Who? Me?

I’m thinking this should be China’s new motto. “Who? Me?”

The news is that Google is pondering an exit from the Chinese market. They were hacked and a number of Chinese dissidents had their GMail accounts hacked. Google made it clear, but didn’t come right out and say, that the Chinese government, or agents acting on their behalf, are responsible.

According to a Wired article, a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry web site said,

The U.S. has criticized China’s policies to administer the Internet and insinuated that China restricts Internet freedom. This runs contrary to the facts and is harmful to China-U.S. relations. We urge the United States to respect the facts and cease using so-called Internet freedom to make groundless accusations against China.

Every time anyone disagrees with the Chinese government, the reply carries a dig about harming relations with the country. It’s amazing. You’d think that the representatives of a powerhouse like China wouldn’t have their feelings hurt as easily as a toddler, at every possible opportunity. It seems you’d be wrong.

And as for the fact that China restricts Internet freedom, I think it’s pretty obvious. Saying it’s not true doesn’t change anything. For goodness sakes, as distasteful as it is, just admit it. You want to control the population so you restrict sites and topics. Why are you so afraid to say so?

I pop in to the Chinese Embassy in Canada website from time to time, and it’s rife with this same lack of reality. A January 22 posting responding to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comments on China’s Internet policy. Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said:

The US attacks China’s Internet policy, indicating that China has been restricting Internet freedom. We resolutely oppose such remarks and practices that contravene facts and undermine China-US relations.

China’s internet is open.

I’m not sure what ‘open’ means in this context but you simply cannot visit any website you choose. Many are blocked. Compare searches for Tibet, Falun Gong, and Chinese human rights using Google.com and Google.cn for a sample. Yes, Google is presenting the results, but at the Chinese Government’s direction.

But the Chinese government isn’t content with curtailing public freedoms. According to the Telegraph article, “China begins monitoring billions of text messages as censorship increases,”

China Mobile, the world’s biggest mobile phone company, said it was complying with demands from the police to report “illegal” text messages that included pornography, violence, fraud, suggestions of terrorism, instigations to crime and gambling. It said a mobile phone would be blocked if a message breached any of its filters.

We’re talking text messages here. While they are used for spam, text messages are generally sent from individual to individual. I’m at a loss to understand why the government should be concerned if I send a naughty text message to my wife. But they are, and should any of your text messages contain inappropriate words or phrases, your phone service is severed. The Telegraph describes the options available to one man who found himself in this situation:

The Southern Metropolis newspaper said a man from the southern city of Dongguan recently had his phone blocked. China Mobile’s customer service told him their computers had detected lewd words in his messages and that he would have to take his identity card to the police to reactivate the phone. He also had to furnish a letter guaranteeing that he would no longer spread inappropriate messages.

I am sensitive to the word inappropriate. When it’s used in laws and rules, it’s often a placeholder for something the authority wants to stop, but will not explain. I should be able to understand, in detail, the laws and rules I’m expected to follow. But repressive states like China cannot afford to be so explicitly clear. They want such absolute control that the laws need to be flexible and applicable to anything they want.

Living in China, you can have a mobile phone if the government lets you. If they let you, they reserve the right to change their minds at any time, for any reason. This is what the Chinese Government calls ‘freedom of speech.’

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One Comment

  1. _don
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 14:20 | Permalink

    China’s internet is open. They can surf anywhere they want. It just happens that they aren’t allowed to surf to some places. But its “open”.

    It’s like the old Henry Ford saying: “You can have any colour you like, so long as its black.”

    So for china, it’s “You can surf anywhere you want….so long as it’s where we say you can.”

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