China’s reaction to Google’s hacking accusations

After my last post about People’s Daily, at least one reader asked me via email why I bother posting about articles in the Chinese media that rail against the West, since they are so consistently preposterous. And the reader has a point. These columns from People’s Daily and Global Times and China Daily tend to repeat the same tiresome theme, namely that the West is determined to make China look bad, to undermine the CCP, to somehow harm China. These memes become ingrained in the Chinese psyche (not across the board, of course) and are echoed in countless blog posts and comments and message boards. I know entire blogs (or at least one) that seem to focus solely on this theme of China’s victimization.

So why bother? First of all, being a media junkie I find the explosive responses infinitely fascinating, I admit. More importantly, I believe contemporary China can’t really be understood without having insight into this phenomenon, without understanding the raw sensitivities of so many Chinese people (especially the young). I had to deal with this mentality on a daily basis when I was living in China. My young colleagues truly believed Anti-CNN was gospel, and that the US media, in partnership with the US government, actively conspired to defame China and make it look atrocious, with the ultimate goal of stymieing China’s growth and keeping it weak and under the control of its former imperialist masters. This sentiment is real.

Which is all a long way to build up to today’s atrocity from People’s Daily, highlighted in a most interesting piece in the NY Times. Looking at it today, I saw another reason why documenting these stories is important: they reflect a growing hostility and brazenness that has deep implications for China’s future relations with the West.

You all know by now about Google’s new charges against alleged Chinese hackers breaking into gmail accounts of activists, foreign officials and other high-profile users. People’s Daily, in a front-page editorial under the headline, “Google, What Do You Want?” responded with savagery:

“Many international bystanders believe that Google’s charge is thickly tainted with political colors, and one can’t dismiss the fact that Google is taking advantage and provoking new Sino-American Internet security disputes with sinister intentions. Today’s Google really makes one wring one’s hands. What was once a model of leading Internet innovation has now become a political tool for slandering other countries.”

….Once the international winds change, Google might become a political sacrifice and might be discarded by the market.”

[I'd love to ask them who those "many international bystanders" are. I can only think of only one who might step forward to hump the CCP's leg.]

Needless to say, revenge against Google was swift.

In the days after Google’s latest accusation, Chinese users of Gmail and the popular Google Maps service have seen connections slow to a crawl, while the same services accessed over private networks have remained trouble-free.

Chinese officials have attributed Google’s service problems to technical issues that do not involve the government, and they have denied any government role in hacking Google computers or e-mail accounts.

Google had little to gain by making these accusations. It has already seen its market share trounced by Baidu, especially since its accusations against Chinese hackers last year, and I think they’ve been resigned for a long time to being number two (or lower) when it comes to Chinese search. As the NYT article says, however, they’re making their profits in China from advertising, with revenues growing year over year and a staff of 500. I see no reason why Google would make these accusations if they weren’t fairly certain they were true. At this point, what’s in it for them? Was the Chinese government behind the attacks? I don’t think anyone can say for sure, but there is certainly plenty of circumstantial evidence (just look at the list of those who’ve had their gmail accounts hacked).

As one Washington Post commentator maintained today, this is actually a non-story. Everyone knows what Chinese hackers are up to:

The big surprise: This story made front-page news.

Hackers in China, who most security experts believe work for the Chinese government, have been whacking away at Gmail accounts of Chinese citizens for years and have previously hacked into accounts of prominent U.S. journalists and businesspeople working in the Middle Kingdom

It’s pretty much an open secret. Every correspondent in China knows it. And yet whenever it’s brought to light the Chinese media goes into paroxysms of rage and finger-pointing, to the extent of accusing Google of trying to sabotage US-Chinese relations. This is what amazes me and is why I bother to write this sort of thing up: it’s the sheer vitriol of China’s reaction, dripping with veiled threats, and their need to put this on the front page of their newspapers. The lady doth protest far too much, methinks.

This post is a bit all over the place, but I think you get my point.

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Wikileaks’ China/Google bombshell

Update: Do not miss James Fallows’ new post on the significance of the Google-China-Wikileaks revelations. Google, he concludes, comes out of this looking pretty good, its complaints of government-orchestrated harassment appearing to be confirmed.

The Wikileaks controversy isn’t going away, and the latest memos to fall under media scrutiny reveal that the US government had plenty of evidence about China’s obsession with Google, whose search engine was making them look bad. This obsession led to some very dirty tricks.

As China ratcheted up the pressure on Google to censor its Internet searches last year, the American Embassy sent a secret cable to Washington detailing why top Chinese leaders had become so obsessed with the Internet search company: they were Googling themselves.

The May 18, 2009, cable, titled “Google China Paying Price for Resisting Censorship,” quoted a well-placed source as saying that Li Changchun, a member of China’s top ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee, and the country’s senior propaganda official, was taken aback to discover that he could conduct Chinese-language searches on Google’s main international Web site. When Mr. Li typed his name into the search engine at google.com, he found “results critical of him.”

That cable from American diplomats was one of many made public by WikiLeaks that portray China’s leadership as nearly obsessed with the threat posed by the Internet to their grip on power — and, the reverse, by the opportunities it offered them, through hacking, to obtain secrets stored in computers of its rivals, especially the United States.

Extensive Chinese hacking operations, including one leveled at Google, are a central theme in the cables. The hacking operations began earlier and were aimed at a wider array of American government and military data than generally known, including attacks on computers of American diplomats preparing positions on a climate change treaty.

One cable, dated early this year, quoted a Chinese person with family connections to the elite as saying that Mr. Li himself directed an attack on Google’s servers in the United States, though that claim has been called into question. In an interview with The New York Times, the person cited in the cable said that Mr. Li personally led a campaign against Google’s operations in China but that to his knowledge had no role in the hacking attack.

…Precisely how these hacking attacks are coordinated is not clear. Many appear to rely on Chinese freelancers and an irregular army of “patriotic hackers” who operate with the support of civilian or military authorities, but not directly under their day-to-day control, the cables and interviews suggest.

But the cables also appear to contain some suppositions by Chinese and Americans passed along by diplomats. For example, the cable dated earlier this year referring to the hacking attack on Google said: “A well-placed contact claims that the Chinese government coordinated the recent intrusions of Google systems. According to our contact, the closely held operations were directed at the Politburo Standing Committee level.”

…[T]he cables provide a patchwork of detail about cyberattacks that State Department and embassy officials believe originated in China with either the assistance or knowledge of the Chinese military.

Sorry for the long clip; be sure to read the entire article. It leaves no doubt about China’s top-down encouragement of and direct involvement in major hacking initiatives and cyber-terrorism.

Again, this should show the Chinese that the US is not determined to make China look bad. The government had this information and kept it secret. Wikileaks is an equal-opportunity whistle-blower and is leaking bombshells like this about the State Department’s dealings with everybody (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, etc.), and China is just one of many. The interesting thing is how quiet the diplomats were about what they knew and what they heard second-hand. If the US was out to demolish China’s reputation we’d have heard more about this long ago.

It raises the question of why the US went so far out of its way to keep the Chinese government’s involvement in the attacks a secret. It belies the arguments from the naysayers and idiots that Google fabricated or exaggerated the charges of cyber-terrorism because it needed an excuse to exit from China without looking defeated.

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Wikileaks, Google and China

Buried inside the avalanche of documents released yesterday by Wikileaks is a tidbit that probably won’t get much notice amid all the noise: secret cables from the US embassy indicate the Chinese government may have directed the attack by Chinese hackers against Google:

The secret cables obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks said that China’s Politburo directed the hacking. It cited a cable from the US embassy in Beijing, which mentioned information from “a Chinese contact.”

“The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government,” the Times said, citing the cable.

Chinese operatives are also believed to have broken into computers of US and Western allies along with those of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, it said.

That Chinese authorities were involved in the attacks is no surprise. The surprise is that US officials seemed to have had more evidence than we thought that this was the case. If it’s true, it confirms the worst fears that China was actively engaged in criminal activities.

These cables were secret, and the US embassy clearly did not want us to know about this. So you can’t argue that this is an attempt by the US to embarrass China. It’s the US that’s embarrassed, and I suspect the US embassy is working now to contain the damage and to assure Beijing that the US didn’t mean to antagonize them.

AFP ink via CDT.

Update: Gady Epstein helped make sure this didn’t get drowned out:

We don’t know whether that is true, of course, since sourcing anything back to China’s secretive nine-member Politburo Standing Committee is, to the say least, a mean feat: We do know that if any part of this tip is true — and maybe even if not — some sources may now be at severe risk of long prison terms, now that Beijing has been alerted to these alleged leaks.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to much of the world that the hack on Google had government support, whether or not it was “orchestrated” at a high level as the Wikileaks reporting suggests so far. Quite a bit of good reporting has been done in the last few years on the loose, quasi-state nature of hacking in China, including at least tacit support for officially unaffiliated hacking activities that likely involves the ability to put hackers in service of government directives.

Epstein makes the point that we may never know for sure whether it’s true or not that the CCP Politburo ordered the attacks. Read the whole thing, which includes a lot of good context.

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Life after Google

A translation/blurb from China Media Project:

Changjiang Daily columnist Liu Hongbo (刘洪波) writes in Southern Metropolis Daily today about the business of paid search engine results at China’s market-leading search engine, Baidu, which has a virtual monopoly in mainland China after the recent departure of Google. The top results for a search of the term “Great Wall,” for example, are all products and commercial interests.

Liu writes: “Today, Baidu is the pride of the [Chinese] Internet age, as though [people believe] it is a victorious Chinese search engine, and it is virtually without competitors. However, this does not mean that Baidu has the right to provide a distorted picture of the information world, to artificially control our browsing and brainwash people.”

Compare to Google. You decide which search engine you’d rather use as your default.

Update: While I’m on the topic of censorship, I wanted to point out an excellent piece on the horrifying spate of attacks on children in China in recent months. Yes, the US has had as many if not more such attacks. What’s different is how the media handles them.

After the first attack, in which a man stabbed and killed eight children outside an elementary school in Fujian Province on March 23, the Internet and government media bubbled with outrage, and the state-run Xinhua news service issued a lengthy study of the loner who committed the crime.

But on Friday, after three consecutive days of spontaneous and inexplicable assaults on children as young as 3, the media went silent. News of the latest attack, at the Shangzhuang Primary School in Shandong Province, vanished from the headlines on major Internet portals, replaced by an announcement that the government had assembled a team of 22 experts to help the education system set things right.

Posts on social networking sites indicated the change in tone came from the Communist Party’s central propaganda department, which directs and censors coverage of major news events.

If it was a classic response, born of Leninist dogma that dictates that bad news be buried and the state’s heroism trumpeted, it was still understandable after a week of what were apparently copycat crimes.

Yet some aspects of the assaults — the alacrity with which they were copied by new assailants, to cite one example — raised questions among some Chinese about whether something else was at work here. Curiously, the four attacks in March and April mirror a series of assaults in August and September 2004, in which students in four other schools and a day care center were attacked by knife-wielding men who stabbed dozens of children.

One theme echoed in some Internet postings was the feeling by many Chinese citizens that they had little power in the face of authority, and few ways to right wrongs. One posting compared the attacks to a notorious rampage in July 2008 by a man who said he felt he had been wronged by the police. In a single attack in Shanghai, the man, Yang Jia, stabbed six police officers to death — and he became a national hero by the time he was executed that November.

One person who posted in a chat room pointed out that after the attack in March, a student wrote a letter to the assailant, saying, “If you’ve got hatred, please go to kill the corrupted official.”

“Isn’t it shocking to hear such assertions come from a child?” the poster wrote. “But in fact, this is a collective perception shared by the entire society. That’s why Yang Jia was hailed as a hero after killing innocent police.

Maybe there’s trouble in paradise? If so, don’t expect to see much about it in the paper or in your Baidu searches.

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“Google strikes back with new firewall software”

This is an odd one. Note that the headline is in quote marks because I know that today is April 1 and I know John Pasden can have a devilish sense of humor. Still, it doesn’t look like a joke…or does it?

On a more personal note, here’s my situation:

I now have two major clients. After fearing I could never find work in America, I now have more work than I can handle. Suddenly the work was just there, and I may take on a third client next week. (All of these are in some way related to this blog, which indicates it’s not a total waste of time.) I keep toying with the idea of shutting down the blog, something I think aloud about every year or so, but I still can’t do it. After this long, it would be like giving up a child. I may abandon it for a few weeks at a time, but I won’t give it up.

I leave yet again for Shanghai this weekend where I’ll be working for a full week. So while no one likes it when bloggers write tedious posts apologizing for their not posting, I have to do just that, again. I have a book review I need to write and some other posts percolating, but I’ll be lucky if I can get anything posted between now and April 12, when I come back. So once again, please hang in there and check in every few days. Eventually there’ll be a new post. There always is.

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When it Reins…

Shaun on Google’s exodus from China.

Phil Cunningham also outdoes himself on the same subject. I’ve tried to cut Cunningham some slack, and I greatly admired his writings about the 15th anniversary of the TSM, but I can’t be that charitable this time. I realize the link is already a few days old, but it’s still noteworthy.

Thanks to the commenters who brought both links to my attention. I’m on the road, back home tonight.

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Google, China and Taiwan

Below is a guest post by my friend in Taiwan Bill Stimson. This post doesn’t necessarily reflect my own viewpoint on the subject. There are a few points, in fact, that I’d take issue with, though I agree with the piece in spirit.


Information Imperialism?

by William R. Stimson

What if the Chinese government stopped lying to its people and admitted inconvenient truths? What if some in power were swept away as a result and others arose to take their place? Would this be the end of China as we know it? Would this spell the defeat of Chinese culture at the hands of the West?

Look at Taiwan. An opposition party, free elections, an uncensored Internet – still the environment is one every Chinese would recognize and feel at home in. These necessary modern developments are not a threat to China or its culture. The only ones they might threaten are those who grab for themselves a bit too much of what belongs to all. To preserve their prerogative to do this, and pass this on to their children, though it be at the expense of their culture, their nation, their people, and even their Communist ideology – this tiny percentage of the population in the People’s Republic strives at all cost to cover up what it is doing. It’s dishonest to its own people. It does everything in its power to prevent embarrassing truths from reaching them from foreign sources.

This latest bundle of untruths – that the Chinese Internet is open, the United States uses the Internet to dominate the world, and Western insistence on an uncensored Internet amounts to “information imperialism” because less-developed nations like China cannot possibly compete when it comes to information flow – contains one very interesting admission that has curiously not received the attention it deserves. Lies cannot stand, they’re not convincing, unless bundled with truths. The truth in all these falsehoods is that to the extent China continues to shackle itself by dominating the flow of information to its people, then no matter what impressive external manifestations of progress and prosperity it manages to feather itself with, in substance it remains, in the most important respect, a less-developed country and one that can never catch up.

The Chinese government’s cyber attack on Google is telling. A system that is closed, controlled, and dominated by a small minority – which is not the most creative or innovative segment of the society – can only progress by stealing or grabbing what does not belong to it. China’s whole foreign policy seems to boil down to grabbing Taiwan and preventing any discussion of how it grabbed Tibet. It unconscionably befriends whatever unsavory regime it needs to in order to grab resources. It’s even intent on grabbing tiny little islands way out at sea from neighboring countries all around. China is already big enough. What it has of most value is already inside it – it’s people and their superior creative potential. It needs to grab nothing. It needs instead to release its people’s vast potential so that it can stop being wasted; and the world needs this too of China.

Nobody knows from what tiny point in China’s vast society its most creative and innovative element might spring. It can come from anywhere, so everywhere needs to be free. Who could have predicted, for example, that a particular little Jewish boy brought by his father from Communist Russia to America would grow up to drop out of Stanford and become the co-founder of Google. Sergey Brin was a wonder who came, like true creative innovation always does, out of the blue.

How different is Google’s view of information to that of the Chinese government. It’s not about domination at all – but freedom and empowerment of the disenfranchised and downtrodden. How ironic that a Communist regime views information as a means to dominate while Google, an American company, views it as a means to liberate. Things are not what they seem. The consensus that China, in its present form, is the future begins to look wrong. The future may actually be Google, or some combination of China and Google. The company has hit upon a new way to do business that’s not the tired old exploitative American capitalism, which fits in so well with Beijing’s schemes – but that’s not Communism either. Rather it falls somewhere in between. This business organization has found a way to earn money by benefiting the collective, and doing it in a way that enables and develops the creative vision of its employees. Google does business in a different way. There is no end of riches in the direction it’s taken and no end of business niches where its ideas can be replicated and further developed. More profit can be made by cultivating than by exploiting people and the planet. It’s that simple. Compare this to Chinese companies that put poison in toys and fake protein in baby formulas.

This venture that Google has started out on in the end can’t help but make China and the U.S. partners rather than adversaries. It behooves the Chinese government to rise to the occasion and let Google come through unfettered to the Chinese people. Whatever destabilizing effects this may have on China’s corrupt bosses will be offset a million times over by the deeper stabilization that can’t help but arise as thousands of Chinese Sergey Brins are empowered to surface from the most marginal and unlikely spots all over China’s vast map with innovations that make China’s glitzy prosperity and progress not just a surface phenomenon based on what has been grabbed, stolen, or diverted from the West – but a true manifestation of China’s underlying cultural greatness and the genius of its people.

* * *

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John and Doris Naisbitt: “China’s Megatrends”

On January 5 I started to write a post about an interview I heard on NPR’s always excellent Diane Rehm show with John Naisbitt, the author of the famous book Megatrends, and his wife Doris, who were there to plug their new book, China’s Megatrends: The 8 Pillars of a New Society. (You can listen to the entire interview here; scroll down a bit).

I never finished that post. I put it aside because John and Doris got me so incensed I decided it would be better to leave it alone than to write in the heat of passion and regret it later. (And I was not the only one to find this interview shocking for its unabashed brown-nosing and apologism.)

Then today I saw another interview with the two self-proclaimed China gurus and this time I decided to finish the post.

Let me preface my thoughts by saying this: I try to give China credit for its accomplishments. Several posts down you’ll find a piece about this being “China’s century.” But I also can’t ignore the bad, and thus below you’ll also find a post on the censorship of China’s Internet. I’m a big believer in trying to see beyond the box each of us has has created for himself, the one with all our assumptions and prejudices and beliefs, etc. I really do want to see the whole picture, and longtime readers know I’ve been willing to question my own POV in order to give China a fair chance. It’s absolutes about China (and the US) that make me cringe: “good,” “evil,” etc.

The Naisbitts’ creds sound good. They’ve lived in China for a decade. Doris Naisbitt is a professor at Yunnan University. Her husband was assistant secretary of education under JFK and is definitely a “futurist” of vast influence, Megatrends being one of the business bibles of the 1980s.

During the Diane Rehm interview, the first alarm sounded when Doris tried to argue that a key reason for China’s blocked web sites was pornography, the implication being the GFW is actually a good thing, supported by China’s citizens. John chimes in about how censorship is used to ensure “harmony,” something he seems to see as benign paternalism. Doris also argues that we hear negative things about China mainly because the Western media can’t resist “gossiping” about China because it is doing so well. Jealous neighbors.

This was just the start of a string of sugar-coated excuses for Chinese repression. Did you know Liu Xiaobo was arrested not for speaking out but for “organizing an alternative government”? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Okay, so on to their more recent interview in The Spiegel. It starts with a question about the Google controversy and whether Google’s doing the right thing by considering leaving China.

John Naisbitt: They’ve broken a contract. In order to get a license, they agreed not to allow searches on certain subjects. And now, four years later, they say ‘we won’t do this anymore because we’ve been hacked.’ In Russia, hackers are much more vigorous and plentiful, but Google has said nothing. The company has a big market share there whereas in China it doesn’t. Google is breaking the contract and it’s blaming it on something else.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So you think it’s a PR stunt?

Doris Naisbitt: We cannot say that, but it’s a gift! Look what a wonderful marketing effect this has for Google — being the David fighting Goliath.

John Naisbitt: Say it’s a PR stunt — it couldn’t have succeeded any better. Because here you have US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton getting on Google’s side, not understanding the contractual situation, and making the Internet one of the foreign policy planks of the administration. That’s not a bad thing. But it went from a contractual disagreement to the secretary of state becoming a spokesperson for Google.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the Chinese government respond to external pressure, whether from a company like Google or the US government?

John Naisbitt: They are built to resist outside pressure. They really resent being jerked around. They resent Google putting them in a position where it looks like it’s their fault when Google is the one that initiated this challenge. I think they’re really pissed off. In China, when you make a deal, you never sign anything, you just shake hands. It’s all based on trust. But if you break that, you’re dead in the water. This breaking of trust is a really big deal for the Chinese.

This is thoroughly in line with the NPR interview. It is China that’s under assault from ungrateful multinationals, pesky activists and others who refuse to respect the status quo, despite its inherent repressive tendencies. Google’s motivations are self-aggrandizement and a desire to get out of a contract they didn’t like. Slimeballs, that Brin and Page! And “we can’t say it was a PR stunt, but…” Slick, very slick. I half-expected them to say Google launched the cyber-attacks on itself. Not a word about the hacked gmail accounts of human rights activists, whom the Naisbitts most likely see as ungrateful vermin.

Some of the points they go on to make are true. China’s system does allow its rulers to move ahead and get things done, and they have made enormous progress. Yes, we all know that. What bugged me, however, is their fawning, China-can-do-no-wrong attitude, wherein Google and Liu Xiaobo and the Western media are the only bad guys, while poor misunderstood China nobly moves forward, transcending the noise and the attempts to bring her down.

The earlier link I gave is a must-read to see what these two are up to and to see just how cozy they are with China’s top brass, especially in the State Council Information Office (i.e., propaganda department). And don’t miss the quote from the Guangzhou author who notes that nearly all of their sources are CCP reports and party-line-toeing Chinese newspaper articles, with next to no first-hand observations or original research.

Something about this simply doesn’t smell right. Either they are incredibly naive or incurious, or they’ve been bought and paid for. Just like our friend, they point to the exact same Pew Research poll he does to tell us how happy the Chinese are:

What does democracy mean? Rule of the people. In China, they respond to the people’s wishes. You may not believe that, but a study done by the Pew Research Center found that the Chinese government has an 89 percent approval rating. There is a lot of openness and freedom. The entrepreneurs and the artists, they love it. The energy it releases is palpable in China.

Yes, there’s a lot of energy in China, and some very, very happy artists. Most people in China support their central government. If an election were held today they’d elect the same leaders (though the one-party system has made any alternative an impossibility). China’s doing better, it’s richer, it’s powerful, it’s in many ways the greatest rags to riches story ever told. But looking at geniuses like Naisbitt and Rein you’d never know there was corruption and repression that not infrequently results in violence, and appalling abuse of the disenfranchised. You’d never know of the plight of the truly poor, and of a potential environmental catastrophe that could bring all that progress to its knees. It is so one-sided and so suck-uppish it’s nauseating.

If there is one book I am not going to lay down money for it’s China’s Megatrends. Luckily some customer reviewers over at Amazon are already onto them and call out their one-sidedness.

Keep a watchful eye on the Naisbitts, and take whatever they say in China’s Megatrends with a mega-grain of sea salt.

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The Google-Clinton-China circus?

In a typically excellent column, Gady Epstein, the good Forbes columnist (and Beijing bureau chief), looks at Hillary Clinton’s remarks yesterday on Internet freedom, China’s predictably prickly reaction to them, and the effect this all might have on the future of Google in China (as well as the broader issue of Internet freedom in China). I like the way he frames the issue:

Authoritarian regimes have adapted to the Internet, giving people enough freedom online that most have not resisted censorship and controls. Google.cn was, insidiously, a part of that success in China, stamping an authoritarian system of self-censorship with the Google brand of legitimacy.

Google wants to grab that brand back. Having the U.S. on its side may not help the company’s short-term commercial interests, and it may well embolden hard-liners in China’s government. But as Clinton alluded to Thursday, the U.S. has a brand to protect as well. Many in the world still look to the U.S. for leadership on principles, and the Internet needs it.

“On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress,” Clinton said. “But the United States does.”

Of course this fight is about much more than China vs. the U.S, or even China vs. Google. It is about a future of nation-states, corporations and other nonstate actors struggling to define liberty on the Internet. The U.S. and Google being on the same side of that struggle? I see that as a good thing.

I do, too. He also links to a must-read column in the Global Times (which he refers to, not without some justification, as “the Communist Party’s new McPaper aimed at foreigners”) that shows us where this is heading – the usual accusations and counter-accusations between the US and China, which threaten to drownout the actual issue of cyberfreedom. I found the GT piece disappointing considering how well the McPaper started off when this issue arose last week:

Google’s “New approach to China,” as spelled out in the title of its recent statement, would do no good to China, either. Should the world’s most populous nation fail to provide a foothold to the world’s top search engine, it would imply a setback to China and serious loss to China’s Net culture. The information highway demands not only safe driving but also free flow of traffic. And, in the interests of the majority’s right to know, free flow of information should take precedence in a civil society.

n a transitional society like China, the existence of censorship can be justified as allowing full play to multifarious and disorderly search results poses unprecedented risks to vulnerable netizens and social stability.

But the government must face up to the challenge of where and how to put the checkpoints on the highway. A sensitive and shrewd government should have the vision and savvy to place the right kind of checkpoints at the right place and at the right time for ensuring the free flow of highway traffic as much as possible in the public.

It almost sounds like a non-Chinese paper! Well, that relatively restrained and objective approach was nice while it lasted. The column Epstein points to today is somewhat less open-minded.

Unlike advanced Western countries, Chinese society is still vulnerable to the effect of multifarious information flowing in, especially when it is for creating disorder.

Western countries have long indoctrinated non-Western nations on the issue of freedom of speech. It is an aggressive political and diplomatic strategy, rather than a desire for moral values, that has led them to do so.

The free flow of information is an universal value treasured in all nations, including China, but the US government’s ideological imposition is unacceptable and, for that reason, will not be allowed to succeed. China’s real stake in the “free flow of information” is evident in its refusal to be victimized by information imperialism.

Oy. Information imperialism indeed. Anybody can put anything they want up on the Internet. The only ones who get hysterical about it are those who are insecure and frightened. You know, sticks and stones….

I loved Hillary’s line, “On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does.” I thought she could have gone further in her speech, but then again, diplomacy is what she’s there for, and that she went as far as she did was enough to whip the CCP into its signature apoplexy. Let’s hope the back-and-forth is short-lived, and that it helps lead to at least some improvement of cyberfreedom in countries that fear it. As Epstein eloquently noted,

The world’s leading superpower and the world’s leading Internet company have made a clear statement that fundamental freedoms–of expression, of assembly–must apply in cyberspace. They have taken note that, as Clinton said Thursday, these freedoms won’t flourish on their own, despite techno-Utopian predictions to the contrary.

So this dialogue is a good thing. The Great Firewall isn’t coming down, not anytime soon, but this adds to the pressure that one day might lead to its long-awaited passing.

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Censor me

Chinayouren has a delightful new post that reminded me yet again of how much the outside world still doesn’t understand China. It’s a great post on a couple of levels, but this section, written in response to readers outside of China who wrote to Chinayouren “proposing ideas to help ‘free the Chinese’ from the claws of the GFW,” really jumped out at me:

But listen, the sad reality is, the CCP’s systems of censorship are so effective not because they are diabolically sophisticated, but because… because the Chinese netizens can’t give a damn if they are being censored by their government or not.

You don’t believe me? Then perhaps you have a better theory to explain why nobody uses the widely available, free web proxies to surf the internet. Or why the majority of Chinese netizens still use Google.cn when they have an identical search engine that is not manipulated on Google.com

Shocking, right? But not so much. The truth is that, in spite of popular funny memes and the occasional juvenile rant, the majority of Chinese who are rich enough to use the internet are happy with the status quo. They do find it mildly annoying to be treated like children by the CCP, but as long as the bills are paid, they don’t think so much of it.

And this is also why, if someone wants to create a device against the GFW, the user activated systems like proxies or Tor are not effective, because people simply don’t use them.

I’ve written about this before more than a year ago, when I said Westerners need to understand that what seems awful to us doesn’t seem nearly so awful to those we are trying to “protect.”

[W]e can’t distort what the actual situation is in China. 99.9 out of 100 people here will tell you this [Internet censorship] is not a problem to them, and even to those who see it as such, it does not rank high on their list of urgent needs.

Most Chinese aren’t trying to circumvent the Great Firewall. Those who want to look at blocked sites know how to do it, and they are, I believe, a very small minority.

Chinayouren then rails against another shibboleth, and what he says here is far more controversial. He shatters – to his own satisfaction, at least – the widely held belief (shall we call it a “meme”?) of many English-language China bloggers that a censored google.cn was far better than no google.cn. A belief, I have to admit, I’ve held myself, though maybe I’m not so sure after reading this. He points out what should be an obvious fact, but one that we may tend to overlook, namely that the very essence of a censored google.cn is, after all, SEM (search engine manipulation).

The most amusing thing in the Google crisis is all the commentators crying about the loss of Google.cn and its negative consequences for the freedom of the Chinese. In fact, I maintain that Google.cn is the most evil product to ever have existed in the Chinese internet, and the World will be a better place without it.

That is because, unlike the Chinese official sites that practice censorship, what the search engines do is manipulation. Why? Because Google.cn is not a content site in itself, it is a gateway to the internet. When people type in a keyword into the search field, they are actually trusting it to return a fair picture of what is on the net.

When you type a “sensitive” term and G.cn removes all the results except the People’s Daily and Xinhua, Google’s responsibility is double: not only it supports those often objectible views on the first page, but it also implicitly states that it is the ONLY opinion existing in the World.

And the worse is, the Chinese who believed that would be right to do so, because Google’s well known principles clearly specify their commitment to give all the information available in a democratic way. The little warning message that is displayed on Google.cn SEM searches is meant to avoid this situation, but it is tiny and often placed right at the bottom of the page, so most Chinese users just ignore it.

In the case of Google.cn, SEM is not about “good” or “evil”. It is about breaking the very principles that give a sense to the Google company, and it is understandable that Google has never been comfortable with it.

I have to give this post, and this blog, very high marks for laying its argument on the line without sentimentality or coddling, even if what he says flies in the face of what a lot of us want to hear. This is just one of many excellent posts on the subject over at Chinayouren.

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