The Dictator’s Dilemma Intensifies In China
From Flickr user cnjasmine
Up until now, the authoritarian regime in China has been more than crafty about its control over the information market there, but its hand has gotten a little heavier of late. The dictator's dilemma, or the tension between open communication (fostering economic development) and closed communication (suppressing dissent), is rearing its head.
As an editorial in the Financial Times suggests today, few in China may have had revolution on their minds until the regime’s outsize response to the threat made it hard not to notice that something different was in the political air:
The Chinese leadership’s reaction to the Arab spring has so far been more pronounced than that of its people. Although there have been few outpourings of democratic longing, the authorities have crushed any whiff of protest – and even the means by which dissent may be expressed.
Noting that China tried to remove access to Gmail this weekend and bill it as an internal Google error, the editorial finishes:
At present, the Chinese are broadly pliant, accepting prosperity without political liberalisation. But tension between economic achievement and the right to exercise political choice can be resolved only by greater freedom. Tampering with Google is certainly a sophisticated means to curtail web freedom. But technical strength is not enough to maintain a regime – such an act ultimately betrays Beijing’s political vulnerability.
Members of the Chinese diaspora began calling for protest in China in February in response to uprisings in North Africa, but few within China acted. As one Beijing based blogger wrote: “yesterday’s protests in Beijing have been hugely overblown in most media accounts...and most Beijing residents were entirely unaware of them," and another: "I saw nothing at any point that could be considered protesting...it was just a group of people standing around photographing each other."
When the government cracks down on the spread of information in such a glaring way, though - indeed, the Financial Times editorial leaves out but the New York Times reported yesterday that they are actually cutting off peoples' cell phone connections upon hearing them mention the word "protest" to one another in either English or Chinese - it becomes harder and harder for citizens not to notice. By upsetting their previously pitch perfect balance between open communication and censorship, has the Chinese government made genuine protest more, not less, likely?