|Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story explores how ChatGPT could be used by Asia-Pacific governments seeking to win information wars. We also have an interview with Benjamin Charlton, senior analyst for Asia Pacific at Oxford Analytica in London, on Asia-Pacific countries’ role in the 21st century space race.
|Story of the week
|Will Asian Diplomacy Stump ChatGPT?
What Happened: ChatGPT introduced the world to the power of AI. Enter a search query into the box, and an impressive essay-like answer will pop up. But, as Pete Hunt writes for The Diplomat, “it’s well-established that ChatGPT and similar chatbots are basically sophisticated versions of the ‘suggested reply’ functionality in Gmail.” The responses are “modeled on patterns of language” – meaning that the answers are based on the most common phrases used to discuss a given topic. That gives an obvious opening for governments to manipulate ChatGPT and similar AI tools by flooding the internet with their preferred narratives.
Our Focus: In a regular search engine, users see dozens of results, which may contradict each other; when interacting with ChatGPT, users ask a question and get a single answer. The sources for this answer (and alternative viewpoints) are obscured, providing a plum opportunity to governments seeking to indoctrinate the international public. The status of Taiwan is an obvious example – perhaps too obvious, as ChatGPT seems to have been trained to handle questions about Taiwan with special sensitivity. But Hunt explores other topics that might not have raised red flags for ChatGPT’s programmers, starting with how to define Japan’s southernmost and northernmost islands (both topics of dispute with Japan’s neighbors). Here the answers are less nuanced.
What Comes Next: China already has a history of trying to game foreign search engine results on sensitive topics like Xinjiang and the origins of COVID-19. Beijing will try to trick ChatGPT and similar AI tools into regurgitating its preferred narratives as well – not to mention the heavy restrictions that will be placed on Chinese versions of these programs. But China is not alone in this regard. Every government in the Asia-Pacific could think of topics where it would be useful to have its talking points offered by ChatGPT to users around the world. From territorial disputes to national security concerns, ChatGPT and other chatbot responses are the next battleground for propaganda and disinformation wars.Read this story
|Behind the News
Benjamin Charlton, senior analyst for Asia Pacific at Oxford Analytica in London, on the China-U.S. space competition: “China is nowhere near a peer of the U.S. yet, but it’s the only country that could plausibly become one. There is zero cooperation between them in space, so Washington sees China purely as a rival.”Read the interview
|This Week in Asia
|South Korea Pitches Plan to Repair Ties With Japan
On Monday South Korea’s foreign minister announced a plan to tackle a dispute over forced labor compensation: Instead of Japanese companies providing reparations to victims, the money will come from a South Korean foundation, with corporations (including South Korea firms that previously received millions of dollars from Japan) making voluntary contributions. Japan has welcomed the offer, but the plan faces steep opposition from within South Korea, where critics say it absolves Japanese companies of their court-ordered responsibility to victims.Find out more
|Nepal’s Presidential Election
Nepal’s federal and provincial lawmakers will vote to elect the country’s next president on March 9. The post, once thought of as largely ceremonial, has grown more important given its stability; prime ministers come and go, but a president lasts the whole five-year governmental term. Already, the choice of presidential candidates has torn apart Nepal’s governing coalition and resulted in a new alliance.Find out more
|Cambodia Jails Opposition Leader
On Friday, a Cambodian court sentenced opposition leader Kem Sokha to 27 years imprisonment after finding him guilty of treason. Kem Sokha was arrested back in 2017, shortly before his popular party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was banned by the country’s Supreme Court. He has been accused, with scant evidence, of plotting a “color revolution” to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). His sentencing, comes ahead of national elections this July, at which the CPP is seemingly set for another lopsided victory. The verdict is also set to further sour Phnom Penh’s relations with the West.Find out more
|What Can Be Done for Central Asia's Women?
March 8, International Women's Day, is celebrated in Central Asia with bouquets of flowers and much pontificating about the value of women. The gender-based violence and misogyny rampant in regional societies are a stark contrast, and problems governments say they are fighting, with varying degrees of success. More can, and must, be done.Find out more
Sri Lanka’s debt woes stem from the country’s increasing reliance on international sovereign bonds – which have far higher interest rates than bilateral loans.See the full picture
|Word of the Week
Gǎnyú dòuzhēng, Mandarin for “dare to struggle” or “have the courage to fight,” has become a new mantra for China’s foreign policy under Xi Jinping.Find out more
|In Case You Missed It
|Vietnam’s Political Shake-up
The past several months have seen some remarkable developments in Vietnam’s domestic politics. In mid-January, Nguyen Xuan Phuc became the first state president in the country’s history to resign in the middle of his term, following two deputy prime ministers – and dozens of lower level government officials and party apparatchiks – out the door.
The resignations have been linked to the Communist Party of Vietnam’s wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign, but is there more to this purge of the upper echelons of the Vietnamese party state? In the latest Diplomat webinar, experts discussed the motivations behind the political reshuffling, and how the changes in Vietnamese politics might affect the country’s foreign policy.
Dr. Zachary Abuza, a Professor at the National War College, in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Hai Hong Nguyen, an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Policy Futures, University of Queensland
Linh Nguyen, an Associate Director in the Southeast Asia Business Intelligence practice, at Control Risks based in Singapore.View the recording