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article imageOp-Ed: Tyranny, and big money: the hedge funds invest in China’s surveillance regime

By Paul Wallis     Sep 12, 2007 in Business
The hedge funds, those fun loving people who did so much to raise oil prices 200% in a year by cranking up oil futures prices, have found another hobby: tyranny. Rich trash at work.
This is cute stuff. Nobody expects hedge funds to have basic social skills, or even to be able to walk erect. Vermin usually don’t. However, some comprehension of major issues would be nice, and that appears not to be the case.
This New York Times article is a veritable All You Can Eat of information, politics, and a few figures which might cause hair loss. A company called China Surveillance and Security is about to be listed on the NYSE. The company already trades stock in the US and listing is expected to be automatic, although there are approvals involved. (NYT articles sometimes default to login screens. Registration is free.)
China currently operates a reasonably advanced version of Western security, and has been picking up face recognition software and something called “behavior recognition software”, which sounds like psycho-Fascism gone mad, however innocuous it may be. China says that its surveillance system is reducing street crime, “preserving social stability” and is used in anti-terrorism.
The NYT cites experts who say China doesn’t face any terrorism threats, which isn’t quite a full assessment. China does currently have an emerging low level Islamic movement in the western regions among the Uighur people. If not much of a threat in itself, there is a tendency for “Islamic” issues to become franchises.
China also doesn’t exactly advertise its internal problems, so there may be some undefined threat. The reaction to Falun Gong, for example, seems way over the top, far in excess of any need for surveillance. If there is any reason for this rather extreme reaction to a group which practices basic Dao Yin Qigong, nobody’s been able to find it. The fact is that that’s how China is responding. So a massive surveillance system might have some other logic to it.
China also accuses the West of double standards, relative to its own level of surveillance.
The political reaction has been predictable. A White House spokesman doesn’t think it’s appropriate to interfere with private investments by Americans. (Makes you wonder what all the economic embargoes are about.) The Democrats have sided with human rights activists expressing concern about the surveillance situation.
Meanwhile China Surveillance and Security hasn’t been just hanging around counting its virtues. To quote the NYT:
China Security and Surveillance has been aggressively raising money in the United States, including $110 million in convertible loans so far this year from the Citadel Group, a big hedge fund in Chicago. In the last 18 months, the company has used the money to acquire or make a deal to buy 10 of the 50 largest surveillance companies in China.”
This is no small time operation, obviously. To function on that scale in China you need to be connected. The hedge funds haven’t been slow to move, particularly since a spike in domestic sales for the Chinese surveillance company. It’s directly involved in internet surveillance, the big plank in China’s policies regarding the net. Business is booming, and the rats in the investment world tend to follow their noses. Expensive equipment is appearing in ancient Chinese police stations, and new lamp post-like fitting are emerging on the streets.
The hedge funds have shown their true, fecal, colors. The ethos is execrable. Free enterprise is now supporting repression and undermining the whole argument about human rights in China. For a few bucks.
Nobody disputes China’s right to effective law enforcement and security. What’s strongly disputed is the right or necessity to keep the Chinese people under a shroud of information control. The internet is a case in point. Why would a generation of educated Chinese have any difficulty recognizing garbage when they see it?
Also highly debatable is how much of a “threat” is posed by the citizens of a newly prosperous, emerging super power to themselves. The longest running cultural debate on Earth is China The Possible. Chinese cultural identity is no danger to itself. A democratic China would by definition be a Chinese democracy. China would be better advised to start using these levels of surveillance on its corrupt officials and inept administrators.
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