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U.S. Think Tank Reports Prompted Beijing to Put a Lid on Chinese Data (WSJ)

Wall Street Journal title: U.S. Think Tank Reports Prompted Beijing to Put a Lid on Chinese Data
WSJ subtitle: Some reports based on publicly available information alarmed officials
By: Lingling Wei
Date: 7 May 2023

“A recent campaign to restrict overseas access to China-based data sources was partly triggered by a drumbeat of U.S. think tank reports on sensitive Chinese practices that alarmed Beijing, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Increasingly worried about perceived Western threats, Beijing in recent weeks expanded an anti-espionage law and stepped up pressure on foreign companies specializing in collecting information, such as auditors, management consultants and law firms. In addition, access to Chinese databases including Shanghai-based Wind Information has tightened for foreign think tanks, research firms and other nonfinancial entities.

The wider scope of the campaign is intended to ensure the party-state’s control over narratives about China. The part of it focused on restricting overseas access to databases began in earnest after some reports based on publicly available information set off alarms among senior Chinese officials, according to the people with knowledge of the matter.

The reports, these people said, included analyses written by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University and the Center for a New American Security, co-founded by Kurt Campbell, the White House’s coordinator for the Indo-Pacific.

Using open-source data, several of the reports focused on areas that Beijing considers sensitive, such as what it calls civil-military fusion—the interplay between China’s civilian research and commercial sectors and its defense sector to advance the country’s military capabilities.

Because of opaque policy-making and a lack of direct access to Chinese businesses and authorities, many Western think tanks and research firms have resorted to looking for information on procurement, corporate ownership and policy in documents that can be found on the Chinese internet.

The online sleuthing is making Beijing increasingly concerned about the security of Chinese data as competition with the U.S. intensifies. Some Chinese officials say several Washington-based think tanks have mined the country’s open-source data to help validate a hard-line U.S. policy toward China, such as heightened restrictions on the sale of high-tech products to Chinese companies.

One of the U.S. think tank reports that got Chinese authorities’ attention, according to the people, is a policy brief published by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology in June, titled “Silicon Twist.” It focuses on Chinese military access to advanced chips designed by American companies and manufactured in Taiwan and South Korea.

“By analyzing thousands of purchasing records, this policy brief offers a detailed look at how China’s military comes to access these devices,” according to a blurb of the article on the center’s website. The report didn’t identify the sources for the procurement data it analyzed.

Also on Beijing’s radar, said the people who have consulted with Chinese authorities, is a catalog compiled by the center for Chinese initiatives aimed at recruiting scholars and students in support of China’s strategic goals, called “The Chinese Talent Program Tracker.”

The information in the catalog, according to an introduction on the center’s website, resulted from analysis of sources publicly available on Chinese government websites, state media and Chinese university websites.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, an agency set up by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to police the internet, in March notified various Chinese data providers to restrict overseas access to information involving corporate-registration information, patents, procurement documents, academic journals and official statistical yearbooks, said the people who have consulted with Chinese authorities.

As a result, the academic database China National Knowledge Infrastructure, or CNKI, informed foreign universities and other research institutions that their access to its digital records would be limited, effective April 1.

“Like many other organizations and university libraries across the country, we were notified about changes to our CNKI access in March,” said Lynne Weil, spokeswoman for the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, founded in 2019. “This disruption is dismaying and a loss for the research community, particularly those who study China. But it will not discourage us from doing our work.”

China’s cybersecurity regulator didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In an email, a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington said, “I don’t have specific information on the situation you mentioned. But in principle, China actively promotes international research cooperation.” The spokesman added, “We actively support foreign experts to play a part, sometimes a leading part, in some of our research programs.”

Some publications by the Center for a New American Security, according to the people, have rattled China’s leadership, including 2019 testimony made by a senior fellow at the center to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a group Congress has charged with providing policy recommendations based on its evaluation of national security and trading risks associated with China.

That testimony indicated that China’s military was actively exploring ways to use artificial intelligence to enhance its combat power. The Center for a New American Security, co-founded by Mr. Campbell in 2007, is considered one of Washington’s go-to policy institutes for defense matters. The center and the National Security Council, where Mr. Campbell works, didn’t respond to questions.

As part of Beijing’s campaign to curtail overseas access to Chinese data, Wind Information, whose economic, financial and corporate data are widely used by analysts and investors both inside and outside the country, is conducting a compliance review of contracts that have yet to be completed or come up for renewal, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Among the Western policy institutes that haven’t been able to complete their contracts with Wind, the people said, is the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank whose research on China ranges from economic policy and trade to security.

In addition to the heightened scrutiny of U.S. think tanks’ contracts, Wind recently cut off foreign access to specific data sets such as those involving corporate-registry information.

Intensified information restrictions have analysts and investors fretting over a lack of official clarity on what types of data will be off limits—at a time of greater uncertainty over China’s economic and policy direction.

The lack of clarity “gives the government ample latitude in determining the companies and activities that would be subject to mandatory disclosure or security reviews,” said a new report by the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, a Washington think tank, and Rhodium Group, a New York-based economic-research partnership.”


Source:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-think-tank-reports-prompted-beijing-to-put-a-lid-on-chinese-data-5f249d5e

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