Following a virtual media blackout on the breakdown of talks and imposition of fresh tariffs on Chinese goods by Washington, China’s state-run media were let off the leash last week and have been engaging in a concerted propaganda campaign to spin the US-China trade spat in a positive light. The increasingly jingoistic language coming out of Beijing cannot hide the reality that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) regressive political model is snuffing out the free exchange of information and ideas — the lifeblood on which modern societies rely to flourish and prosper.
During a primetime broadcast on Monday last week, a CCTV news anchor launched into a seemingly impromptu diatribe: “China has already given its answer: Talk and the door is open, fight and we’ll fight you to the end. Through 5,000 years of ups and downs, what kind of battle has the Chinese nation not seen?” A video clip of the impassioned soliloquy went viral on China’s social media platform Sina Weibo.
An op-ed on the tensions in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece the Global Times said: “The most important thing is that in the China-US trade war, the US side fights for greed and arrogance ... and morale will break at any point. In China, the entire country and all its people are being threatened. For us, this is a real ‘people’s war.’”
The use of the term “people’s war” is richly ironic given that the CCP is engaged in a round-the-clock information war against its own people.
Despite the bombastic rhetoric, the party’s Achilles’ heel remains its unreconstructed totalitarianism, which relies on the censorship of opinions and ideas to survive. This was aptly demonstrated last week when it emerged that Chinese censors last month shut down access inside China to the entire Wikipedia platform.
According to a report by the Open Observatory of Network Interference censorship research group, the block on the Chinese-language version of Wikipedia — in force since June 2015 — has now been extended to a blanket ban of the entire community-edited encyclopedia, in all languages. Some have speculated that the party was motivated to implement a multi-language ban to prevent Chinese netizens from using increasingly powerful online translation tools as a workaround to evade the embargo. The party might also have decided that it needed to block access to sensitive pictures, such as of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, which could still be viewed on pages in other languages.
The ban is perhaps more damaging than existing censorship of Western social media such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, as by removing all access to such a powerful, commonly used resource, it simply further isolates the Chinese public, writers and academics from the international community and mainstream global discourse. In the long run, this will undoubtedly be detrimental to the country’s development and will stifle innovation.
Beijing has for a long time relied heavily on industrial espionage, conducted on a hitherto unseen scale, to develop its economy and compete internationally. Stealing innovations and ideas is no way to grow a modern society and is clearly not a viable long-term solution, especially as Western governments and companies are aware of the problem and working hard to tighten up their porous networks.
This is why the Wikipedia ban is so damaging. It is yet another sign that Beijing is casting aside the lessons of history and the Western Enlightenment. By pulling up the drawbridge on knowledge and free speech, Beijing is committing China to a death by a thousand cuts.
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