A putative “Jasmine Revolution” in major cities in China last Sunday (Feb. 20) was swiftly quelled by the Chinese government’s preemptive block on the internet and arrest of human right activists. The failed attempts to hold demonstrations reflects Beijing’s powerful ability to stem the flow of information and break connections between activists.
Compared with other autocratic regimes like Egypt and Tunisia, China’s measures and technology to filter messages are much more sophisticated. The Egyptian government had tried to disable Facebook during the recent uprising but failed, while China has successfully blocked Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as messages related to protests. Last Sunday, the day when the protests were scehduled to take place, most Chinese people were unaware of the plans.
Beijing not only blocked messages on microblogging websites but has also developed its own search engines in a bid to guarantee complete censorship and filter out any information that contains any threat to its authority, something of which other autocratic regimes have not been capable.
China’s state-run People’s Daily last June developed the Goso search engine, which filters out results which Beijing sees as dangerous, such as news on Tibet or the religous group Falun Gong.
On Feb. 22 the official Xinhua news agency and state-owned China Mobile unveiled a new search engine named Panguso. During the process of developing the search engine, Liu Yunshan, head of the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department reportedly ordered that it must launch in a timely manner.
When news of the China Jasmine Revolution began to emerge, President Hu Jintao on Feb. 19 stressed the importance of information network management, urging an improved management of the “virtual society” and “better guidance” of public opinion on the internet.
China’s state-owned telecom companies were also mobilized to fight the threat of unrest. Two state-run mobile companies, China Unicom and China Mobile, disabled message-sending functions to a group of users and filtered messages with keywords such as “jasmine.”
With comprehensive control over information on the internet and mobile phones, Beijing can block or filter whatever it wants. Last weekend, even the words “tomorrow” and “today” were unavailable seacrh terms on some microblogs.
An article in Forbes.com said: “In the Middle East, social media has emerged as a tool in revolution. In China, by contrast, social media has emerged as both an investment opportunity for westerners and as a critical choke point for political control.”
Chen I-hsin, professor of the Graduate Institute of the Americas at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said the call for revolution is not strong enough to threaten China’s leadership given the government’s robust internet control. He said, however, that the flow of messages and speech over the internet will be unstoppable over time given advances in technology.
Chen I-hsin 陳一新
Tamkang University 淡江大學
New Wave of Chinese Jasmine Revolution Set for Sunday
According to Hong Kong-based Mingpao, the online activists behind last week’s calls for a Chinese Jasmine Revolution have called for protests again on Sunday (Feb. 27).
Despite calling for demonstrations in major cities across China last Sunday (Feb. 20), online messages regarding the planned protests were swiftly blocked by authorities and a large police presence nipped any public display of dissatisfaction with the government in the bud while known human rights activists were also rounded up.
Reportedly, the initiators of the online calls are many but they are not willing to be identified. They urged the Chinese government to release the detained human rights activists.
Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said no one can shake the hopes of most Chinese people for political stability and harmony.
A short message on the internet, posted by a netizen who declared himself to be the initiator of the initial failed demonstrations, was circulated to call for a second attempt on Sunday (Feb. 27). The gathering place will be announced on Feb. 23, the poster said.
“One small step for us, one giant leap for the transformation of the current authoritarian regime,” the anonymous activist posted.
The message was first posted on Boxun.com, a webiste whose server is set up overseas.
Instructions are also spreading online teaching people how to fold white jasmine with paper and telling netizens to bring their jasmine to the gathering.
The Boxun website has found itself under renewed hacker attacks since the call was posted. Mingpao, a newspaper based in Hong Kong, quoted a group of people who claimed themselves to be “the initiators of Jasmine Revolution.” They said they had discussed whether they should surrender collectively to avoid innocent people from being arrested in their stead. However, they could not reach a consensus among their members.
According to the report, the initiators have not been identified so far. Some netizens suggested that the activists are likely to be young people judging from their statement: “People in power have totally blocked our chances to move upward. We cannot compete with the second generation of the wealthy.”
Chen I-hsin, professor of Graduate Institute of Americas at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said the call for revolution is not strong enough to pose a real threat to Beijing. Despite dissatisfaction with politics and corruption, most Chinese people are still benefiting from the country’s ever-growing economy. Also, the gap between rich and poor in China — while large — is not as strong a factor as it has been in Tunisia, for example. Therefore, it will be hard to fuel a similar uprising in China.
However, Chen said, even though currently the Chinese government’s internet controls are much more advanced than other countries in pre-empting calls for protests, the flow of messages and speech on internet is unstoppable given advances in technology.
While the calls for demonstrations may have only a limited effect in China for the time being, the protests across the Arab world have elevated the internal sense of crisis in North Korea, South Korean media reported Wednesday (Feb. 23).
North Korea’s leaders have been casting around for measures to fend off unrest, including cutting off information on democracy protests on the internet and via mobile phones while reinforcing ideological and political education to its people.
North Korean media has also criticized western democracy to counteract the ripple-effect of the democracy movements in other parts of the world. The country’s Korean Central Broadcasting Station stressed that the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) is superior to western democracy and its multi-party system which brings political chaos and violence.
Japanese media quoted foreigners who had just left North Korea who reported that the country has begun to seal the flow of information from outside by terminating cell phone frequencies. The report said that these measures are considered “necessary precautionary steps” to prevent unrest.
Meanwhile, the North Korean authorities are also paying close attention to the latest developments in Libya as the two nations have been close allies. Embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has set the stage for violent confrontations by ordering loyalists to take to the country’s streets to crush the popular uprising against the government.
Chen I-hsin 陳一新