China’s Firewall

Economic powerhouse China is flexing its muscle by lobbying internationally for more state control of the internet. Currently the web is managed by US based ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce. According to Vincent Brossel of Reporters Without Borders, “If this happens, it will be the end of freedom of expression on the web.”
Are you ready for China as the world’s cyber-super power?
Excerpt from The Guardian:

That landmark could come today, next week, or next month. According to the China Internet Network Information Centre, there were 210 million internet users at the end of last year, just 5 million behind the US. But China is adding 6 million new users a month – more than 10 times the pace of US growth.
In an Olympic year, and at a time of surging economic growth, the new figures are taken by some as proof of Beijing’s irresistible rise. Not everyone likes it. Free speech activists fear it will increase the influence of China’s censors in the virtual world. Foreign governments have raised concerns that the country has become a breeding ground for pirates, hackers and cyber spies.
It was not supposed to be like this. After the internet was connected to China in 1987, civil rights campaigners hoped it would be a catalyst for political reform. But 21 years on, the Communist party is still in power and its model of a tightly controlled internet is gaining ground, if only by force of numbers.
The world’s most popular blog? Lao Xu, written by the actor and director Xu Jinglei, which boasts 137 million visitors. The biggest distributor of online video? Tudou, which claims to have overtaken YouTube with over 1bn megabytes of data transfers every day. Then there is Baidu, which has trounced Google in the Mandarin search engine market, and Alibaba, whose boss Jack Ma is a national hero for humbling eBay and taking over Yahoo’s operations in China.
Language, culture and the Great Firewall of China – the state’s information shield – protect the government and big business players from competition. Instant messaging and social networking are dominated here by Tuscent’s QQ service. The game world is ruled by Shanda Entertainment and Giant Interactive rather than Nintendo and Sony. Sina and Sohu have a lockhold on the news. In every sector in China, domestic players are on top. Some are now starting to look overseas. Baidu recently launched a Japanese service.
Experts say that by overtaking the US as the world’s biggest user base, China will attract investment, commercial traffic and technology. With this will come influence.
“This is a big landmark. The US has almost reached the point where it has not much room to grow. China is the opposite. In terms of new connectivity and economic growth, China is definitely the place,” says Xiao Qiang, the founder of the California-based China Digital Times.
Beijing is thought to have the planet’s most sophisticated blocking equipment, which is used to guard virtual walls against external threats. Internally, it relies on a system of official monitoring and corporate self-censorship. Most of the routers and other parts come from US companies, such as Cisco. Campaigners suspect China is passing its censorship know-how to Cuba, Vietnam and several African countries.
“China is exporting a model where the internet is a tool for economical development, social networking, marketing business and propaganda, but not for free expression. China is very proud of this. They spent dozens of millions of euros to build firewalls, cyber-police and cyber-censors,” says Vincent Brossel of Reporters Without Borders.

Read more at Reporters Without Borders.

3 thoughts on “China’s Firewall”

  1. Ziva –
    I suspect there are many Chinese ‘net users who have found “ways around” the Great Firewall. More power to them.

  2. Yes they have Dr. Shalit, and according to RWB annual report, China systematically places people in jail for posting “subversive” topics online. There are at least 63 cyber-dissidents in prison, and observers say the actual numbers of those harassed and detained are probably much higher.

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