Opinion: Western spy suspicions on China’s social media absurd
Updated 09:09, 15-Jan-2019
CGTN's Liu Jianxi
Editor's note: Liu Jianxi is an opinion editor for CGTN Digital. The article reflects the author's opinion and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
It's nothing new that Western scholars, anxious about China's rise, interpret every political, economic and military move of the country as a daunting threat. But this time, they are firing bullets against China's messaging and social media apps. 
Do not use WhatsApp or WeChat when in China, University of California, Davis warned its students. “We have seen in the latest espionage charge of a U.S. citizen in Russia where the use of WhatsApp has been cited in his espionage charges… Our concern here is the possibility China could use this condition similarly against Western travelers to levy charges or as an excuse to deny departure,” read an email circulated days after the U.S. State Department updated China travel advisory on its website.
Western fears about China are elevating to an absurd level. UC Davis is not the only one paranoid. “The growing popularity of Chinese social media outside China poses new risks in the West,” an article from Peterson Institute for International Economics asserted, accusing TikTok of gathering user data that could “make Beijing's surveillance software better at recognizing Western faces, or at extracting intelligence on Western military activities.”
These allegations are groundless. The above mentioned social media apps have reiterated their respect and commitment to protecting users' privacy, to which the West has been turning a deaf ear. 
VCG Photo

VCG Photo

In a recent statement, WeChat clarified that chat logs are only stored on end services. While the technical giant is capable of viewing content temporarily stored in servers during transmission, it is not an infringement of privacy unless the data is further processed, leaked or sold, Fu Liang, a telecom industry expert, explained when approached by the Global Times for comment on WeChat's privacy concerns.
Pouring dirty water on China's justified online regulations, so-called Western scholars forget how their country, a traditional bastion of democracy and freedom, was collecting vast amounts of Americans' phone records and other personal information in the name of “national security.” Under the PRISM Program, Equation Group and Echelon, the U.S. has been operating in flagrant violation of privacy by spying on foreign governments, enterprises and even individuals. 
More ironically, days after former CIA employee Edward Snowden revealed the notorious PRISM Program, then U.S. President Barack Obama, instead of ordering a halt to the bulk data collection, defended the sweeping surveillance, saying it as both lawful and justified, and “make(s) a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity.”
Why is data collection in the West is an attempt to safeguard national security, but, in China's case, a powerful tool for “espionage” and “manipulation of public opinion”? Western countries have been adept at using double standards in judging every China-related activity.
WeChat, China's most popular social media platform. /VCG Photo

WeChat, China's most popular social media platform. /VCG Photo

Cold War mentality is the root. The West is obstinate in ideological stereotypes against China even in the era of global integration. No matter how advanced a product or good-intended a company may be, it will for sure be stifled in the West as long as it's from a socialist country. “Could a Chinese-made Metro car spy on us? Many experts say yes,” a headline from The Washington Post read, an allegation that would be a waste of words to refute.
Since the Second World War, Western countries have been basking in their superiority and dominance on international affairs. However, the rise of emerging economies will inevitably challenge the current world order, which means changes in the weight of Western say on international affairs.
This will for sure raise the anxiety level of the West. As a result, Western politicians, scholars and media outlets are concentrating more fire against China – their ideological “enemy.” This will only reap whirlwind in the 21st century where cooperation, instead of confrontation, is the major theme. Increasingly intertwined and dependent on the world's second largest economy, Western countries cannot afford to ruin ties with China. 
The willingness to change, rather than containment, is the right attitude to change. It's high time that Western countries abandon ideological stereotypes against socialist countries, treat them on an equal footing and embrace cooperation with the rest of the world, which is in the benefits of not only the West, but also the whole world.
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