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World Bank Cuts Back Xinjiang Project Following Abuse Allegations

At The New York Times, Alan Rappeport reports that the World Bank this week announced it would scale down development work in the Xinjiang region following allegations that funds from a $50 million education project loan granted in 2015 were used for the ongoing crackdown on Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic minorities in the region:

The bank has been conducting a review of the project since Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, expressed concern about it in August and after an independent researcher found evidence suggesting that funds were being used to buy police batons and tear gas launchers.

The Chinese government has been facing criticism for detaining more than a million Muslim Uighurs and placing them in “re-education” camps where they are forced to renounce their religious beliefs and embrace the ideology of the Communist Party.

The bank said it had conducted an extensive review of the project and was not able to substantiate the allegations. However, the bank acknowledged the challenge of rigorously monitoring the situation and said it was making changes to the project.

The loan was intended to support five vocational schools in the region by upgrading teams of teachers and curriculums. Some of this money was going to “partner schools” that were indirectly receiving World Bank funding and were not under the bank’s supervision. [Source]

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CUHK Campus Under Siege as Chaos Overtakes Hong Kong Protests

[Update: November 13, 9:45 am PST: For up-to-the-minute updates on the situation at CUHK and elsewhere in Hong Kong, please check Hong Kong Free Press and this Twitter list compiled by freelance journalist Laurel Chor.]

Violent confrontations between police and protesters sharply escalated in Hong Kong this week, following the police shooting of an unarmed protester in the chest on Monday. Tuesday evening, chaos erupted at the campus of the City University of Hong Kong (CUHK) as police fired teargas on campus and protesters set barricades on fire and hurled molotov cocktails. In Central, the main business district, office workers took to the streets.

Mike Ives, Ezra Cheung and Katherine Li for The New York Times report on the scene around Hong Kong on Tuesday:

Protesters disrupted the morning commute and brought parts of the central business district to a standstill around lunchtime. At the gates of the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Tuesday evening, they set a giant blaze and threw gasoline bombs at police lines under a barrage of tear gas canisters.

[…] Hundreds of protesters, including many office workers, stormed Hong Kong’s central business district at lunchtime. Some formed human chains to pass along bags of bricks that front line activists were using to block traffic.

Across the harbor, activists in the Mong Kok neighborhood placed barricades in front of buses and punctured their tires.

The city’s subway operator said on Tuesday morning that services were also delayed after gasoline bombs had been thrown onto the tracks of a major rail line that runs to the border of the Chinese mainland. [Source]

At the Wall Street Journal, Steven Russolillo, Joyu Wang and Rachel Yeo report on the violence at the CUHK campus:

Videos circulating on social media showed a scene that was reminiscent of a battlefield, with fires and thick clouds of smoke hovering above the campus. Reports suggested more than 60 people were injured at the university. Shortly after 10 p.m., police said in a statement that they would retreat from the scene.

The action showed neither side appears willing to back down. Protesters for the past few days have embraced causing citywide disruptions while Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has emphasized that increased violence won’t prompt the government to yield to protesters’ demands.

“Over the past two days, our society has been pushed to the brink of a total breakdown,” the Hong Kong police said at a news conference on Tuesday. They said they had arrested 287 people, ages 12 to 82, on Monday.

Earlier in the day, police also fired tear gas and nonlethal rounds at City University of Hong Kong, including near the student dormitories, after protesters built barricades in the area. Dozens of riot police were also at another college, the University of Hong Kong, where protesters threw bricks and chairs from a pedestrian bridge, causing traffic jams and hitting vehicles. [Source]

(See more live tweets from CUHK from New York Times reporter Paul Mozur.)

At The New York Times, Mike Ives, Elaine Yu and Edward Wong reported Monday on the shooting of the protester, which further escalated tensions and conflict between police and protesters.

The young man was shot as commuters, snarled by roadblocks set up by demonstrators, looked on in disbelief. One moment, he was standing on a corner staring into the end of the police officer’s handgun. The next, after several shots rang out, he lay crumpled on the ground in the middle of an eerily deserted intersection.

As blood pooled on the asphalt, a crowd of angry citizens surrounded riot police officers who had arrived as reinforcements. “Murderer!” some of them cried.

An officer doused the crowd with pepper spray.

Anger quickly unspooled across several districts in the city of more than seven million people, and the protests drew in both suit-clad office workers in the central business district and residents in working-class neighborhoods. [Source]

Later that day, a mainlander who confronted protesters was set ablaze and is currently in critical condition in a hospital. Bill Chappell reports for NPR:

Hours later, northeast of central Hong Kong, a man was set on fire on a footbridge in Ma On Shan. Video footage taken by a bystander shows a man in a green shirt arguing with what appear to be pro-Hong Kong demonstrators — an exchange that seems to be winding down when the man starts to walk away. More angry words are exchanged and the man walks back. Then a masked man in black splashes a liquid on the green-shirted man and uses a lighter to ignite it. The man erupts in flames and the crowd scatters.

The man, who was taken to the hospital, suffered “burns on 28 percent of his body, mainly on his chest and arms,” the South China Morning Post reports. [Source]

Tensions had already been high over the weekend following the death on Friday of a student protester, Chow Tsz-lok, after he fell from a garage structure. Austin Ramzy and Ezra Cheung reported on his death for the New York Times:

Chow Tsz-lok, who was a student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, sustained head and pelvis injuries when he fell one story early Monday morning. His death on Friday morning was confirmed by the city’s Hospital Authority.

[…] Mr. Chow, 22, could be the first death as a direct result of the confrontations between the police and protesters. But what exactly led to his fall is still unclear.

Some protesters have speculated that tear gas or an effort to flee police officers were factors. But security camera video released Wednesday by the building owner did not show police officers or significant amounts of tear gas in the parking garage before Mr. Chow fell.

Roger Tam, 21, a fourth-year H.K.U.S.T. science student, said he had been friends with Mr. Chow for the last three years, and they often spent time together playing video games like Grand Theft Auto. Mr. Chow played basketball and netball and was a “keen protester” who played close attention to the movement, Mr. Tam said. [Source]

In recent months, police violence has become the primary concern of protesters, following initial calls for the reversal of a now withdrawn extradition bill, which launched the movement in June. Multiple women have accused Hong Kong Police Force officers of sexual assault throughout the protest movement, including one woman who has reported being gang raped inside the Tsuen Wan Police Station in September. Other reports of excessive police force are abundant:

In response to the recent violence, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who continues to have Beijing’s backing, has heightened the rhetoric against the protesters, calling them “enemies of the people.”

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Plan for Facial Recognition on Beijing Subway Raises Concerns

Chinese state media reported last week that Beijing’s subway system will soon use facial recognition technology to classify and divide passengers into groups for different security screenings. The news was announced at the end of October at a Beijing forum on urban rail transit operation. It is not clear what criteria will be used to classify passengers but efforts are underway to create a face database and develop standardization procedures. The following is a translation of the original Beijing News report by Yan Jianfei:

The 2019 Urban Rail Transit Operation and Development Forum commenced in Beijing this morning (October 29). At the forum, staff from the Beijing Metro and Beijing Rail Transit Command Center revealed that there will be a subway “white list” and a rapid security inspection system created in the near future.This system will use facial recognition technology to classify passengers for security screening purposes.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of China Urban Rail Transit and Beijing Metro. The “2019 Urban Rail Transit Operation Development Forum” hosted by the Ministry of Transport and Beijing Metro Operation Co., Ltd. was held in Beijing from October 29 to 30. The theme of the forum was “Towards a New Era of Urban Rail Transit Development.” Nearly 300 people from 48 rail transit enterprises and 56 traffic management departments from all over the country participated.

At the forum, Xie Zhengguang, the Party Secretary and Chairman of the Beijing Subway Operation Company, revealed that from 2000 to 2019, Beijing Metro opened a total of 21 new lines, increasing the operating mileage by 645 kilometers, 12 times that of the previous 30 years. The operating mileage has expanded from 54 kilometers to 699 kilometers, and the annual passenger traffic has increased from 435 million passengers to 3.848 billion passengers. Since 2000, the Beijing Metro has shortened the voyage interval by 118 times, and the minimum voyage interval of the main lines in the city is now at two minutes, reaching a world-class level.

Regarding subway security, Xie Zhengguang announced the construction of the passenger credit system, plans to establish a subway “white list” and the rapid security inspection channel, and efforts to strengthen punishment for dishonest acts.

Zhan Minghui, director of the Beijing Rail Transit Command Center, said that the current system of screening both passengers and objects at the same time is low in efficiency and contradicts the needs of mass rail transit. In the future, efforts will be taken to continue to optimize the security screening process, vigorously promote the application of multi-channel security screening equipment, and improve the security inspection capability of each machine. Facial recognition technology will be applied to achieve passenger classification in security screening. Research will be conducted to establish passenger classification standards and compile corresponding face databases.

This system will rely on face recognition to identify passengers and provide the information to security personnel, who will then take corresponding security measures based on the information received. [Chinese] has more from Zhan Minghui on the planned changes:

Zhan Minghui, director of Beijing Rail Traffic Control Center, delivered a keynote speech on Beijing subway’s response measures on large passenger flow at a forum on urban rail transit operation and development held in Beijing Tuesday.

Zhan said that while Beijing subway faces large passenger flow in the rail transit network every day, it has placed huge pressure on security checks of passengers and items.

To improve efficiency, the director said Beijing subway needs to promote the use of multi-channel security check machines and facial recognition technology.

Through setting up standards, the facial recognition system will judge and classify passengers first into groups and inform guards to use relative measures, Zhan said. [Source]

While the new screening procedure is said to be designed to increase efficiency and lower wait times caused by the city’s current subway security measures, concerns are being raised about the potential for increased surveillance. Similar facial recognition systems are also already implemented in several other cities. From Abacus:

Unlike most places, Chinese subways often apply security measures similar to ones seen at an airport. There are bag checks, body checks and metal detectors. And while people aren’t required to take out their electronic devices, passengers are often asked to take a sip of any beverage they’re carrying for security reasons.

[…] All of this has predictably created huge lines of people waiting to enter the station during rush hour. Beijing recorded 3.85 billion subway trips in 2018 alone. On one particular day in July, the subway had 13.7 million trips. That’s a lot of miserable commuters, so subway authorities are looking for a smarter way to pick out the “bad guys.”

[…] Other cities, including Shenzhen and Jinan, have been introducing facial recognition payments into their subway systems as well. And there’s one more technology that could help this tech spread. This year the Beijing Subway became the first in the country to offer 5G coverage across an entire subway line.

Although this is good news for commuters looking to stream games and movies, it could also mean better surveillance. Having 5G in the subway enables 4K video feeds in a highly-populated area. This kind of tech could aid facial recognition and positioning technologies, Chinese state media outlet People’s Posts and Telecommunications News explained earlier this year.[Source]

Beijing authorities earlier announced that they would begin using social credit scores to penalize bad behavior on public transportation.

As facial recognition systems become increasingly ubiquitous in China, some netizens have taken to social media to poke fun at the use of the technology. The following is a TikTok video shared on Twitter showing a group of ducks being processed through an automated production line.

Note: Quanjude is a Chinese restaurant known for its Peking roast duck.

@TuCaoFakeNews: At Quanjude, a group of patriotic ducks are observing a newly introduced automated production line! The technical duck explained: We use duck facial and gait recognition technology to ensure complete control over the ducks’ development. We also use big data to monitor various growth indicators in real time to ensure the quality and appearance of the ducks. All of our technology are world leading. The ducks all cheer: “Impressive, Quanjude.” [Chinese]

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