It was too much to take for China’s netizens over a trip recently-concluded beauty pageant in China.
When China’s representative at the pageant tripped and fell, netizens railed against her like a pile of bricks hurling abuse after abuse.
Much of the abuse was documented in China’s version of Twitter, Wei-Bo. The bile did not just, last a single day. It went on for so very long that the authorities just had to step in and call a ‘truce’!
“It is because of such instances such as these that China needs to relook at how to police the Internet”, said a Chinese national with close links to the Chinese Communist Party.
Not since the Tiananmen revolt in 1989 and subsequent uprisings that went largely unreported, has the cause of the Internet and its widely diffusive strains seized the Middle Kingdom like never before.
The Internet for all its wonders was actually supposed to democratise China. But what has happened instead is of Chinese authorities imposing an ever-larger and even tighter vice-like grip on the nation, which since the days of Tiananmen upheaval does make just the kind sense favoured by its political mandarins!
The lessons of history and free intellectual discourse is not seemingly lost on the Chinese.
From microblogs to what Google and Amazon says, China knows full well that unlimited, unaccountable and unsubstantiated news reports on the nation is simply not in its best interests, or pointedly its cultural interest! That may also mean news reports that are factually correct.
Communitarian values in a single-race nation dominated by the Han ethnic group and where sectional and communal interests have always been subordinated within the subtext of national interests, may have subconsciously played a role especially when that is seen from the perspective of Tiananmen or other similar uprisings like the Boxer Rebellion and the Taiping rebellion, as most of these have threatened to rip apart communal peace.
That urging may just have unwittingly given the Chinese a niggling cause to tighten already existing controls ever tighter. The episodes of history are not trite. As China confronts its neighbours over a series of issues coupled with the unsettled ferment in Xinjiang province, the tenuous hold it has over Tibet and frosty relations with its neighbours and military skirmishes with yet others, matters of state are just simply hunky-dory as they were before Xi Jin Ping assumed the nation’s presidency.
“The Chinese [have] shown an ability to adapt, extending its life for a rather long time”, said Gady Epstein of The Economist who reported from China for 12 years before returning to the United States. “President Xi has made it clear that China does not intent to evolve into a Western-style system. Rather he has taken important steps to extend the warranty of the China model”.
That urge ‘to extend the warranty of the China model’ lies at the heart of getting to require web users to register their names and legalising the deletion of posts or pages that were supposedly having ‘illegal’ information.
According to the official Xinhua news agency in a post taken 5 years ago, the new rules are to ensure internet information security and the safety and security of the country and its citizens. At that time, the Communist Party was stung by revelations of corruption among low-level officials from Internet users. And much of the blame was pinned on the freewheeling debate on the Internet.
“When people exercise their rights including the right to use the Internet, they must do so in accordance with the law and constitution and not harm the legal rights of the state, society…or other citizens”, The Guardian newspaper said, quoting Li Fei, a Communist Party hack.
At a recent World Internet Conference, delegates were shown glimpses on how the Chinese police could use technologies like artificial intelligence and facial recognition to track citizens.
And China Unicom, a state-owned company showcased much of data it has on its subscribers!
Such Orwellian intrusion into peoples’ lives marks China out as being distinctly and abnormally different from the rest of the world, than the insecurity it perceptibly encourages through its controls coupled with the extent it goes to arrogantly pattern debate and human behaviour.
Yet as how matters have coursed over the years there as yet appear no signs of a pushback.
Instead what has been unabashedly rolled out by the Xi administration is a doubling down of controls. And that includes everything from a total blackout of video-streaming websites, to tightening the noose on virtual private networks (VPN) and the removal of foreign TV shows coupled with restraints on chat groups. If that amounts to walling people in it just seems that is; what it is.
VPNs’ have been a particular safety valve to shun away from the prying eyes of the state. And now with even that taken away, there is every possibility that the world its people once knew of as, is closed.
And that ‘world’ could include anything from scientific discoveries, intellectual discourses to a platform for research for university students. It is widely believed that Chinese scientists routinely resort to VPNs’ to reach foreign servers and now with even that gone, China appears to be shooting itself in the foot.
Internet access “has definitely gotten worse” says a geneticist who shuttles between China and overseas. “The new restrictions make working in China “a total disaster”, he said in a report carried by Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The astronomer who works for the magazine recalls instances of applicants suddenly being shunted out for materials needed for presentations.
While in all fairness there was some wiggle room in earlier years, strident moves in the recent past and incendiary remarks over the NET may just have been too corrosive for the Chinese psyche. That in turn may have unquestionably fuelled an urge to depart from the ‘business as usual’ in the mainland, that according to Rohan Gunaratna, a security analyst at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), is much about the Internet having the potential to have a huge impact on security unless it is regulated.
“No country should not be allowed to go unregulated as it [the Internet] has a huge impact [and may lead to] incitement and hatred”, he reportedly said.
When Xi Jin Ping said China government controls over the Internet were necessary at a recently-concluded Internet Summit, he made it clear as day that China will not look like the rest of the world.
That means that so long as he remains in power and pulls its levers, any move for a reprise of the massive 1989 Tian An Men upheaval; or whatever the flavour and direction of any nascent democratic movement will always remain where China’s mandarins had always wanted them to be: in the troughs of the nation’s political discourse with nary a chance of it bubbling up to the surface.
China will always be the nation the world knew of it as and know it to be; a nation with a first-rate consumerist economy and a political model at total variance with what the West had always hoped and wanted.
What a triumph for benevolent dictatorship and alas, what a celebration of a trace back to the Middle Ages for the Middle Kingdom!
The Great Firewall of China
By Jaya Prakash
Jaya Prakash is a security analyst in Singapore