Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Soft power or hard power?

Is there a Chinese version of the Internet in our future? Is there a Western version of the Internet in China's future? What is a nationalist Internet (besides an oxymoron)?

China seeks to export its vision of the Internet
China, the country that perfected breaking the Internet, has of late been on a campaign to convince the rest of the world that its approach to digital networks is worth spreading. It’s an effort led by Lu Wei, the man whose chief responsibilities include overseeing the Great Firewall of China, whose heavy veil of censorship is responsible for the damage China has done to the Internet inside its borders.

In November, Mr. Lu was among the headline speakers at China’s first-ever World Internet Conference… In December, he flew to Silicon Valley… He appeared at a Washington Internet forum… A few days later, he published an article in the Huffington Post that, in a tidy 1,397 words, laid out China’s vision for what the Internet should look like.

Mr. Lu… is on a new mission to convert others to his vision of how the Internet should be run: that digital networks should not allow the unimpeded flow of information, but should instead fall under the “cybersovereignty” of individual nations.

Asked whether he would consider allowing Facebook in, he was more direct: “I can choose who will be a guest in my home.” He wants others to assert the same power.

It’s a controversial notion, since China has used its control of the Internet to silence dissent, spread propaganda and delete chapters of history . It has also exported its firewall technology to others, notably to African regimes looking for their own god-like powers over online content…

In a recent column in state media, Fang Xingdong noted that China increasingly has the “hard power” to exert its will.

“China boasts the largest number of Internet users and also world famous companies like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. The Chinese market will be critical in reshaping the cyberlandscape in the next decade,” wrote Mr. Fang, director of the Centre for Internet and Society at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications…

Many nations are also newly skeptical of U.S. leadership in cyberspace, following the Edward Snowden revelations of rampant spying. “The U.S. is no longer seen as a benevolent steward of the Internet system,” said Mr. Creemers.

“The whole idea that Cisco routers, which power the Chinese Internet, might have CIA backdoors installed is a huge concern in Chinese policy circles.” China appears to be taking swift action, saying it wants home-grown technology to supplant foreign-sourced goods in sensitive banking, military and other applications by 2020.

That action underscores the risk to western corporations of China’s new Internet assertiveness…

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