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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Naomi Klein and Christian Parenti on How Beijing Olympics

August 17, 2008

Highlight Globalization of Police State, Inequality
Democracy NOW
August 15, 2008

The equipment and integrated security systems used to detain Olympic
protesters will remain long after the Olympics, to be used, many
fear, on China's own population. And some of the biggest
beneficiaries of this surveillance boom are US hedge funds and
corporations, including Cisco, General Electric and Google. We speak
to journalists Naomi Klein and Christian Parenti, both of whom have
recently reported from China. [includes rush transcript]

Naomi Klein, award-winning journalist and bestselling author. Her
most recent book is The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster
Capitalism. Her latest articles are about surveillance in China.

Christian Parenti, Journalist and author of three books, including
most recently The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied
Iraq. His latest article published in The Nation is called "Class
Struggle in the New China."
Rush Transcript
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JUAN GONZALEZ: China deported five international activists today for
unfurling a "Free Tibet" banner over the top of an Olympic Games
billboard. It's the latest incident in what has become an almost
daily crackdown on both domestic and international protesters who
have had to contend with a brand new surveillance system that China
set up ahead of the games. This includes 300,000 security cameras and
an estimated 100,000 security officers on duty in Beijing.

But it's not just Beijing that's gotten a security upgrade. There are
now over 600 "safe" cities in China that have received new
surveillance gear. The equipment and integrated security systems will
remain long after the Olympics, to be used, many fear, on China's own
population. The domestic surveillance market in China is expected to
reach $33 billion next year. And some of the biggest beneficiaries of
this boom are US hedge funds and corporations, such as Cisco, General
Electric and Google.

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning journalist and bestselling author Naomi
Klein calls this "McCommunism." Her latest article published in the
Huffington Post is called "The Olympics: Unveiling Police State 2.0."
Naomi Klein is author of The Shock Doctrine. She joins us on the
phone from Canada.

We're also joined in our firehouse studio by investigative journalist
and author Christian Parenti, who's also just back from China. His
latest piece for The Nation magazine is called "Class Struggle in the
New China."

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Naomi Klein, let's begin with
you. Lay out what you also called in Rolling Stone the "all-seeing eye."

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, there's an incredible operation going on in China
to use the latest, what's now called homeland security
technology—networked surveillance cameras, biometric identification
cards, facial recognition software -- networking all of these cameras
and running the software through it as a way to control an
increasingly rebellious population. There's an incredible statistic
from 2005 that there were 87,000 mass incidents, which means protests
and riots, across the country.

So it is already being used as a way to control the population and
also to keep an eye on what in China is called the floating
population, the migrant population, who are displaced by mega
projects, who travel to cities like Beijing and Guangzhou and
Shenzhen looking for work. This is a mobile population that is right
now 130 million people. And this technology is used to keep track of
those people, because in a sort of Maoist time in China, you
had—where people stayed in their communities, you had networks of
control and surveillance that were really about people snitching on
their neighbors. When people are moving across long distances, the
technology is replacing that. So :Police State 2.0: is really about
upgrading the surveillance system, with the help, as you said
earlier, of US companies like Cisco, General Electric, who have been
providing these technologies.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Your article talks about -- calls it the "Golden
Shield," as the Chinese refer to it, and you focus especially on the
city of Shenzhen, in terms of the enormous reach of this. I was
struck that you mentioned, for instance, that every internet cafe in
China has surveillance cameras that are hooked up to local police
stations so that they can keep an eye on who is using the internet cafes?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and the internet cafes are -- you know, they're
really like internet bowling alleys. They're huge. An average-size
internet cafe has 600 terminals. And there are dozens of cameras in
the -- not just obviously the cameras on the computers, but
surveillance cameras. And this is a huge market. You mentioned that
it's worth $33 billion a year now. It's actually—that's even
increased since I wrote that article. The latest estimate is that
it's going to be worth $43 billion, and—a year within two years.

And the reason why this is such a fast-growing market is that it's
not just that the internet cafes are installing these cameras; it's
that it's a law now in China that they are required to install the
cameras. So are at religious sites, so are entertainment sites,
karaoke bars, restaurants. So, the government passes a law and says
you must install these surveillance cameras, the companies comply,
and then you have another set of companies who are connected to the
party and also, as you said, to American companies. Many of them are
listed on the NASDAQ, the New York Stock Exchange. And they are
benefiting directly from this created market, this mandated market.
You must install security cameras, so no wonder this is such a
fast-growing market.

And, you know, we know that the global homeland security industry,
which is now worth $200 billion globally, it really follows the
money. So, after September 11th, that money was, in the US, in these
huge expenditures on surveillance technology. It then moved to Iraq,
and now it's really moved to China.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about when -- the significance of when the
Olympics was awarded to China?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. I think this is really important for us to look
at, at this point, because, in many ways, I think this moment
provides us with a benchmark to understand exactly how much the
standards on human rights have been eroded since September 11th,
because China was awarded the Games exactly seven years ago, in July
2001, so right before the September 11th attacks. And, of course, it
was very controversial. But there was of virtual consensus, among US
officials, at least, that the global scrutiny that would be placed on
China in the lead-up to the Olympics would lead to an opening up,
would force a democratization process, would lead to a freer press,
would lead to more freedoms for human rights activists.

And that really hasn't happened. In fact, I think it's quite
surprising how little scrutiny there has been on China's human rights
record. And part of that has been that there—any kind of moral
suasion that there could have been, certainly from the United States
-- and obviously one has to temper this, because I don't think that
the US—the human rights record pre-September 11th was anything to
brag about—but any ability to sort of put moral pressure on China on
human rights has really been eroded since September 11, and
particularly when you see that China has moved to this high-tech
version of repression and surveillance, which means it's much less in
your face, it's four security cameras on a block as opposed to tanks.

And it looks a lot like what's happening in London, what's happening
in New York, with the normalization of these technologies, and also,
in the US, with the normalization of the loss of habeas corpus, of
indefinite detention, of the normalization of torture. So, what we
see in this timeline, from when China was awarded the Games to now in
this moment when they are staging the Games, is not just that human
rights have taken a step back in China, but that globally we've
really lost our bearings.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, in China, there is -- or with China,
there is the reality that the country has become the industrial
heartland of worldwide capitalism, in terms of the sheer number of
production workers that are churning out goods. And, Christian, your
article deals with what's happened to the workers in China and to
all—in all of these factories, and what is life like in this
surveillance state, but also a state that has become critical to
worldwide capitalism.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yeah, and despite, you know, a long history of
repression under Chinese communism and, you know, the legacy of the
Cultural Revolution in this increasing use of surveillance, there's
actually quite a lot of class struggle, to use an old-fashioned term.
By one estimate, supposedly from the Chinese government leaked to
independent labor activists, a thousand people a day in Shenzhen, the
main industrial city in the south, are involved in some sort of labor action.

So, what I looked at in this article was peasant and worker
resistance. And there is actually, you know, evidence that despite
the odds against them, they're having some success. And one major
measure of this is the fact that the new government that came in
2002, 2003, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, have responded to the growing
discontent, not necessarily out of some sort of enlightened set of
theories, but pragmatically they've actually passed a number of laws,
which may or may not pan out to be good, but on paper give greater
rights to peasants. They removed one of the main taxes on them,
giving them more legal rights to oppose displacement, passed a very
good labor law that gives workers basically tenure status. They used
to be basically serving at the pleasure of their employers, could be
fired without cause. Now they have to have cause, and after a certain
period of time they have long-term contracts. Business pundits
condemn the law as introducing European-style inflexibility. And this
is giving workers some leverage and is actually raising wages.

And interestingly, you know, there's a long tradition, dating from
Tiananmen days, of trying to create an independent trade union
movement in China. That has been crushed. That is a non-starter. But
the current government has encouraged workers—well, it said that it
wants to see all private—80 percent of private firms unionize, but
through the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. So I thought this
was kind of ridiculous as a state union. But when you actually go to
Shenzhen and connect with the underground labor movement, many of
whom are suffering from severe repression, usually from local
authorities in league with Hong Kong, Taiwanese and local capitalists
producing stuff on contract for Wal-Mart, Kmart, everybody else,
surprisingly, these underground labor activists and their allies in
Hong Kong, some of whom are veterans of Tiananmen, have actually --
their position is that now what has to happen is that they have to
renovate the official union and, you know, not take it over, but
actually work within it to turn it into a real union that will defend
workers' rights.

So there's something interesting going on in response to this rising
discontent over the last couple years, whereby the central government
is growing concerned about the really, you know, wild brutality and
corruption of many local governments, the way that's antagonizing
workers, the way workers are pushing, pushing, pushing, and they
realize there has to be something given to the working class of
China. Wages have to rise. And there has to be some modicum of rights
for that class, which is, as you say, absolutely essential to the
engine of global capitalism.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But yet, the vast majority of people in China are
still in the countryside, right? So what is happening in terms of the
peasantry of China?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yeah, in the countryside, one of the main problems
people face is, along with environmental degradation is, these
continued land grabs. One of the—the village I profiled in the
article was fighting to keep its land because a big state-owned coal
company wanted to strip mine it. And so, this is one cause of displacement.

The other thing is that the countryside is still very, very poor.
There has been, in the last two decades, the rise of what are called
the township and village enterprises, which are these usually kind of
hybrid local-, state- plus foreign capital-owned firms, which are
providing some industrial work. But due to displacement by industry
and poverty, people are leaving the countryside, and they're
organizing there. In last year in Anhui, a group of villages refused
to pay taxes, and that actually led to the government saying, "OK,
we're going to abolish this, this tax law, because the peasants are
clearly under serious pressure, and we can, you know, use repression
to force them to continue to live in poverty and pay their taxes and
ask for serious trouble, or we can just remove this tax and, you
know, force employers to actually pay a little bit more." And, you
know, ten percent growth for ten years in a row means there is enough
money to go around for the working class to -- you know, for there to
be greater redistribution through higher wages.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel the Olympics has had an effect on what is
going on now in China, this increased international scrutiny, or is there?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: In terms of international scrutiny, it seems
mostly to be around the issue of Tibet and broad human rights stuff.
And the issue of labor has not come up that much.

In China, I was struck by the way that the earthquake and the
Olympics really re-instilled or reignited an intense nationalism and
almost a defensiveness around people who, in many cases, were
actually involved in struggles against local authorities and were
very apologetic about it. In the article, I discuss these guys who
organized basically an independent trade union and had these wildcat
strikes, but they're, "Well, no, they weren't protests. They were
just big meetings at the factory. We just wanted to communicate with
the bosses." And they were like, you know, almost apologetic about
opposing the country and causing troubles for the country. So that's
one main effect that the Olympics is having internally, is to sort
of, you know, change the subject and instill this kind of national
state of mind.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Naomi Klein, following your line on surveillance
in China, let's go back to the United States. We're moving into the
conventions. And by the way, Democracy Now! will be there for the
Democratic convention in Denver—we're expanding to two hours—and in
St. Paul, where also we'll be broadcasting two hours every day. But
we're just getting word out of Denver, for example, CBS 4 exposed
that there are warehouses prepared with pens and barbed wire for
jailed protesters, with warnings on the wall: stun guns—beware of stun gun use.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. And I mean, I think the timing of this is really
interesting, that -- you know, that the global sort of media
spotlight is going to move from Beijing to Denver to Minneapolis. And
we're really going to have an opportunity to actually see how
globalized this surveillance state is. And, you know, I really think
we're seeing a kind of a global middle ground emerge, where China is
becoming more like the United States in very visible ways, and the
United States is becoming more like China in less visible ways. So,
many of the things that people are really ready to condemn about the
surveillance and police state tactics being used in Beijing right
now—the surveillance cameras everywhere, the banning of protests or
the pushing of protesters into these protest pens that are empty
because people are too afraid to use them, pre-emptive arrests -- you
know, we are going to see this in Denver—unmanned drones and so on.
So I think we are very vividly going to see this meeting in the
middle, if you will, of these tactics.

AMY GOODMAN: And in China, the corporations that are involved with
supplying China with this surveillance equipment that will be there
long after the Olympics?

NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly. This -- you know, one of the things that I
think people forget is that it's actually illegal to sell police
equipment to China. This was a law passed after Tiananmen Square,
precisely to prevent American technology from being used for
repressive purposes. And the Olympics have really been just this
incredible opportunity for high-tech—American high-tech surveillance
firms, because they've been able somehow to sell police equipment to
China, very high-tech police equipment to China, not in the name of
domestic policing, but in the name of securing an international
sporting event, which of course is attended by the President of the
United States, and nobody wants anything bad to happen to him. So,
you know, in many ways, the Olympics have provided this backdoor way
for all of this American technology and equipment, policing
equipment, to flow into China.

And of course, as people like Sharon Hom, head of Human Rights in
China, have been saying now for months, all of this equipment is
staying in China after the Games. And it will be directed at many of
the workers who Christian is talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: And the corporations involved? We have ten seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: The US corporations involved?

NAOMI KLEIN: Honeywell, IBM, General Electric, Google, Yahoo -- I
mean, we've heard about this. But in terms of building the
surveillance state, one company to really watch is L1. They are doing
the fingerprinting and iris scanning in the United States, and
they've been selling this software to Chinese companies that are
embedding it in their Golden Shield network.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, Christian Parenti, I want to thank you both
very much for joining us. Their pieces appear in The Nation and the
Huffington Post and Rolling Stone.

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