Wikileaks Cables Reveal China's Fear of the Web

The suppression of information went beyond Tiananmen Square and the Dalai Lama

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A new report by The New York Times reveals more details about the Chinese government's contentious relationship with Google and its efforts to censor information on the Internet. The report centers on recently leaked cables between the U.S. Embassy and Washington. Here's what bloggers are focusing in on:

The demands on Google went well beyond removing material on subjects like the Dalai Lama or the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Chinese officials also put pressure on the United States government to censor the Google Earth satellite imaging service by lowering the resolution of images of Chinese government facilities, warning that Washington could be held responsible if terrorists used that information to attack government or military facilities, the cables show.
  • Li Changchun Led the Charge Against Google, writes Robert Mullins at Network World:

Diplomatic cables "portray China’s leadership as nearly obsessed with the threat posed by the Internet to their grip on power," The newspaper reported. The article describes the experience of Li Changchun, a member of China’s top ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee, who discovered that when he typed his name in Chinese into Google’s main international Web site, he found “results critical of him.” That’s not supposed to happen in Mr. Li’s world.

  • They Ordered Hack Attacks on U.S. Officials, notes Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat:

The Chinese leaders also saw how they could hack into computers in the U.S. to obtain secrets. The cables say that the Chinese used cyber hacking to obtain a wide array of American government and military data. They hacked, for instance, the computers of diplomats involved in climate change talks with China. The Secretary of State office had to send a warning not to respond to “spear phishing” attacks aimed at agency officials during June, 2009.

  • Chinese Leaders Seem to Have a Schizophrenic View of the Web, writes Jolie O'Dell at Mashable

China’s attitude toward the web, as characterized by the cables quoted in the above-linked article, comes across as simultaneously paranoid and confident — paranoid that freedom of information, be that web pages with politically delicate keywords or images of government buildings, would only be used negatively; confident that the Internet can and will be controlled by the Chinese government.

  • Google and the U.S. Government Cooperated the Whole Time, writes Dan Sabbagh at The Guardian:
The documents reveal a close relationship between Google and the US authorities in China. In January, a few days after Google made the hacking public – without specifying who it believed was responsible – Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, made a speech in Washington entitled "remarks on internet freedom".

Clinton weighed in heavily on the side of Google, warning that "countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century".

She called on the Chinese government to "conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions" without revealing that it was her own officials who believed the attack was co-ordinated from inside the Chinese politburo.

  • I'm Skeptical About These Cables, writes James Fallows at The Atlantic:
This is based on a single source. Presumably the source was not Mr. Li himself; and other scenarios are possible but a little strange (an aide saw him Googling, noticed he was upset, and told friends? Or perhaps Li found this on his own and complained to his colleagues? Perhaps). Even the author of the State Department cable is careful to say that the U.S. government cannot confirm the report
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