The Chinese Internet Century

An article in Foreign Policy looks at the future of a “permanently fractured web,” split between “two competing visions of the Internet: one open and global, the other highly controlled and often used for repression”:

Clinton’s speech was not utopian. Her remarks were fairly measured about the potential political impact of network technologies. Eschewing the exuberant optimism that has characterized so much past thinking about the Internet, Clinton recognized that “modern information networks and the technologies they support can be harnessed for good or for ill.” Still, she held out hope that the United States could strategically use Internet technology to advance freedom and human rights around the world. To tip the balance to the good, she said, the United States plans to develop and distribute technologies to help people avoid censors, foster international norms against cyberattacks, cooperate across national borders to identify and prosecute cybercriminals, and exploit public-private partnerships to build a robust cyberdefense at home.

These are noble aspirations, but they will have a very limited impact on China. Censorship, hacking, and economic warfare as practiced in China are rooted in a political and economic calculus that is unlikely to change. From the first introduction of modern information technologies, the Chinese have viewed them as a double-edged sword: essential to economic growth, but a threat to regime stability. Using a combination of old-school intimidation and high-tech surveillance, Beijing has managed to keep most materials it deems harmful off most computer screens in China and still promote economic growth.

The fact is that the majority of Chinese simply don’t care, giving the government even less incentive to change its ways.

Also related, David Bandurski of the China Media Project analyzes a statement by the State Council Information Office rejected Clinton’s criticism of Internet control. He also translates a People’s Daily editorial which states, “The Internet has no need for coercive captaining by “American-style freedoms.”