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  • Sharper Eyes: Shandong to Xinjiang (Part 3)

  • Hong Kong: “We Yearn for Freedom with our Resounding Voices”

  • Beijing Blasts Germany After Joshua Wong’s Berlin Visit


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Sharper Eyes: Shandong to Xinjiang (Part 3)

This is the third part of CDT’s Sharper Eyes series. See also “Surveilling the Surveillers (Part 1)” and “Sharp Eyes Project Map (Part 2).” 

In previous posts, CDT introduced the background of the government’s “Sharp Eyes” surveillance program, a rural-focused initiative that combines cutting-edge technology with Mao-era, crowd-sourced surveillance efforts. Closer examination of some of the hundreds of Sharp Eyes projects across China reveals not only the program’s sheer physical scope, but also its wide-ranging ambitions in rolling the many aspects of public security and city management into one. The more than 20 basis documents that established Sharp Eyes do not provide a single clear, coherent central blueprint for implementation, which is instead highly contingent upon local priorities. Having explored Sharp Eyes’ overarching goals of expanding surveillance to rural areas, we will also more closely examine how this program marries cutting-edge technologies with more low-tech citizen policing that encourages residents to surveil public video feeds and report suspicious incidents using their TVs and mobile devices.

Linyi: A Key Role Model

Pingyi County in Shandong Province’s Linyi City was Sharp Eyes’ birthplace and served as a role model for projects nationwide. In 2016, Linyi hired a technical team and drafted a construction plan authored by Dahua. According to Chinese reports, this region was chosen as the role model due to a high crime rate and lack of sufficient police force; after seeing the success of video monitoring on crime rates in another village, local authorities took the initiative to begin implementing this type of monitoring. 

With this groundwork laid, the municipal committee then incorporated Sharp Eyes into Linyi’s 13th Five Year Plan. To reduce costs, the Shandong Broadcasting and Television Network was chosen to serve as the network transmission provider utilizing its excess bandwidth, while Shandong-based Seasoft was chosen to build the surveillance networking application. Ultimately, 4,611 “integrated governance (information) platforms” were built to streamline “public stability maintenance” work among different official bodies.

Linyi established technical and supervisory Sharp Eyes groups that included comprehensive efforts to improve village surveillance capabilities. 876 city and county comprehensive management committee members were paired with villages that had weaker public security foundations to provide targeted assistance on constructing video surveillance systems. Each month, these committee members ranked the work of each county and district. Those responsible for the projects that had fallen behind would have direct face-to-face interviews and discussions conducted by relevant municipal Party committee leaders. 

The municipal government prioritized video surveillance construction as one of the city’s “Top Ten People’s Livelihood Projects.” Video construction was included in financial budgets at all levels to provide major funding support. The central government provided 28 million yuan in construction funds, while the municipal and county-level comprehensive management committees provided a further 24 million yuan. Funding came not only from government sources, but also from personal donations, which raised more than 13 million yuan from activities such as a campaign called “I send peace to my hometown.” 

Xinjiang: A Lab for Surveillance

Sharp Eyes has also been deployed in the northwest region of Xinjiang, which has been the focus of a major government security clampdown that escalated after at least 200 were killed in riots in 2009. A subsequent crackdown in the name of counter-terrorism has resulted in stifling controls over the cultural and religious practices of the local Muslim Uyghur population. An estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are currently detained in internment camps that aim to “re-engineer” the Uyghur identity. After a spike in camp construction in 2017, researcher Adrian Zenz cited regional government figures showing a 92.8 percent increase in Xinjiang’s security spending from 30.05 billion yuan in 2016 to 57.95 billion yuan in 2017. This was a nearly ten-fold increase from a decade prior, and three times higher than the national per-capita average. Chinese media reports claim that in 2017, Xinjiang was the site of 30 of the 80 nationwide public security projects each worth over 100 million yuan. Nine of the 80 were Sharp Eyes projects. The spending in Xinjiang for these 30 combined initiatives reached 14.36 billion, accounting for more than 55% of total spending nationwide. 

Karamay, a prefecture-level city in northern Xinjiang, was designated as a national demonstration city for Sharp Eyes in 2016. By the following July, it had completed coverage and networking applications across the city and surrounding districts. Situated close to the Kazakh border, Karamay was an early adopter of policies cracking down on Muslim practices, and is now a primary location for internment camps.

By the end of 2017, Karamay completed coverage of key industries, work units, traffic intersections, heavily frequented public areas, and all communities, hospitals, and schools. This included construction of over 800 video surveillance points across scenic spots throughout the city, as well as over 100 monitoring centers that were integrated into public security video surveillance feeds of over 12,000 byways to achieve decentralized monitoring and 24-hour coverage. Lastly, there were three sets of long-distance urban camera systems, which allow for even more comprehensive coverage to address traffic safety, environmental protection, anti-terrorism, and “illegal public gatherings.” 

Other completed Sharp Eyes projects are in Kashgar (one of the most heavily policed cities in Xinjiang), the Tianshan district of Urumqi, a public-private partnership (PPP) in Hotan Prefecture, Toli County in Tacheng Prefecture, and Yining County in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. There is also an ongoing procurement process led by the ninth division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an economic and paramilitary organization that has administrative authority over much of the region.

Two of the major beneficiaries of the security spending spree in Xinjiang are Dahua and Hikvision–both major companies producing surveillance products for Sharp Eyes projects–which have won over one billion USD worth of security projects in the region since 2016. They are the world’s two largest security camera manufacturers, and are both subject to U.S. federal use bans

Hikvision’s state-owned parent company China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), which founded Hikvision under its No. 52 Research Institute, has a broader presence in over 110 countries and regions worldwide. In Xinjiang, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CETC created a predictive policing system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). The system, unrelated to Sharp Eyes, disproportionately targets Uyghurs’ way of life, and was recently reverse-engineered by Human Rights Watch.

So far, one clearly documented instance of CETC participation in Sharp Eyes is through the Anhui Province-based Sun Create Electronics Co, a subsidiary of CETC’s No. 38 Research Institute. It won a 6.37 billion yuan tender last year for a Sharp Eyes project in Hefei, Anhui’s provincial capital, and another this year in Anhui’s Huangshan City.

In correspondence with CDT, Maya Wang, who authored HRW’s recent report on IJOP, emphasized the government’s apparent wider-reaching surveillance goals, to which Sharp Eyes contributes: “This ambition for total surveillance and social control is not limited to Xinjiang—although that is a region where surveillance is most intrusive and visible. This ambition is a national one.” 

Managing “Special Populations” and Urban Metropolises

The increased desire to address “special populations” is also highlighted as one of Sharp Eyes’ goals. Several projects, including in Linyi in Shandong Province and Yuzhong County in Qinghai Province’s Xining City, mention the term “special populations service management” [特殊人群服务管理]. A self-media post on Sohu explains that these groups include the mentally ill, drug addicts, and those undergoing “community correction” practices such as being on parole or suspended sentences. The goal is to monitor the exact number of such individuals, and to input their information into the grid management system so that their whereabouts are clear and authorities do not “lose the ability to manage” them. Chinese police are known to maintain databases including personal information about individuals of interest, including tags for various personal characteristics or social groups they may belong to.

Sharp Eyes is also present in major metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Guangzhou. Guangzhou began constructing a high-definition video surveillance network in 2005. It has become one of the most densely covered cities in the country with more than 574,000 cameras and full coverage of major roads and other public spaces. Guangzhou was China’s only megacity (over 10 million inhabitants) chosen as a national Sharp Eyes demonstration city by the Central Comprehensive Management Committee, the Ministry of Public Security, and the National Development and Reform Commission in September 2016.

A year later, the Longgan District of neighboring Shenzhen completed the third phase of its Sharp Eyes construction tasks, achieving complete coverage of key districts and intersections. This included an interlinked public security video network for government departments, video coverage of 11 major roadways, and 19,400 high-definition cameras. In May 2018, contractor China Eracom won a bid for a Sharp Eyes project worth 275 million yuan in Shenzhen’s Futian District. The project’s eight product requirements demonstrate an emphasis on both facial recognition and high-altitude cameras, calling for 2000 face recognition cameras and 100 sets of high-altitude surveillance cameras.


China’s Sharp Eyes program is an attempt to combine advanced surveillance technologies with tried-and-tested methods of crowd-sourced monitoring harkening back to the Mao era, creating a nationwide web of control. This ambitious goal is easily summed-up by the Cultural Revolution slogan from which this program draws its name–”the people have sharp eyes.” Presented in positive terms by authorities–and readily echoed by official media quotations from rural residents–as a means to enhance safety and eradicate crime, the program could potentially be used to infringe on individual privacy and to persecute dissent in China. As the multitude of Sharp Eyes projects continue being developed across China towards the official goals of “full coverage, network sharing, real-time availability, and full control” in all rural regions of China by 2020, CDT editors will keep a close eye on the topic. Stay tuned to our Sharp Eyes Interactive Project Map, and to the Sharper Eyes series page, where we will continue to track Beijing’s massively ambitious and equally troubling march to become a total surveillance state.  

This post was co-written by Dahlia Peterson and Josh Rudolph, with research assistance from Cindy. Dahlia Peterson is a Research Analyst at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University.

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Hong Kong: “We Yearn for Freedom with our Resounding Voices”

A song titled “Glory to Hong Kong” has quickly become the de facto anthem of the protest movement which has taken to the streets for the past three months calling for withdrawal of a proposed extradition bill. While the bill has since been withdrawn, protesters had already expanded their focus to broader demands for democracy and accountability for police violence.

Daniel Victor reports for The New York Times on the new anthem and its origins:

Thousands of people in Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday turned their backs on the field as the Chinese anthem played before a World Cup qualifying match against Iran, drowning out the song with boos. Many Hong Kongers have never felt pride hearing the song — the semiautonomous territory does not have its own anthem — and they certainly do not now, as mass pro-democracy protests continue into a fourth month.

But in the stadium’s stands and concourses Tuesday, hordes of fans repeatedly sang a song created less than three weeks before, which some protesters have billed as their equivalent of a national anthem. And over the next two days, more than a dozen singalongs took place at shopping malls across the city, some attracting thousands of people.

Written and composed anonymously, then modified in online forums popular with protesters, “Glory to Hong Kong” features the kind of brass-heavy backing and soaring lyricism common to anthems, including the line “May people reign, proud and free, now and ever more.” In a slickly produced video version, an orchestra and choir dressed in protester garb — black shirts, helmets and gas masks — perform through a fog machine, meant to evoke images of tear gas. [Source]

In recent years, Hong Kong residents have taken to booing the Chinese national anthem when it is played at soccer matches, as they did during the recent World Cup qualifying game against Iran. A proposed law in Hong Kong would make “insulting the national anthem” a crime punishable up to three years; a similar law passed in China in 2017.

In the Guardian, Verna Yu writes about how the song has resonated with protesters:

Many Hongkongers say the singing lifts their spirits and boosts morale in their fight for democracy and basic rights. Some, tired of violent clashes in recent protests, said the singing was a powerful tool of solidarity and determination.

“The song spells out our heartfelt feelings. It is a song that stands for our fight,” said a 33-year-old man who gave his surname as Hung, who participated in singing at the football match and at a shopping centre on Wednesday.

Hung said singing was a good way of uniting supporters of the movement, on top of other non-violent expressions such as human chains and Lennon Walls – where people post sticky notes with pro-democracy messages – in communities across Hong Kong.

“Why are tears flowing on this land? Why are people angry? We lift our heads, we reject silence and we yearn for freedom with our resounding voices,” said the opening verse. [Source]

In an interview from The Stand News, translated by China Heritage, the anonymous songwriter, who goes by “T,” explains the process of writing the music:

T worked on the project from early June, but it wasn’t until mid August that inspiration finally struck and, when it did, it started at the end, with he struck on the melody that he would use for the last line of the song, ‘Bring Back the Glory’. With that as a start, the rest of the tune pretty much fell into place. Within two days, T had a finished score.

He says that he didn’t feel that Hong Kong people share the emotionalism or aggressiveness that you get with Russians. In us rather, as T observes, ‘there’s a modicum of the dignity you might find among the English’, ‘though without their kind of stiffness’. He wanted to reflect something that was a mix of the two; that’s why ‘Gloria’ opens with considerably solemnity but, then,

‘Later on, the song gives voice to the ideas of Justice, Freedom and Democracy, and as such the tempo shifts to creating a greater mood of uplift.’

From the start, ‘Glory’ was not going to be a pop tune since the composer favoured something in a more classical style: clear and concise lyrics, the tune that allowed each line to be made out clearly and a regular beat throughout. Many people can remember the tune only having heard it a couple of times, just as it is easy to sing. That’s just as it is supposed to be. [Source]

In an introduction to the translation of the interview at China Heritage, Geremie Barmé puts the song in historic context:

‘Bring Back the Glory’ features a number of terms and metaphors that have deep historical resonances. The darkness of night that swallows the very stars, as well as the promise of a new dawn are commonly found in the poetry and songs of many cultures when the struggle is joined again the forces of repression and people live in hope of a better future. In ‘Bring Back the Glory’, however, but the lyricist also evokes a particularly resonant expression from the May Fourth era (1917-1927) 吶喊, naa3 haam3 in Cantonese and nà hǎn in Standard Chinese usually translated as ‘a call to arms’. It is the title the 1922 collection of stories by Lu Xun, a champion of freedom and independent thought. The expression has resonated through the last century. It has featured in another chapter in this series (see ‘For We are Like Olives’, 6 September 2019), and it was in prominent display during the 1989 Beijing Protests Movement. The two characters 吶喊 nà hǎn were literally writ large for they appeared on a banner during the May 1989 student hunger strike, both as a plea to the government to respond to the students’ demands and an appeal to the people of Beijing to join the protests. It was a call that galvanised the Chinese capital. [Source]

Other versions have also surfaced online, and massive crowds have taken to singing it in shopping malls and other public spaces:

Counter-protesters have confronted “Glory to Hong Kong” choruses by singing the Chinese national anthem but their efforts have not been met with as much enthusiasm:

Others have turned to violence:

Artist Badiucao has created a flag to represent the protest movement, based on images from Lennon Walls that have sprung up in Hong Kong and around the world to express support for the protests:

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Beijing Blasts Germany After Joshua Wong’s Berlin Visit

Hong Kong democracy activist and Demosistō co-founder Joshua Wong traveled to Germany yesterday, where he met with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin. Wong was among several high-profile activists and lawmakers arrested late last month in a roundup by Hong Kong police as protests in the city continue into their fourth month. Wong was reportedly briefly detained on Sunday at the airport for “breaching bail conditions,” but was released after that was determined to be a mistake. At The Guardian, Kate Connoly reports on Wong’s meeting with the foreign minister and comments to a crowd of politicians and media professionals at a gathering celebrating global rights advocacy hosted by the tabloid Bild:

Speaking to the gathering, Wong pledged to continue to “protest until the day that we have free elections” and compared Hong Kong with communist East Germany during the pro-democracy protests that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“If we are now in a new cold war, Hong Kong is the new Berlin,” Wong told the gathering. “We urge the free world to stand together with us in resisting the autocratic Chinese regime.”

[…] Wong told the Berlin gathering he had been arrested eight times and held in detention for 100 days.

[…] Wong, who is due to address students and the public on Wednesday evening at the Humboldt University in Berlin before travelling to the US, said he planned to hold further talks with political leaders in Germany. There was no meeting scheduled with Merkel, according to her spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

Last week, Wong made headlines in Germany after calling for two panda cubs, born last month to pandas at Berlin zoo who have been rented from the Chinese government, to be named “Democracy” and “Freedom”, in order to “send a very clear signal to China”. A national campaign has called for the cubs to be called “Hong” and “Kong”. [Source]

Beijing reacted with anger at Germany following Foreign Minister Haas’ meeting with Wong. The South China Morning Post’s Catherine Wong reports:

On Tuesday, [Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman] Hua [Chunying] said Beijing was “strongly dissatisfied” over Maas meeting Wong, the 22-year-old secretary general of pro-democracy Hong Kong political party Demosisto [noting that Beijing had lodged “stern representations” with Germany]. Wong had travelled to Berlin for the event, hosted by the German newspaper Bild to celebrate human rights activists around the world.

[…] “There are certain German media and politicians who seek attention and stage political shows by taking advantage of anti-Chinese separatists,” Hua said. “This is extremely erroneous action which has shown disrespect of China’s sovereignty and interference in China’s internal affairs.

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel has clearly stated her support for ‘one country, two systems’ and her opposition to violence during her visit to China last week. We couldn’t help but wonder, what is the intention of the German side to allow Joshua Wong to visit Germany and to meet Foreign Minister Maas at this point in time?”

[…] Hua said the incident would send the wrong signal to “radical separatist forces” in Hong Kong and called for Maas not to engage in actions that would hurt China-Germany relations. [Source]

Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, where she urged a peaceful solution to the situation in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam last week announced the full withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill that initially ignited protests in June, which many concluded as “too little, too late.”

Wong is next heading to New York:

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