China unleashes fearsome new cyber-weapon: A very provocative meme

This one has Australia, America, even the wine-drinking world angry


China has unleashed a fearsome new cyber-weapon: a meme so dank - it depicts a knife-wielding soldier threatening to kill a child - that it has sparked a diplomatic incident.

The meme was tweeted last week by a Chinese foreign ministry official and aimed at Australia.

Sino-Australian relations have deteriorated in recent years as Beijing objected to Australia’s bans on Huawei, passing laws that cracked down on foreign interference in domestic politics, and the blocking of Chinese investments Down Under. Relations hit a new low in April 2020 when Australia led a push for an independent inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Days after that call, China’s ambassador to Australia told journalists that Australia’s actions could mean Chinese consumers become less inclined to buy Australian wine or beef.

China has since initiated trade disputes with Australia, imposed tariffs on wine imports and declined to allow a substantial fleet of ships carrying Australian coal to unload their cargo.

Distracted boyfriend image

Swedish ISP spanked for sexist 'distracted boyfriend' advert for developer jobs

READ MORE

Those actions are seen as calculated attempts to harm Australia’s economy by denying it access to China’s markets. China has also handed Australia a list of grievances it wants the nation to address – mostly by reversing policies – to restore the relationship.

Australia, meanwhile, is grappling with a recent report [PDF] on the conduct of its armed forces in Afghanistan that found Australian troops may have murdered up to 39 Afghans and committed other war crimes. Australia reveres its military, and the allegations are considered a stain on the nation’s history and reputation.

So when China’s meme depicted a doctored image of an Australian soldier with a knife to a child’s throat and used the caption, “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace,” it did not go down well.

Australians from Prime Minister Scott Morrison down took exception to the faked imagery, and demanded an apology. Morrison’s Liberal party is adept at using web giant Tencent’s WeChat messaging service to reach Chinese Australians. The PM posted a message on WeChat defending his nation, and the service took it down on grounds that it violates its regulations.

Cale Brown, the US State Department deputy spokesperson, also took exception to Beijing's tweet.

Jake Sullivan, named as President-Elect Joe Biden’s national security advisor, signaled the incoming administration will back Australia.

Even NATO discussed the incident at this week's Foreign Ministers' meeting. Asked about the meme incident during a press conference, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said: "The issue of Chinese propaganda and disinformation was raised during the meeting". He also suggested the incident shows that NATO needs to work more closely with Asian allies, including Australia.

China, meanwhile, has refused to apologize or retract the tweet, defended the meme as using art and satire to depict uncomfortable truths and pointed out that’s just the sort of free expression that Western democracies treasure. The same China that censors any mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The matter remains at an impasse, with neither nation budging, and Chinese ministers not taking calls from their Australian counterparts.

That China has been able to spark this incident with a single tweet and a meme aimed at a nation’s particular anxieties has not gone unnoticed. Nor has the fact that WeChat has helped stymie attempts at rebuttal. Some in Australia have also pointed out that the nation may now be spending more time debating China's reaction to the alleged war crimes than considering appropriate further investigation of the the alleged crimes.

But social media is helping Australia in other ways. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group of 38 elected representatives from 18 nations, plus the European Union, has encouraged the world to drink more Australian wine even if that means less of their local tipples are consumed during the festive season.

Seems like good advice to this Australian. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022