Xiao Qiang, the founder and chief editor of the China news website China Digital Times and an adjunct professor of journalism at UC Berkeley, testified recently that while Beijing continues to attempt and control the Internet’s ability to facilitate dissent, the unmistakable reality is that they are struggling to do so successfully.
According to Qiang: “The numbers of netizens engaged in political criticism are steadily growing and are now estimated to be between 10 and 50 million. What is it that Beijing so fears?” Qiang believes the Chinese government is afraid that the Internet sets in motion what he calls “the power of truth-telling among the Chinese population”. For the Communist Party, this “directly challenges their privilege, ideological control, and the legitimacy of the regime”.
Controlling content is one way Beijing attempts to maintain its legitimacy, but what Qiang pointed out in last week’s hearing is that the Chinese government has become increasingly sophisticated in its strategy of limiting on-line dissent.
Now, Beijing understands that it must focus on the infrastructure – the hardware and software of the Internet – if it is going to be able to continue its practices. As Qiang said:
That’s where American Internet companies enter the story. Because American Internet companies are not under the control of the government and therefore cannot be trusted to abide by the government’s rules, they are most often prevented from entering the market on a level playing field, or simply blocked by the Great Firewall.