Is the 'Net' Wall Of China The Next Iron Curtain?
An Internet maelstrom is brewing in China. Southeast Asia, predicted as one of the next hotbeds for social media in 2010 is seeing a test of wills being fought out on the world stage. Google acting as a quazi-secretary of state is threatening China that they will pull out of the country if the government doesn't address the cyber-attacks that violated some of its users' Gmail accounts. Hillary Clinton, this country's actual Secretary of State, in her speech on January 21 announced that the US is making free access to the Internet a foreign-policy priority.
Google announced on Jan. 12 that it was “no longer willing to continue censoring” search results for its Chinese users, pointing to breaches of Gmail accounts held by human rights activists in China. A number of other companies had also been targets of hacking, the company found. Clinton has taken a somewhat tentative approach to the dispute by casting some blame on the government in Beijing, while urging China to probe the cyber-intrusions. On the flipside, the Chinese government describes dealing with the Gmail incident as business as usual in China. From their perspective, as a large country of millions of netizens, these types of problems have a greater chance of happening frequently.
"Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century," Clinton said.
So now that e-Diplomacy is on the table, how does that affect our relationship with one of the world's most dominant super-powers. In a RussiaToday report, Webster Tarpley, an investigative reporter provides additional insights.
Ma Zhaoxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on the ministry's Web site that "the U.S. has criticized China's policies to administer the Internet and insinuated that China restricts Internet freedom. We are firmly against the words and deeds contrary to the facts and harmful to China-U.S. relations."
In a Wall Street Journal report, Wen Yunchao, a Guangzhou-base blogger, on Twitter called the speech "a declaration of war from a free nation to an autarchy," and compared it to Winston Churchill's anti-Soviet speech decrying the Iron Curtain.
This type of escalation of rhetoric conjuring up "WWII" images is unhealthy based on attempts to maintain a civil relationship between the two countries. Does it need to be aired publicly? To a certain extent. My previous blog, titled, "Google Is No Secretary Of State When It Comes To Diplomacy In China," was my belief that perhaps this issue could have been resolved behind closed doors to allow the Chinese government to 'save face.' Now that the cat is out of the bag, e-diplomacy needs to be heightened and words needs to be watched carefully and delivered even more respectfully going forward.
Yes, transparency is a necessary component in this debate, and was a campaign promise that Obama hung his hat on in the last election. But it's imperative that we understand how to move the needle in a country that has traditions dating back to before Christ. Since Google opened this Pandora's Box, I think it is now incumbent on them to work under the umbrella of the US government, and not issue any more accusatory statements to the Chinese government in the press or in any public forums.
If we don't have one concerted voice, this issue could fester and become a crisis of consequence. The Net Wall of China needs to be addressed, but we can't stoop to using the same bullying tactics of the other party. Let's see if in time - Hillary, who in addition to being Secretary of State can become the Internet Peacemaker as well.