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How China tries to win friends and influence people

By Colin Grant |

March 11, 2012 | 6 min read

Welcome to my new column which will take a close look at some of the stories which attracted my attention in today’s papers.

I had planned to go through several publications but I found it difficult to get past The Sunday Telegraph, which was full of good reading. There isn’t time or space to describe every article I enjoyed, so I’ll concentrate on just three.

The Sunday Herald also caught my eye with a powerful front page, but more of that later.

“How spies used Facebook to steal NATO chiefs’ details” provided yet another warning, if one were needed, about China’s desire to conquer the world.

The boys from Beijing, according to Investigations Editor Jason Lewis, are using sophisticated electronic warfare to target not just military secrets but every aspect of Western life, including companies doing business with the country.

It transpires military officers and government officials from the USA, UK and their allies found a “friend request” on their Facebook account from Admiral James Stavridis, who happens to be the Supreme Allied Commander of Nato.

But the Admiral’s Facebook page was bogus and those who became his friend exposed their details to the foreign agents who had carefully constructed the fake identity.

Those agents, who were traced to China, gained access to a vast amount of personal details which, it’s feared, could amount to a major security risk.

In the past the Chinese are thought to have used similar tactics to procure the secrets of stealth aircraft, submarine technology, the space programme and solar energy.

Faced with such threats, apparently on an hourly basis, it would make sense for the US authorities to grant Scots hacker Gary McKinnon an amnesty on condition he goes to the States and works with them to combat these cyber attacks.

The main story on The Telegraph’s front page was quite shocking. Apparently, Government policy now dictates that Christians have no right to wear the cross.

This issue isn’t personal to me but it seems ludicrous that anyone would find the cross offensive and that people who want to wear one to work face the sack.

But apparently that will be our Government’s position in a forthcoming case at the European Court of Human Rights.

However, the article meandered a bit and just as I was getting into it there were a few paragraphs, from nowhere seemingly, commenting about the Government’s plans to legalise same sex marriages. Then it was back to the cross.

I couldn’t really see the link between the two but I got the impression that The Telegraph, which appears to dislike the marriage proposal, couldn’t resist the temptation to add it to the mix. I’m still not sure why.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has never been a favourite of mine. I don’t know him, we’ve never met nor spoken but I’ve heard him pontificate over the years.

He’s entitled to his views and although I find many of them offensive I would defend his right to freedom of expression.

Apparently, according to The Sunday Telegraph, he once said “tax avoiders are rich bastards who should not be allowed to vote”. If that’s what he believes he’s entitled to say it.

But that statement has now come back to haunt him.

According to the paper “Livingstone puts £238,000 earnings into tax avoidance scheme”.

It would appear that by following in the footsteps of the rich he despises so much he saved up to £54,000 in tax and National Insurance. The paper claims he split his income with his wife to further reduce his tax liability even though she didn’t contribute a penny to the earnings.

When asked to comment Mr Livingstone was, for once, lost for words. Long may that continue!

The Sunday Herald’s front page was impressive to say the least, although that’s the least I would expect from the UK’s best designed newspaper.

What caught my attention, however, was not the splash entitled “Atrocities and exodus”. This is an eyewitness report from the brilliant David Pratt in Syria detailing the executions, war crimes and the secret escape network.

Forgive me for ignoring human tragedy, but I noticed something more interesting on that page. It was “Exclusive report: Inside the world of Scotland’s girl gangs”.

As the father of a teenage daughter I found this irresistible.

Reporter Lucy Adams states that increasing numbers of young women end up as perpetrators of gang violence and they are often the victims of sexual exploitation within those gangs.

Research by Glasgow University found that many of the young women interviewed saw gang membership as inevitable in some parts of the city. Others admitted to carrying knives for the boy gangsters while others boasted of taking part in fights.

Despite that there was good news. Glasgow is no longer the murder capital of Western Europe and violent crime among gangs is falling.

The Sunday Herald, like The Telegraph, was full of good reading and, rarely for me, I found an interesting political story.

Apparently Labour is going to lose North Lanarkshire to the SNP in May’s local elections. It is one of only two Scottish councils with an outright Labour majority and has always been under Labour control.

This prediction was based on Labour’s own research and if it holds true it would be one of the SNP’s greatest victories. It might even lead Alex Salmond to consider bringing forward the independence referendum and bring to an end all this boring speculation.

And now to sports.

In what must be a first for Scottish journalism in recent years neither The Sunday Mail nor The Sunday Post have an exclusive on the back page.

Both have the same story about the ongoing tragedy at Ibrox, which to many people is far more important than what’s going on elsewhere in the world.

This latest chapter concerns the possible takeover of the club by former director Paul Murray who has been asked by the administrators to provide evidence of his financial clout.

Indeed, both papers have essentially the same headline: “Show us your money” and “Show us the money”.

If only someone had asked that 12 months ago.

COLIN GRANT worked as a journalist for more than 30 years and now runs Spectrum PR, a Glasgow-based media consultancy.

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