"Are these just words or do they represent a real shift in policy?"
When news broke out on Facebook’s announcement of the purging of two separate propaganda networks using fake identities to spread propaganda targeting the US, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines, it put a smile on my face. Indeed it is a most welcome development.
Facebook’s release said: “Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals in the Fujian province of China.”
The propaganda operation consisted of Pages and Instagram accounts, but its primary focus was running fake identities on Facebook which were used to amplify content. People running profiles ‘posed as locals’.”
Head of Security Nathaniel Gletcher’s blog post said, “In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing, and that was the basis for our action,”
He added that, “We removed 155 accounts, 11 Pages, 9 Groups and 6 Instagram accounts for violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity,”
This online Chinese operation further stacks up its offensive actions and its expansionist agenda, both with clear and present implications to our country.
The fake accounts taken down from China targeting the US were posting about President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. This is yet another revealing symptom of China’s ongoing aggressive use of its digital arsenal for espionage and undermine targeted governments.
This has prompted a growing number of countries to ban Chinese wireless technology and smartphone company Huawei. The US, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and most recently the UK have imposed bans and are phasing out Huawei products from their networks. France and Germany are also seriously considering bans and are beefing up security measures against purportedly built-in “back-doors” in the Chinas company’s technology to allow spying activities. The US has uncovered cases alleging the stealing of trade secrets, fraud, even evading US sanctions against Iran. Just last month. Local telco Globe Telecom announced that it has begun shifting to “non-Huawei” devices as a primary response to ensure network security.
This brings up a developing issue sparked when alarm bells were set off when the government allowed the installation of third telco DITO partner ChinaTel, a wholly-owned state corporation and therefore under the iron control of the Chinese Communist Party, to install telecommunications equipment inside our military camps. DITO, having no track record in telecommunications, is relying on ChinaTel’s capacity to source, install, and maintain communications equipment. This has elicited strong criticism from security analysts and telecommunications experts which, considering the developments in other countries, should be taken seriously by this administration.
Though DITO is 60-percent Filipino owned, a provision in the proposed Public Services Act now pending in the Senate will open telecommunications to foreign ownership. This means that if left unamended and passed into law, DITO can be bought by ChinaTel and have full control of it. It will then become the third telco.
Whether this would happen or not, China has a law that binds any Chinese citizen or corporation to cooperate with the state intelligence services of China. The presence of their equipment in our Philippine military camps is too good an opportunity that China’s Ministry of State Security will surely seize as an integral element of what geopolitical thinkers have called “asymmetric warfare” to achieve its expansionist agenda. As we continue to see its acts of harassment and militarization in the South China Sea, the destabilizing effect is going beyond the countries of Southeast Asia.
Further thickening the plot is the fact that a close ally of the President, Davao Tycoon Dennis Uy who controls DITO and the Udenna conglomerate, is partnered with China Harbour Engineering Company which is a subsidiary China Communications Construction Co., a US black-listed company because of its role in building Chinese military facilities in the South China Sea. China Harbour Engineering Company is set to execute with its local partner the US$1.2 billion reclamation for the Sangley Point airport project.
All these factors will worsen the already dominant distrust of the Filipinos towards the Chinese government. Though President Duterte for the first time, and to the United Nations at that, asserted the non-negotiability of our arbitral victory junking China’s imaginary nine-dash claim to annex the whole of the South China Sea, there is still a disconnect with the administration’s preferential and unbalanced relationship with China. How the government will be acting to address these connected threats of digital warfare, violations of our sovereignty, national security, harassment of our fisherfolk, and the rule of law, will tell us if these are just words or a real shift in foreign policy.