“Since the party congress, we’ve seen increased measures, not lessened,” Stanford University’s Duncan Clark told VOA China. “So the big question … is, when we get to the spring of next year, when the new leadership takes up the formal positions in the new government, is this the new normal?”
The regime’s tightening of internet controls and mandating real name registration threaten the security and privacy of internet users, Human Rights Watch said today:
On December 28, 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislative body, passed the “Decision to Strengthen the Protection of Online Information.” …This decision follows a series of high-profile corruption exposés that were widely discussed online, despite government efforts to control media coverage, as well as increased use of social media to mobilize citizen action. For example, weibo users and bloggers became important watchdogs in revealing corruption and governmental cover-up attempts in the wake of the July 2011 Wenzhou high-speed train crash. In addition, companies that provide virtual private networks (VPNs) that circumvent China’s “Great Firewall” have also reported expanded interference with the use of their services. VPNs can allow users to secure their communications over an internet connection. Businesses, journalists, and ordinary users rely on VPNs to encrypt internet traffic and evade China’s filtering system.
“These new mandates send a chilling message to China’s netizens,” said Cynthia Wong, the group’s senior researcher on the internet and human rights. “The government’s decision is an effort to silence critics and curb anonymity online by further conscripting internet companies to monitor and censor users.”
The magazine’s official account on Sina Weibo, a Twitter style Chinese social media platform, posted at 10.08am, said the site was “suddenly cancelled” around 9am. It said they received text messages and emails from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on December 31, telling them the site had been cancelled….After clicking the site’s URL on Friday, internet users see a notice saying: “the website you are visiting has been shut down for not registering”.
“Several influential Chinese bloggers, activists and even a popular cartoonist had their online microblogging accounts shut down in recent days, belying the hopes of many here that the country’s new Communist Party leaders might begin to relax strict controls over the Internet and free expression,” the Washington Post’s Keith Richburg reports:
Another microblogger who uses satire to tackle sensitive topics is the cartoonist Kuang Biao, who said he publishes most of his work online. …
“I guess my political cartoons (above) made them unhappy,” Kuang said. “I just can’t figure out why they are even afraid of cartoons. They lack confidence and don’t have any sense of humor.” Kuang said his cartoons mainly satirized official policy pronouncements and the well-documented misbehavior of some Communist Party officials.
In light of China’s media crackdown, the U.S. State Department should both address the treatment of American reporters in China and assess its current approach to Chinese reporters in the US, argues The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos:
Why is this happening now? At bottom, it’s a curious confluence of skill, corruption, and record-keeping. Twenty years ago, most foreign correspondents made their bones on exotic front lines, and rarely ventured into the wilds of business reporting until they came home. But these days the ranks of the foreign press include a number of people who came up reading 10-Ks and bond prospectuses and have the instinct to deploy those skills abroad. At the same time, the increasing sophistication of China’s economy has forced the bureaucracy to create a body of records that, if deciphered correctly, can provide a roadmap of relationships that no human source could easily match. And finally, the scale of corruption in China has grown right along with the economy, creating a target-rich environment.
The crackdown also follows a hike in Chinese netizens’ willingness to speak out on Tibetan self-immolations, says Human Rights in China.
China’s efforts to tighten the reigns on the Internet “could chill some of the vibrant discourse on the country’s Twitter-like microblogs,” says one observer.
The crackdown comes shortly after Rendezvous Asia Blogger Mark McDonald reported on the Communist authorities’ efforts to fortify the Great Firewall, “blocking some of the leading services that allow people on the mainland to access forbidden sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.”
“Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov and Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili are better known to history by the pseudonyms under which they led the Bolshevik Revolution—pen names that served them well as agitators under the czars. No wonder the ostensibly communist party still ruling in Beijing is so acutely attuned to the dangers of anonymous scribbling,” writes the Wall Street Journal’s Joseph Sternberg. “Call it Zuckerberg’s Revenge.”
The clampdown has dampened expectations that the new leadership “might be more tolerant of weibo’s burgeoning free speech forum, as they try to cultivate a more popular image for a party buffeted by corruption scandals and tales of power abuses at the highest levels,” says the Post’s Richburg:
“The hope for that kind of openness was less based on any kind of evidence and more based on hope,” said Bill Bishop, a longtime China resident who publishes the Sinocism online newsletter on current political, economic and social news.
Despite the new leaders’ recent remarks about economic reform, Bishop said, “there’s nothing in there about loosening their restrictions on the Internet.”
“I do think you’re going to see some pretty aggressive measures on economic reform,” Bishop said. “You’ve got a party that believes in pursuing economic reform without comparable political reform.”
“Social media has become an incredible tool for public accountability in China, but these new controls certainly undermine that potential,” Wong said. “If the government is serious about fighting rampant corruption, it shouldn’t silence whistleblowers and ordinary citizens, or enlist companies to do it on their behalf. Instead, it should allow people to speak out and to protect their identities online.”