China’s raid on Microsoft – payback for indictment of PLA hackers in US?

Like so many events in China, its regulators’ recent raid on the offices most likely has multiple motives. One is that China is using its firmer regulatory powers to get tough with Microsoft which has abused its market position elsewhere. Another is that China simply tilting the playing field in favor of its domestic companies, which is a not-so-secret objective in China. China wants to be a tech powerhouse in its own right. Also for that reason, foreign companies often have to bargain their technology for access to China’s market.

The third motive for the raid – possibly the most plausible – is that it comes amid a backlash against US technology, sparked by revelations from Ex-NSA contractor Ed Snowden, that US produced-technology has been used by the NSA to spy on foreign governments, like China’s. The anger has been further stoked by the fact that the US is taking legal action against China government hackers.

Reuters quotes Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based tech consultancy BDA as saying: 

The [State Administration for Industry & Commerce ] investigation into Microsoft could be read as a public retaliation for the U.S. cyber espionage revelations and the Justice Department indictments, BDA’s Clark said.

The presumption must be that Microsoft would not, as Google has done, pull out of the Chinese market because there is too much money to be made. Yet, it’s not clear Microsoft is making the money. The Reuters article quotes Steve Ballmer as saying in 2011 Microsoft earned less revenue in China than in the Netherlands because of piracy.

The big question in this environment, though, is when does China, desiring a strong indigenous tech industry, feel sure enough of its own technology and R&D to kick out US companies? 

Another question. US companies have worked in China on the assumption that the benefits outweigh the losses – and so it’s worth a certain amount of intellectual property loss. But that equation is formed at the corporate level in which US corporates compete with each other.

What would happen if, as US companies increasingly coordinate with the US government over cyber-theft, they begin to see themselves not simply as lone competitors in a sometimes hostile market, but part of a team with the shared interest of supporting certain rules of play even as they battle it out with each other?

If cyber-theft and technology transfers are considered at an American industry-wide level – rather than a corporate level – does the behavior of US companies change? This isn’t completely theoretical. In the past, the industrial families of Italy have been adept at knowing when to compete with each other and when to stand together for their shared interests.

Could this happen with US tech companies working in China? 

Information should once again be weaponized as it was during the Cold War: Weiss

“Information should once again be weaponized as it was during the Cold War.” That’s the view from Michael Weiss of the Interpreter (the one in the US) discussing how to deal with Russia as relations between Moscow and the West go backwards.

If this idea of weaponized information gains support, we could see a return to a East-West Cold War a la the 1980s. If nothing else, Weiss’ comments point to the breakdown of the period of economics-led globalization.

In fact, increasingly politics seem to be driving economics – and that might not be a bad thing six years after Western economies were pushed to the brink by the excesses of deregulation, and the middle-classes have struggled with the damaging effects of free trade.

NASA broke but China’s plans for moon orbit may be advancing

‘That’s embarrassing,’ a colleague commented on the news that NASA doesn’t have the scratch to get its Space Launch System to its first flight scheduled for December 2017. The Space Launch System is the massive rocket (bigger than the Saturn 5 type used in the moon missions) which is supposed to carry humans to asteroids and then to Mars.

Key line from Associated Press:

NASA’s launch system officials told the (Government Accountability Office) that there was a 90 percent chance of not hitting the launch date at this time.

This assessment, coming on the back of Russia’s recent announcement that it would exit the International Space Station by 2020 would deal a double-blow to the US. Particularly as China marches ahead with its multiple space programs.

After sending two spacecraft to orbit the moon and landing its Yutu moon rover – which wasn’t a complete success – but a success nonetheless, China will launch its first round-trip robotic lunar mission later this year.

Space analyst Dr Morris Jones writes that China could itself be laying the ground work for a manned-moon mission.

China could be practicing for a mission to launch an astronaut to the Moon and back. The astronaut would also fly a “free-return trajectory” around the far side of the Moon, and would not land there. If China carries out such a mission, it would send a Chinese astronaut further into space than any previous mission. Assuming that it happens before a private circumlunar mission is launched by a US-Russian space partnership, it would also mark the first return of any human to the Moon in more than four decades.

Dr Jones then goes on to detail the technical aspects as well as the rationale for such a project. Given that China is secretive about its space program, as it is about military technology, there is a good amount of guesswork. But the arrows point to such a launch eventually, he says.

China is clearly doing the groundwork for a future Chinese circumlunar astronaut mission. We don’t know when it could happen, but it is realistic to assume that China could carry out such a flight within a decade. Never mind the lack of an official plan. We don’t know if this has been planned for years, or if the relatively new Chinese leader Xi Jinping ordered the mission in recent times. Whatever the case, we should remain alert for this upcoming mission. China’s lunar plans are more ambitious than the world at large knows.

Any bilateral competition reflects the nature of the competitors. China is seems focused on contactless competition with the US – that is, it prefers to demonstrate its power to the world directly without direct confrontation or conflict with the US. What better sends the signal of China’s economic and technical rise, than a serious moon program? Particularly as NASA, and the world wonders why, 45 years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, there has been so little capital or will for the US to return.

Another big question: in any looming US-China competition, will space matter the way it did in the Cold War? Since we have no other history to draw on than the Cold War itself, we can’t help but answer the question in the affirmative.

MH17: Putin is learning the lesson George W Bush learned during Iraq invasion

 

The tweet above from Tom Nichols sums up the feeling about Putin’s ill-conceived mix of diplomacy and deception over the MH17 downing.

Essentially, television-era media messaging won’t work in the age of the Internet. During the rapid run-up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the White House used its considerable sway over mainstream journalists in the US to try to sell a war that had more questions about it than justifications. In the print and TV realm, the White House was largely successful.

I personally witnesses anti-war demonstrations in New York and Washington involving hundreds of thousands of protesters that, for all intents and purposes, never made it to TV. Imagine thousands of people marching into invisibility on the eve of a war. In print, the leads of the stories were overly qualified and the articles themselves buried on back pages of the newspaper. As any PR person will tell you, it’s all about working those editors and reporters.

But there was this thing called the Internet, on which you could publish an article and it could be shared via emailed by thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of people. This was before the time of social media, before DeanSpace, then MySpace. Back then a simple link on a site like BuzzFlash, Daily Kos, TruthOut, helped impede the White House warpath for Iraq.

I’m sure for Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove this Internet effect was not just disappointing – but dismaying. Didn’t the White House and its ‘senior advisers’ hold sway over the media? Is this what the elite exercise of power involves?

My favorite example of that time was a speech George H. W. Bush gave at Tufts University three weeks before the invasion of Iraq. Bush, the elder, said a peaceful resolution was possible.

“The more pressure there is, the more chance this matter will be resolved in a peaceful manner,” Bush told the 5,000 students, faculty, staff and guests.

 

There was a wire story on it – if I recall. But the New York Times didn’t run it online. The Guardian did. When I called the New York Times newsroom, they said they must just have missed it. The US was being marched to war, the father of the sitting president speaks up for peace only weeks before, and somehow the folks at the New York Times missed it.

I found that difficult to believe. And so did a lot of other people who compared the mainstream media with the news had access to online and which they could freely share. This is why net neutrality matters in the US, by the way.

Today the Internet is testing the propaganda machine used by Putin’s combination of international diplomacy and international deception over the MH17 crash. The idea that Putin can credibly shrug and feign innocence to the world just doesn’t jibe with what’s happening on the ground. What the Russians say at the UN will be compared immediately with what is being said and done on the ground in eastern Ukraine. This new media reality applies to everyone: Ukrainians included, for the record.

Naturally, this challenge of shaping reality is going to create even more incentive to wall off one country’s Internet from another’s. The walls are already coming up on the Internet. This Balkanized Internet also explains how authoritarian governments can spin such vastly different tales of the same events for their public.