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Customers at an Internet cafe in Anhui province, China / Reuters
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This week the China-watching twitterverse was surprised to discover that Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, was now tweeting. That the editor of the Global Times, an "angry government mouthpiece" that supports China's policy of Internet censorship, was accessing a site blocked in China raised a few eyebrows and provoked several people to ask what VPN (a Virtual Private Network) he was using to evade the controls. Somewhat defensively, Hu responded to a characterization of him by The Wall Street Journal's ChinaRealTime blog as a "staunch defender of China's need to censor" by tweeting that he supported the gradual lifting of controls and believed "speech freedom is inevitable in China."
A very long discussion in the December 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs Review, the journal of the Foreign Affairs University, provides some context for what Hu's tweeting might be about. The article, entitled "Global Politics in the Web 2.0 Era" is a discussion about how communication technologies are changing politics. The cases cited are the usual ones--the protests after the Iranian elections, the Arab Spring, SMS being used to organize protests against Philippine President Joseph Estrada, the Obama campaign's use of Facebook and other social media--and political dynamics described are also now well known--web 2.0 empowers the individual to spread information, flattens hierarchies, and lowers the cost of mobilizing groups. Democratization and the growth of civil society are trends difficult to control, and as a result China must have a strategy for bringing about gradual change.