Tea Leaf Nation

Months Later, a Cyberattack Still Lingers

Taiwan's Apple Daily, well known for criticizing the Chinese mainland, is still inaccessible to some overseas readers.

Upon hearing that a major gas explosion had ripped through the southern Taiwan port city of Kaohsiung on August 1, killing at least 22 and injuring 270, many of the more than 1.8 million overseas Taiwanese instinctively turned to their favorite Chinese-language news websites for the latest updates. But for some, attempts to access Taiwan's Apple Daily, a newspaper known for its sensational headlines and editorials critical of Beijing, proved futile -- a lingering after-effect of the June 18 cyberattack against Apple Daily, allegedly originating in mainland China. 

In the early morning hours of June 18, cyberattacks allegedly perpetrated by mainland Chinese hackers crippled both the Hong Kong and Taiwan websites of the popular newspaper, owned by outspoken China critic and Hong Kong Next Media founder Jimmy Lai. It was the worst such attack in Apple Daily's history, freezing one of the island's most popular news portals, which in July received an average of 20.2 million page views per day, for almost two and a half hours. The Broadcasting Corporation of China, a private broadcasting company once run by Taiwan's government, reported on June 19 that the attacks were likely in response to Apple Daily's support of pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong, the former British colony returned to China in 1997, and a measure to allow the public to nominate candidates for its 2017 election for special administrative region chief executive -- a proposal that Beijing has so far rejected.  

Since the June 18 hacking, Apple Daily has redoubled its efforts to bolster its own defenses, leaving some overseas Taiwanese still unable to view the paper's website. In a post two days after the attacks on Facebook, Taiwan's social network of choice, Apple Daily announced that its "website had returned to normal," warning cyber attackers that "you may be able to cripple our website, but you cannot shut our mouths." But from June 20 to July 25, many Taiwanese who live in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan complained on Apple Daily's Facebook page that they were still unable to access the site, with some overseas users encountering "Server Not Found" messages when attempting to enter Apple Daily's Taiwan website. Daisy Li, online director of Apple Daily, told Foreign Policy in an August 1 email that during the attack some Internet service providers "applied defensive measures to block our domains," which in some cases had not yet been lifted. This is what prevented overseas users from entering its Taiwan portal.

The residual blockages have been felt around the globe. Overseas Apple Daily readers make up between 10 and 12 percent of its total page views, according to Apple Daily's Li. A July 26 Apple Daily editorial, written by Jung-Shian Li, a professor at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, a city in southern Taiwan, noted that for more than a month, his friends who work in the United States have still been "entirely unable to go online to read the Apple Daily." While the outlet is hardly the only news website in Taiwan's vibrant and crowded media scene, it has built up a devoted following among Taiwanese both at home and oversees who delight in the newspaper's penchant for gossipy news and salacious photos, as well as its unabashed criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.

Cyberattacks are nothing new to Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province that must someday be reunited, by force if necessary. For more than a decade, Taiwan has found itself on the front lines of a cyber battlefield increasingly dominated by China. A July 19, 2013, NBC News article reported that Beijing views Taiwan as a testing ground for cyber warfare techniques carried out by Chinese hackers before they launch large-scale assaults against other countries. The article lists three chief reasons why Taiwan makes an ideal target: the island's advanced Internet infrastructure, a Mandarin-speaking population, and close proximity to the mainland.

For many Taiwanese, the attacks on Apple Daily and the inability of some overseas to access the outlet's Taiwanese website collectively pose a threat to the island's eroding press freedoms. In a June 21 editorial, the pro-Taiwan independence Liberty Times (and an Apple Daily competitor) urged Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou "not to turn a blind eye to Chinese hackers' attacks on Taiwanese media," warning that if the government fails to respond, Chinese hackers will "rampage through Taiwan" and target any media organization or industry critical of Beijing. Li, author of the July 26 Apple Daily editorial, also echoed this sentiment, writing that overseas Taiwanese friends have openly wondered whether being forced to get their news from alternate Taiwanese news websites had already created an environment in which "news was being controlled and freedom of expression blocked." 

Meanwhile, the Apple Daily cyberattack continues to exact a toll on some overseas ISPs and their subscribers. Compiling reader feedback, Li wrote that the list of Internet service providers that encountered trouble accessing Taiwan's Apple Daily website included Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and AT&T. For those still unable to access Apple Daily from overseas, there are some fixes, according to Li. Web users can try switching their Domain Name System; readers can also view synopses of Apple Daily articles on its Facebook page and most of its news clips on YouTube.

To be sure, overseas Taiwanese Apple Daily viewers were never entirely cut off from their newspaper. Besides Facebook and YouTube, viewers could also access the newspaper's Hong Kong website, which features news and editorials geared more toward Hong Kong than Taiwan, as well as a host of other news and entertainment websites owned by Next Media, Apple Daily's parent company. The extent of this cyber breach, however, is disconcerting for a nation increasingly on edge over Beijing's steady creep into the island's politics, economy and media; and the hackers' success in paralyzing the website of a major news outlet known for its anti-China rhetoric has stoked fears of what future attacks may lie ahead.    


Image via Apple Daily/Fair Use

Tea Leaf Nation

Chinese Official Floats Plan to "Stabilize Fertility" Among Some Uighurs

The plan seems bound to further raise tensions in Xinjiang.

Ordinary Chinese social media users have reacted with nonchalance and even some rejoicing to news that Xinjiang, a far western region beset with bloody ethnic unrest, may tighten its family planning policies to curb population growth among minority Uighurs. The plan, part of a blueprint for restoring peace and stability to the violence-wracked region, was announced by Xinjiang's top Communist Party official, Zhang Chunxian, in an essay published July 31 in party journal Seeking Truth. On top of pledges to boost education and tackle unemployment, Zhang wrote that Xinjiang must "implement a family planning policy that is equal for all ethnic groups" and must "lower and stabilize fertility at a moderate level," although he gave no details or timeline for the changes. Uighurs are a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people numbering a little less than half of Xinjiang's 22 million people.

The plan, if implemented, seemed bound to ratchet up already spiraling tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 percent of China's total population. Alim Seytoff, president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association, told Foreign Policy that there was "pure outrage" in the Uighur exile community over Zhang's remarks. Seytoff said he expected Uighurs would interpret new birth restrictions "as proof that the Chinese government's final solution for the Uighur people is to eventually eliminate them."

China, which famously limits most urban couples to just one child, has more lenient family planning policies for minorities. The government currently allows urban Uighurs to have two children and rural Uighurs to have three. Some Han Chinese resent the special treatment. On China's Twitter-like Weibo, several users welcomed the remarks of Zhang, who is Han, writing there should be just one birth policy for all ethnicities in China. Some also betrayed inter-ethnic animosity. One user wrote that the government should go further and "encourage Han births" in Xinjiang. In response to concerns that fewer Uighur babies might trigger an aging problem in Xinjiang, another web user wrote in response: "Xinjiang won't be facing instability because of aging, but because the Han population [there] will get smaller and smaller compared to the Uighurs."

In fact, Uighurs today make up less than half the population in Xinjiang and the number of Han Chinese has grown rapidly, a result of in-migration rather than a high Han birthrate. It's been a big shift. In 1949, 82 percent of Xinjiang was Uighur, and the population was mostly concentrated in the southern part of the region. By 2010, when China released its last nationwide census, only 46.4 percent of Xinjiang's population was Uighur, and northern Xinjiang had become the economic and political center of the region. Meanwhile Han Chinese, spurred by government programs encouraging migration to the region, rocketed from 6.2 percent of the population in 1949 to 39 percent in 2010. The capital, Urumqi, is now a majority Han city.

Zhang's essay did not mark the first time Xinjiang officials have raised the alarm over Uighur population growth. Uighurs have the country's highest birth rate, with an average of just over 2.0 children born to most Uighur women, while the national average is around 1.8. In February 2006, Nur Bekri, the deputy party secretary of Xinjiang, said that Xinjiang's population controls would have to be tightened or any economic gains in the region would be erased. But no radical changes came as a result, and Bekri didn't go as far as to say that Uighurs should be subject to the same strict limits that Han face. That is apparently what Zhang is prescribing now.

Zhang's latest announcement comes as China is loosening family planning rules across the country. China has limited most urban couples to just one child for more than 30 years but in November of last year, the government tweaked the rules to allow more Han Chinese the chance at a second child. Now couples with one parent who grew up an only child are allowed to have two children.

Zhang's essay also comes on the heels of Xinjiang's worst spasm of ethnic violence in five years. According to a government account, police gunned down 59 knife-toting terrorists near the Silk Road city of Kashgar on July 28 after they launched a premeditated attack on government and police buildings, killing 37 civilians. Exile groups say the people shot by police were protestors, not terrorists. There have been numerous other attacks blamed on Uighurs, including a slashing rampage and suicide bomb attack at a railway station in the capital of Urumqi that left three dead and 79 injured. Exile groups say repression is behind the growing violence and point to rules that bar Uighur civil servants from wearing Muslim dress or fasting during Ramadan. The Beijing government says foreign terror groups are infiltrating the region and spurring the unrest.

Depending on how vigorously it is pursued, an attempt to tighten birth policies in the region might act as a spark in the region's tinderbox atmosphere. Research by Barry Sautman, a professor of social science at Hong Kong University, shows that previous attempts to tighten family planning rules for Uighurs resulted in riots in Urumqi in 1983, and Uighur student demonstrations both in Urumqi and Shanghai in 1985. Yi Fuxian, an obstetrics researcher at the University of Wisconsin and a vocal critic of the one-child policy, told FP he didn't think the Xinjiang government would actually enforce a single policy for all ethnic groups because the "cost would be too high." Yi said Uighurs would revolt if subject to the same birth limits that Han face and there would be greater violence and instability. "I think maybe Zhang Chunxian said this to help release some Han Chinese anger" over the unequal policy, Yi said. "I think it's meant to console the Han."

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