?

According to Reuters, a team of French entrepreneurs has developed a computer algorithm that creates works of art that resemble paintings of masters like Rembrandt.

“We are artists with a different type of paintbrush,” said computer engineer Hugo Caselles-Dupre, whose team helped develop the program. “Our paintbrush is an algorithm developed on a computer.”

The algorithm, Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), generates new images by learning from a database of existing paintings.

GAN hasn’t displayed the keen mastery of the renowned artists it imitates. Most of its images are fuzzy and blurry, such as the portrait of the imaginary “Baron of Belamy.” Yet the painting will go on sale at Christie’s in New York this month, with an estimated price of $7,000 to $10,000. The offering “will signal the arrival of AI art on the world auction stage,” a news item from the auction house stated.

The GAN team is aware of the algorithm’s imperfections. They lack the “significant calculating power” needed to recreate a masterpiece, said Pierre Fautrel, another of the team’s founders.

Some artists, though, aren’t so fond of their new competitor, saying that machines, unlike human artists, lack feelings.

“If there was no anger from Picasso, ‘Guernica’ would never have existed,” exclaimed painter Robert Prestigiacomo. “If Modigliani were not in love with his models, his nudes would be dull and uninteresting.”

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