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Audio: Can the Internet Bring Democracy to China?

May 20, 2009

Council on Foreign Relationships (CFR)
May 18, 2009

Interviewee:  Xiao Qiang, Director, China Internet Project
Interviewer:  Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org

Xiao QiangChina has the largest number of
Internet users in the world--300 million, or
roughly the population of the United States.
China's blossoming online political dialogue,
some of which includes the country's political
leaders, has prompted questions about whether the
Internet could lead to a political revolution. At
the same time, however, Beijing continues to
employ various forms of online censorship and
surveillance. Xiao Qiang, director of the China
Internet Project and an adjunct professor at the
Graduate School of Journalism at the University
of California, Berkeley, says the Chinese
Communist Party seems increasingly inclined to
try to use the Internet as a tool to gauge public
opinion on local issues. At the same time, he
says, it seems bent on strongly policing online
dialogue to keep a handle on public opinion.

Qiang says strong Internet voices are emerging in
favor of democratic reforms in China. He notes
that this strain of opinion can at time conflict
with nationalistic voices in the country, such as
those that emerged in response to last year's
pro-Tibet rallies, which have also been amplified
by the Internet. But Qiang says nationalistic and
reform-oriented voices also overlap. "The same
people who are very nationalistic" on issues like
Tibet can be "very vocal to support political
reform," he says. Qiang says the "jury is still
out" on what China's experience with the Internet
says about the medium as a democratizing factor.
He stresses, however, that the Internet has
proved to be a liberal force for the Chinese
society, and could, in the long run, lead to a
less repressive government in the country.

Download link:
http://www.cfr.org/content/publications/media/podcast/2009/P_China_Internet_20090515.mp3
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