China understands that it needs the Internet and the ability for its corporations and creative citizens to communicate globally if it wants to continue to remain economically competitive and to continue to create wealth. The Google War, however, demonstrates a Great Prison Wall mentality still persists among China's communist elites.
Citizens may communicate about economics, yuan, yen and euros. But as for the liberalizing political demands that appear to go hand in hand with increased wealth and the free flow of information? The Great Firewall will remain in place, identifying dissenters and blocking what the regime regards as disruptive ideas.
Digital communications can be a tool for democratic agitation. Beijing has seen what is happening in the streets of Tehran. Iran's Green Movement uses Twitter as a means of evading the information blackout imposed by Iran's theological dictatorship. The Obama administration was inexcusably slow in coming to the aid of Iran's democrats, but with Clinton's statement regarding Google, the U.S. has clearly linked free information on the Internet with human rights, political liberalization and economic development.
Following Clinton's speech, however, China warned that criticizing its Internet policies could damage U.S.-China relations. The threat came (perhaps not so coincidentally) in the midst of a major debate on U.S. debt. China buys a lot of U.S. government bonds. Economic linkage and interdependence, like the Internet and information linkage, is another characteristic of globalization.
Note Google conceded it had restricted some data searches -- the company wants Chinese business. Cash bought some uneasy corporate complicity. With the hacking of its online email, however, Google reached a point where China's shenanigans cost it credibility with a billion other customers. Market democracy? Google can count. Can Beijing?
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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