Information Warfare: China Cannot Handle The Truth

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May 27, 2013: China’s efforts to control the Internet often backfire. The most recent example can be seen in how China was forced, by Internet based public opinion in China, to lean on North Korea. The West had long been urging China to pressure the North Korean leaders to cut out the warlike rhetoric and pay more attention to their economic problems. North Korea has refused and even defied the Chinese government by trying to steal Chinese assets (railroad cars used to send aid into North Korea and Chinese businesses set up in North Korea at the invitation of the North Korean government).

The Chinese government was unable to keep all of this away from the people using the heavily censored and managed Chinese Internet. The popular response was intensely anti-North Korea and critical of how the Chinese government was handling things. This anger was in part created by Chinese officials backing Chinese nationalism over the last decade. This was especially the case with calls for other nations to show some long overdue respect for China. The continued defiance of China by North Korea, especially after the billions in aid China has provided, has sparked growing popular anger in China. For most Chinese, Korea is one of those neighbors (like Vietnam, Japan, and Mongolia) that have benefitted from Chinese culture and trade but managed (most of the time) to avoid being absorbed into China. Thus these nations are expected to show some respect. While Korea usually has done so over the centuries, the current North Korean government has been increasingly obnoxious. This is also in sharp contrast to the much wealthier and better behaved South Korea.

It’s not just North Korean news that the Chinese government has had a hard time managing. Last year China's efforts to control the Internet went into overdrive when a senior government official, who was also outspoken and popular with the military, was removed from office for corruption. The Chinese Internet immediately lit up with rumors and speculation about what would happen next. This speculation alarmed the government more than anything that was happening (not much, in fact). The government sought to shut down web sites (especially microbloggers, who substitute for Twitter, which is banned in China) and arrested a few people. This did not slow down the spread of rumor and criticism. The government censors were caught short once more as microbloggers adopted code words to defeat the automatic filtering software the government used. As quickly as the government figured out the code a new one was in use. It's not that the government didn't know about this, it was widely used in the 1990s when most Chinese were texting (more than talking) on their cell phones. But no solution was ever found. While the government efforts can keep many Chinese in the dark, too many find out what is really going on and the word spreads. The government censors are constantly going back to the drawing board to try and come up with a solution. One solution, judging from the response to the popular anger at North Korea, is to listen to the people and act accordingly.

China needs the Internet for economic reasons and because it is a major form of communication and entertainment for most people. But the downside is that the Internet is also a major source of news, and the communist government in China has long depended on a news monopoly to keep dissent under control. The Internet has proven difficult to censor and control. While the government has imposed more control over the Internet than any other country, that has not been enough to control embarrassing or troublesome news from getting out of control. The government is not giving up, especially since it is losing.

 

 


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