Although the chance of Washington getting involved in a domestic Chinese issue involving corruption and injustice is as unlikely as justice being served in China, the White House petitioning and the cross-strait joint DDoS campaign demonstrate how the Internet has greatly empowered Chinese citizens. While it is true that Beijing can completely censor its netizens if it desires, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the lid on the accumulating grievances of the Chinese people.
Chinese netizens’ ability to gather the 100,000 signatures required to receive an official response from Washington so rapidly shows that they can be mobilized for sociopolitical causes very quickly, a development that certainly should worry Beijing. It is hard for Beijing not to link this development to the role that the Internet played in the Arab Spring.
One can argue that netizens’ behavior is reckless and has interfered with their respective governments’ control over foreign affairs. There is also always a danger that their actions could see nationalism rekindled and misused in events such as the fisherman’s shooting. Not all online voices are rational and credible, but one cannot downplay the growing civilian power of netizens from both sides of the Taiwan Strait to serve as government watchdogs.
Yu-Wen Chen is a lecturer in government at University College Cork, Ireland. Joey Ying Lee is a graduate student in the Department of Transportation and Communication Management Science at National Cheng Kung University.