It is a tribute to China’s stunning economic development that the country now has some 540 million Internet users, more than any other country. It is sad to see current leaders reverting to a tighter vision of the Internet.
“How can we develop our skills,” one Chinese friend asked me rhetorically, “if we can’t even visit some of the most popular Web sites around the world?”
Many Chinese vault over the “Great Firewall of China” to get to banned sites with a virtual private network or VPN. However, in the last month China, has rolled out new software that interferes with VPNs, even ones used by US corporations to access their internal networks.
The government is also trying to crack down on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, by making users register with their real names.
These Internet crackdowns annoy many young Chinese, who may not think much about multiparty democracy, but do want to be able to see YouTube videos.
My hope is that the new Chinese Communist Party leader, Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), will recognize that China’s economic competitiveness and ability to fight corruption depend upon openness. Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) used to compare reform to opening a window, admitting a few flies along with fresh air. During Deng’s watch, China embraced potentially troublesome communications technologies — photocopiers, cellphones, fax machines — because they are also indispensable to modernization. So is a free Web.
So, to the new Chinese politburo, a suggestion: How about cracking down on Web sites that sell guns and drugs, while leaving alone those that traffic in ideas and information?