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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China Tries to Steer Public Opinion on Web Issue

January 26, 2010

By LORETTA CHAO
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
January 25, 2010

BEIJING -- China has hardened its line against
U.S. criticisms of its Internet policies
following an initial period of restraint, with a
coordinated rebuttal in its state media that
seemed targeted toward a domestic audience.

Dozens of commentaries were published and
broadcast across major state-run Chinese media
for a second straight day Monday calling
allegations by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton and Google Inc. hypocritical and accusing
the Internet company of becoming a pawn in an American "ideology war."

The media onslaught followed a series of
statements from the government that dismissed
both Mrs. Clinton's remarks on Internet freedom
last week and allegations by Google two weeks ago
that sophisticated cyber attacks targeting it and
many other U.S. companies had originated in
China. The commentaries largely accused the U.S.
of using "Internet freedom" as an excuse to
incite anti-China forces, to infringe on other
countries' domestic affairs and to mislead Chinese Internet users.

The blanket attempt to steer public opinion is
also an implicit recognition of the limits to the
government's control over the Web in China, as
the nation's rapidly growing Internet population
of 384 million users makes the spread of
information increasingly difficult to control.
State-run media outlets initially carried little
or no mention of the content of Mrs. Clinton's
speech or the Google allegations, but after that
information was widely disseminated through
bloggers and other unofficial media, Chinese
authorities clearly felt the need to forcefully clarify its stance.

An opinion piece in state-run newspaper Guangming
Daily on Monday said the U.S. government "is
relying on Internet technology as a tool to
promote American values in other countries. An
excuse for the use of this tool is the so-called
'free flow of information.'" The article calls
the U.S. hypocritical because it "uses its
advantages of Internet technology and hegemony "
to "put a stranglehold on information that the
U.S. feels is contrary to American values," and
said that the U.S. "was the first country to
introduce the concept of network warfare."

Media blitzes of this magnitude are generally
orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party's
Propaganda Department for issues of major
importance to the government. A similar flood of
coordinated commentary was published in 2008 when
the Chinese government criticized Western media
coverage of anti-government protests in Tibet.

The response also suggests the Chinese government
it is unlikely to be flexible in negotiations
over how Google could continue operations in China.

Though analysts believe Google's decision to stop
censoring its content will lead to a shut down of
its China-based Web site, some have said the
company might still be able to maintain other
functions in the country, such as an
advertising-sales office for its overseas Web
sites, or the ability to manage some of its other
China investments and partnerships. Already, the
company has delayed the launch of two handsets by
Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Inc. running
its Android operating system, saying it would be
irresponsible to release the phones if its future in China is uncertain.

The tone in the last two days' commentaries was a
marked shift from comments in Chinese media and
among the public when news of Google's possible
departure first spread. On the first day after
Google's announcement, the company's possible
pull out became the hottest topic among Chinese
Internet users who mostly expressed shock and
disappointment that the nation's second-most
popular search engine could be closed down. An
editorial published on the Web site of state-run
newspaper Global Times at the time said Google's
withdrawal could "imply a setback to China and a
serious loss to China's Net culture," while
others acknowledged that China's Internet market
has benefited from Google's presence.

Google has said hackers appeared to be targeting
human-rights advocates, and that in response to
the attacks and to ongoing censorship by Beijing
it plans to stop censoring its Chinese search
results. Mrs. Clinton said in a speech Thursday
the U.S. is making free access to the Internet a
foreign-policy priority, and criticized China,
among other countries, for censorship of Web
content. She also called on China's government to address Google's allegations.

Chinese officials have responded that Google and
other foreign companies operating in China must
follow its laws. State-run Xinhua news agency on
Sunday quoted an unnamed official from China's
Ministry of Industry and Information Technology
saying that accusations the Chinese government is
participating in hacker attacks are "entirely
baseless." The official said China is "resolutely
opposed" to such charges, which "disgrace China's actions," Xinhua reported.

The same day, a commenter in the Communist
Party's main newspaper, People's Daily, alleged
that the U.S. used the Internet to incite
election protests in Iran last year. "I'm afraid
that in the eyes of American politicians, only
when information is controlled by the U.S. does
it count as free information," the article said.
"It was America that initiated Internet warfare,
using YouTube videos and Twitter micro-blog
misinformation to split, incite, and sow discord
between the conservative and reform factions…to
bring about large-scale bloodshed in Iran."

An earlier editorial in People's Daily called
Google a "chess piece" for the U.S. government.
"The role of business has been hijacked by political purposes," it said.

-- Jason Dean, Sue Feng and Kersten Zhang contributed to this article.
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