Good Reads: From a bold vision for China to cyberwarfare to Norwegian fishing

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes China's desire to become the world's main superpower, Edward Snowden's confessional video, the ease of making cyberweapons, eradicating global poverty, and the demise of Norwegian fishermen.

Evan Vucci/AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping visits with President Obama in California.

China's Worldview

China’s new president, Xi Jinping, has a bold vision for his country, inspired by its ancient prestige. In Time magazine, Hannah Beech describes how Mr. Xi intends for China to match US military capabilities, becoming the strongest country economically, politically, and culturally.

This “China Dream,” depending on how Xi shapes his tenure as president, could lead to shifts in international dynamics. “How China sees the world matters because Chinese aspirations, tastes and fears will shape the lives of billions of people across the globe. Indeed ... China – and its worldview – may once again dictate the narrative of our age,” Ms. Beech writes.

But despite its desire to become the world’s main superpower, China must deal with internal issues first, Beech writes. Chief among these is stanching the exodus of the country’s elite – 150,000 Chinese received permanent residency abroad in 2011. “When a nation’s elite is ready to bolt at a moment’s notice, it says much about the regime’s lack of legitimacy and its staying power,” David Shambaugh, a China scholar, told Beech.

Hero or traitor?

In a carefully executed leak, former National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden unveiled documents showing how US government programs mine communication data including people’s e-mails, Facebook posts, and even Skype chats. Digital surveillance is not new, especially during this era of heightened national security awareness. Gathering electronic information is legal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but Mr. Snowden said the government is redefining what is constitutional, creating “architecture of oppression.”

In an identity-revealing video interview with Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, Mr. Snowden explained why people should be worried about the government’s actions. 

“Even if you are not doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded. And the storage capabilities of these systems increases every year, consistently by orders of magnitude,” Snowden said, adding that just a wrong call could raise suspicion. “Then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”

The fallout of his actions is not yet known as the United States arranges to press charges against the whistle-blower. Whether he is a hero or a traitor depends on how one weighs the balance between civil liberties and national security.

Cyberwar proliferation

The US government, reportedly using cyberattacks to deter Iran’s nuclear program, has opened itself up to similar cyberattacks – igniting a tit-for-tat struggle that is ushering in a new wave of proliferation, which Michael Joseph Gross describes in Vanity Fair.

“The paradox is that the nuclear weapons whose development the U.S. has sought to control are very difficult to make, and their use has been limited – for nearly seven decades – by obvious deterrents,” Mr. Gross said. “Cyber-weapons, by contrast, are easy to make, and their potential use is limited by no obvious deterrents. In seeking to escape a known danger, the U.S. may have hastened the development of a greater one.”

Both Washington and Tehran are boosting their arsenal of cyberweapons in a war that is increasingly aggressive and cryptic. Not to mention that cyberwarfare is not limited to traditional rules of engagement. “You don’t have to be a nation-state to do this,” one hacker told Gross. “You just have to be really smart.”

Eradicating extreme poverty by 2030

Can the world powers eradicate extreme poverty for 1 billion people by 2030? If gross domestic product growth during the past decade is any indicator, the answer is a resounding yes, according to The Economist.

Whereas poverty used to be an unchangeable fact of life, unprecedented growth in developing countries has shifted the outlook for eliminating poverty in places where people live on less than $1.25 a day. The primary condition for continued progress is for developing countries to maintain the steady growth of their GDP.

“Poverty used to be a reflection of scarcity. Now it is a problem of identification, targeting and distribution. And that is a problem that can be solved,” says the report.

Fishermen no more

In the small coastal communities in northern Norway, traditional occupations of whaling and cod fishing are losing luster for young people bent on landing salaried positions on the mainland, far from their roots. In National Geographic, Roff Smith explains that this change is a drastic turnaround for the region, where previous generations flocked in order to cash in on a booming industry. 

“It isn’t a scarcity of whales that is bringing down the curtain, or even the complicated politics of whaling,” writes Mr. Smith. “It’s something far more prosaic and inexorable: Norwegian kids, even those who grow up in the seafaring stronghold of Lofoten, simply don’t want to become whalers anymore. Nor do they want to brave storm-tossed winter seas to net fortunes in cod, as their forebears have done for centuries.”

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