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China Unveils Frightening Futuristic Police State at Olympics

August 11, 2008

By Naomi Klein
The Huffington Post
August 8, 2008

So far, the Olympics have been an open invitation to China-bash, a
bottomless excuse for Western journalists to go after the Commies on
everything from internet censorship to Darfur. Through all the nasty
news stories, however, the Chinese government has seemed amazingly
unperturbed. That's because it is betting on this: when the opening
ceremonies begin friday, you will instantly forget all that
unpleasantness as your brain is zapped by the
cultural/athletic/political extravaganza that is the Beijing Olympics.

Like it or not, you are about to be awed by China's sheer awesomeness.

The games have been billed as China's "coming out party" to the
world. They are far more significant than that. These Olympics are
the coming out party for a disturbingly efficient way of organizing
society, one that China has perfected over the past three decades,
and is finally ready to show off. It is a potent hybrid of the most
powerful political tools of authoritarianism communism -- central
planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance -- harnessed to
advance the goals of global capitalism. Some call it "authoritarian
capitalism," others "market Stalinism," personally I prefer "McCommunism."

The Beijing Olympics are themselves the perfect expression of this
hybrid system. Through extraordinary feats of authoritarian
governing, the Chinese state has built stunning new stadiums,
highways and railways -- all in record time. It has razed whole
neighborhoods, lined the streets with trees and flowers and, thanks
to an "anti-spitting" campaign, cleaned the sidewalks of saliva. The
Communist Party of China even tried to turn the muddy skies blue by
ordering heavy industry to cease production for a month -- a sort of
government-mandated general strike.

As for those Chinese citizens who might go off-message during the
games -- Tibetan activists, human right campaigners, malcontent
bloggers -- hundreds have been thrown in jail in recent months.
Anyone still harboring protest plans will no doubt be caught on one
of Beijing's 300,000 surveillance cameras and promptly nabbed by a
security officer; there are reportedly 100,000 of them on Olympics duty.

The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebrate
the glories of Communism, regardless of what China's governing party
calls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visa
cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald's happy
meals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery -- to name just a few of the
official Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is the
surveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe and
the Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirely
for-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global Disaster
Capitalism Complex.

Chinese corporations financed by U.S. hedge funds, as well as some of
American's most powerful corporations -- Cisco, General Electric,
Honeywell, Google -- have been working hand in glove with the Chinese
government to make this moment possible: networking the closed
circuit cameras that peer from every other lamp pole, building the
"Great Firewall" that allows for remote internet monitoring, and
designing those self-censoring search engines.

By next year, the Chinese internal security market is set to be worth
$33-billion. Several of the larger Chinese players in the field have
recently taken their stocks public on U.S. exchanges, hoping to cash
in the fact that, in volatile times, security and defense stocks are
seen as the safe bets. China Information Security Technology, for
instance, is now listed on the NASDAQ and China Security and
Surveillance is on the NYSE. A small clique of U.S. hedge funds has
been floating these ventures, investing more than $150-million in the
past two years. The returns have been striking. Between October 2006
and October 2007, China Security and Surveillance's stock went up 306 percent.

Much of the Chinese government's lavish spending on cameras and other
surveillance gear has taken place under the banner of "Olympic
Security." But how much is really needed to secure a sporting event?
The price tag has been put at a staggering $12-billion -- to put that
in perspective, Salt Lake City, which hosted the Winter Olympics just
five months after September 11, spent $315 million to secure the
games. Athens spent around $1.5-billion in 2004. Many human rights
groups have pointed out that China's security upgrade is reaching far
beyond Beijing: there are now 660 designated "safe cities" across the
country, municipalities that have been singled out to receive new
surveillance cameras and other spy gear. And of course all the
equipment purchased in the name of Olympics safety -- iris scanners,
"anti-riot robots" and facial recognition software -- will stay in
China after the games are long gone, free to be directed at striking
workers and rural protestors.

What the Olympics have provided for Western firms is a palatable
cover story for this chilling venture. Ever since the 1989 Tiananmen
Square Massacre, U.S. companies have been barred from selling police
equipment and technology to China, since lawmakers feared it would be
directed, once again, at peaceful demonstrators. That law has been
completely disregarded in the lead up to the Olympics, when, in the
name of safety for athletes and VIPs (including George W. Bush), no
new toy has been denied the Chinese state.

There is a bitter irony here. When Beijing was awarded the games
seven years ago, the theory was that international scrutiny would
force China's government to grant more rights and freedom to its
people. Instead, the Olympics have opened up a backdoor for the
regime to massively upgrade its systems of population control and
repression. And remember when Western companies used to claim that by
doing business in China, they were actually spreading freedom and
democracy? We are now seeing the reverse: investment in surveillance
and censorship gear is helping Beijing to actively repress a new
generation of activists before it has the chance to network into a
mass movement.

The numbers on this trend are frightening. In April 2007, officials
from 13 provinces held a meeting to report back on how their new
security measures were performing. In the province of Jiangsu, which,
according to the South China Morning Post, was using "artificial
intelligence to extend and improve the existing monitoring system"
the number of protests and riots "dropped by 44 per cent last year."
In the province of Zhejiang, where new electronic surveillance
systems had been installed, they were down 30 per cent. In Shaanxi,
"mass incidents" -- code for protests -- were down by 27 per cent in
a year. Dong Lei, the province's deputy party chief, gave part of the
credit to a huge investment in security cameras across the province.
"We aim to achieve all day and all-weather monitoring capability," he
told the gathering.

Activists in China now find themselves under intense pressure, unable
to function even at the limited levels they were able to a year ago.
Internet cafes are filled with surveillance cameras, and surfing is
carefully watched. At the offices of a labor rights group in Hong
Kong, I met the well-known Chinese dissident Jun Tao. He had just
fled the mainland in the face of persistent police harassment. After
decades of fighting for democracy and human rights, he said the new
surveillance technologies had made it "impossible to continue to
function in China."

It's easy to see the dangers of a high tech surveillance state in far
off China, since the consequences for people like Jun are so severe.
It's harder to see the dangers when these same technologies creep
into every day life closer to home-networked cameras on U.S. city
streets, "fast lane" biometric cards at airports, dragnet
surveillance of email and phone calls. But for the global homeland
security sector, China is more than a market; it is also a showroom.
In Beijing, where state power is absolute and civil liberties
non-existent, American-made surveillance technologies can be taken to
absolute limits.

The first test begins today: Can China, despite the enormous unrest
boiling under the surface, put on a "harmonious" Olympics? If the
answer is yes, like so much else that is made in China, Police State
2.0 will be ready for export.

Naomi Klein's latest book is The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster
Capitalism.
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