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Who Lost China's Internet?

By wiredog in Internet
Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 07:10:27 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

A system ... could surely find a way to get messages through,... Resistance would be futile--even the Chinese Borg could not stop it. ... That vision has now been called into question

An article in the Weekly Standard asks the question: Who is responsible for the lack of freedom online in China? The answer is that Western corporations are selling out freedom, in exchange for filthy lucre. The title is a reference to the McCarthy Communist Hunts of the 1950's. The tone of the article , that business needs to think beyond the bottom line, seems a bit unusual for a magazine that, politically, is very conservative.

The article describes, and decrys, Cisco's development of specialized routers for the Great Firewall of China, Yahoo's developement of censored search and messaging portals, and the eager complicity of other American companies in Chinese government censorship. It goes into some, non-technical, detail on how the firewall works, as well as Chinese Army virus and worm research. Research that is helped by American companies.

And, finally, the article calls for the US Government to become actively involved in cracking the Great Firewall and promoting freedom in China.


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Who Lost China's Internet? | 55 comments (32 topical, 23 editorial, 0 hidden)
Consistency (4.20 / 5) (#2)
by medham on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 11:56:15 AM EST

If the Weekly Standard were consistent in its criticism of American business supporting murderous regimes, it would deserve the label "conservative." Since, however, it reserves its animus for countries it regards as somehow "left-wing," it remains an ISA, pure and simple.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

The Great Chinese Firewall. (4.42 / 7) (#3)
by nr0mx on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 11:56:36 AM EST

Quite enlightening to know how the Chinese government managed to establish such an unbelievable control over the online activities of the whole country.

However, I have to disagree with the article at this point :

The only practical solution to this puzzle is for the Bush administration to make Internet freedom in China a high priority.

I don't see this happening when the U.S Government is tripping over itself trying to curtail online activites, and get the internet under its preview. Its not alone, the Australian Government would love the same.

Worldwide, internet freedom is being limited in countless ways, not the other way round.

Can it be circumvented? (none / 0) (#18)
by jacoplane on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 02:04:55 PM EST

Systems like Peek-a-booty aim to circumvent these great national firewalls. Although, as many people have pointed out, this system is far from perfect, since it still requires users to have some knowledge of where they can connect, which could be stopped by the Govt. Then again, some people might claim that the Chinese people don't really mind the great firewall.

[ Parent ]
Circumvention? Not an issue, generally (4.00 / 3) (#44)
by Perianwyr on Tue Feb 19, 2002 at 04:10:21 AM EST

Chinese filtering is PRIMARILY to stop pornography. That's what internet cafes get shut down for allowing in, not falun gong stuff.
The main concern of Chinese censors is propriety, not propaganda.

Of course, most Chinese "internet cafes" are three computers on a single 56k stuck into the back room of a back-alley house.

As a foreigner, once you know what the character for "internet" is, you'll see them everywhere, and wonder how you missed them before.

If you went to China you'd probably not notice the filtering. Stuff like k5 and slashdot aren't filtered, because the Chinese have never heard of them. Newspapers smaller than the New York Times are generally available, as are news sites smaller than CNN.

Proxies are only blocked if the government figures out about them. So, if you don't tell everyone in the universe about your proxy, all will be well.

ssh to your own machine is always a fine way to get anything you damn well please. Fine way to check email, too (assuming you can live with the latency.)

After September 11, in fact, most previously existing restrictions on foreign internet news were lifted for a time. I imagine they're back now, haven't checked.

[ Parent ]
ugh (3.66 / 21) (#9)
by tarsand on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 12:32:11 PM EST

I find it highly arrogant that someone is calling for the US to interfere with China's policies. I wonder how they'd react if China's gov't decided that it was time to do something about the uncontrolled population growth in the USA. This is the kind of yankee arrogance that really makes it difficult for most people in the world to find any love for the US at all.

It just disgusts me, when will they learn that their values are not the only ones, and they definately are not the best ones, and that people don't like having them forced upon them.


"Oh, no, I agree with tarsand!" -- trhurler
Like the arrogance... (3.50 / 6) (#12)
by wiredog on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 12:53:19 PM EST

of all the people posting articles and comments here calling for the US to change its ways? If this place is so intolerably arrogant, why are you here?

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
The difference... (4.40 / 5) (#16)
by Ebon Praetor on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 01:33:46 PM EST

...is that most of the people here advocate the US change its ways directly rather than another country stepping in. While I may disagree with my country's (yes, I'm from the US) position on missile control, and suggest the my government change its mind, I don't ever suggest that the Russian government step in nuke the US until it complies with the treaties it made.

That's the wonderful thing about democracy that we, as people, can suggest (in some places quite loudly) changes in our governments' policies. While the Chinese cannot do that, they are a sovereign nation, and it is not the US' right to step in and mandate the running of their goernment.

[ Parent ]
IMF neocolonialism (4.50 / 4) (#20)
by greenrd on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 02:22:41 PM EST

While the Chinese cannot do that, they are a sovereign nation, and it is not the US' right to step in and mandate the running of their goernment.

Funny, then, because such things seem to happen a lot in this neocolonialist world. What is your position on policy-for-loans deals, regularly used by the United States and its underling the International Monetary Fund to coercively influence the policies of "sovereign states"?

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Difference between the US and China. (3.50 / 2) (#29)
by rebelcool on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 05:22:13 PM EST

We the people have the reasonable, legitimate and non-violent means of changing government policy (and in fact, the entire government itself).

The people of China have no such luxury.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Not the same thing. (5.00 / 2) (#19)
by valeko on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 02:17:24 PM EST

[Like the arrogance] of all the people posting articles and comments here calling for the US to change its ways? If this place is so intolerable arrogant, why are you here?

But you realise, of course, that most of these changes that are called for do not pertain to matters that are internal to the United States! Almost always, the changes that are called for are the abolition of American [foreign] policy which imposes change on some other nation.

Nobody peripheral to the US is trying to dictate internal American policy, for the most part, except where it influences profoundly external factors.

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Double ugh. (3.33 / 3) (#22)
by Apuleius on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 03:31:27 PM EST

I find it highly arrogant that you would consider it so bad for the US to interfere with China's policies. Don't you realize that your values are not the only ones? If the US decides to poke holes in the Chinese firewall, who are you to tell the US that it is wrong to do so? Are your values somehow superior to Uncle Sam's?

There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
In accordance with your trolling spirit.... (2.00 / 3) (#23)
by valeko on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 03:36:09 PM EST

Are your values somehow superior to Uncle Sam's?


"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Now that's more like it. (5.00 / 1) (#25)
by Apuleius on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 03:40:18 PM EST

So, what exactly are your values? And more importantly, what within your values finds fault with people who want to poke holes in the Chinese firewall?

There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
Yes. (3.66 / 6) (#26)
by rebelcool on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 05:14:04 PM EST

At the risk of invoking godwin's law...

Just like the common value of Nazi germany: Jews should be exterminated. Who are we to say that their value on human life is somehow wrong? It's just their culture.


COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Whose values? (4.16 / 6) (#28)
by dennis on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 05:18:57 PM EST

people don't like [values] forced upon them.

Except the Chinese people do want unfettered access, which is why "proxy" beats out "sex" in Chinese search term popularity. It's just their government which has opposing values. The U.S. was founded by a bunch of people who didn't agree with their government's policies, and we continue to have sympathy for such people.

[ Parent ]

Search Popularity (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by PresJPolk on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 07:33:33 PM EST

Do you have a citation for the relative search term popularity? Those kind of figures are usually interesting.

[ Parent ]
The source (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by dennis on Tue Feb 19, 2002 at 08:50:35 AM EST

From the Weekly Standard article:

Not surprisingly, the most common search words in China were not "Britney" and "hooters," but "free" and "proxy." Fully 10 percent of Chinese users--about two million people--used proxies regularly in an attempt to circumvent government controls.

I took this to be a more colorful way of saying the same thing. I imagine the figures come from the search engine people, just like they do in the U.S.

Ten percent may seem like a small minority of users, but if there are that many people actively resisting government controls, there are probably a lot more who would like to, but are afraid of getting caught.

[ Parent ]

Sex What? (4.50 / 2) (#35)
by darthaya on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 09:23:36 PM EST

Well, well, you know, most of the Chinese surfers don't speak English very well, I don't see the reason why they should be searching for "sex" and "proxy" instead of the Chinese alternative words for them.

And how exactly did you obtain your data about the "searching statistics"? I don't assume you work for Chinese intelligence agency, do you?

[ Parent ]

Language (none / 0) (#49)
by dennis on Tue Feb 19, 2002 at 02:22:59 PM EST

See my response to PresJPolk. To that I'll add, the article didn't say what language they were searching in. Since the article was written in English, the author naturally wrote the search terms in English. This doesn't necessarily mean the Chinese weren't searching for the Chinese equivalents. If I say "President DeGaulle called the Americans arrogant fools," I don't think you would necessarily assume he wasn't speaking French.

However, it wouldn't be too surprising if they were using English, since a lot of Chinese are at least somewhat familiar with English, and most websites outside of China don't have metatags in Chinese.

[ Parent ]

Counter-rant (2.80 / 5) (#34)
by Macrobat on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 07:59:51 PM EST

It just disgusts me, when will they learn that their values are not the only ones, and they definately are not the best ones, and that people don't like having them forced upon them.

Excuse me, but how is offering people wider freedom "forcing" anything on them? And what makes you think the Chinese government isn't forcing its own values on the Chinese people? If the US is so bad for wanting to promote free speech and open communication for the people of China, why isn't the Chinese government ten times worse for torturing, imprisoning and executing people who exercise that speech?

I'm always amazed at the naïveté people who use this argument exhibit. After all, if some value system told you that interventionist policies were wrong--and the provisions cited (funding anti-blocking strategies for Triangle Boy and VOA) in the article hardly qualify as such, although you seem to attack it on that basis--what gives you the right to force that viewpoint on other people?

"Hardly used" will not fetch a better price for your brain.
[ Parent ]

By the way... (none / 0) (#51)
by dennis on Tue Feb 19, 2002 at 07:28:55 PM EST

I used to know a guy who risked his life to escape from China. His brother tried first; the border guards caught him, threw him in prison for nine months, and beat him badly enough to screw up his back so he couldn't try again.

So this guy tried it. Escaping meant running through the woods being chased by guys with machineguns. He got to a cliff, and with no other option he jumped. It was so far down, the guards didn't bother following. He laid at the bottom for three days, then made his way to the coast and swam to Taiwan.* Once there, he lived in a 6 by 6 foot room for four years, studying to be a chef. With degree in hand, he moved to the U.S., got his citizenship, and worked the legal channels to get his entire family over, including his brother. Now he owns four restaurants.

He wasn't bragging about this; he told the story somewhat reluctantly, with another friend's prompting.

Another time I attended a speech by a visiting Chinese pastor. Assistant pastor, actually - the senior pastor was in prison for straying from government-approved doctrine. This guy had all sorts of stories of how they resisted their government's values to practice their own.

Maybe things have improved since my friend escaped. But it was just in the news that they are cracking down on unapproved Christians again.

If the U.S. government ever gets to be like China's, I hope to God someone in another country will help us resist it, too - just like France helped us two centuries ago.

* I am aware that the Taiwan mainland is a hundred miles offshore. However, there are a number of small Taiwanese islands a lot closer, such as Ma-tsu Tao.

[ Parent ]

(OT) Satellite, guerilla, etc. (3.75 / 4) (#10)
by fluffy grue on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 12:47:07 PM EST

I wonder how the Chinese government can expect to censor all Internet activity, what with two-way satellite Internet access, guerilla 802.11b networks (using directed antennas), VPN (perhaps steganographically encoded into voice data or regular webbrowsing or similar), and so on. I'm sure there's a pretty large tech-savvy Internet-using population in China which gets past the "great firewall" anyway.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

The article discusses that. (none / 0) (#11)
by wiredog on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 12:52:00 PM EST

At the end the author talks about wireless, etc.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
Just trying to stop casual surfers (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by ocelotbob on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 01:48:09 PM EST

It's clear to me that the Chinese government is simply trying to stop casual surfers from reaching "subversive" material. Their efforts simply ensure that someone has to go out of their way to reach undesirable information, making them more likely to stand out. People who truly want supressed information will get it no matter what the consequences, the Chinese government is simply trying to make sure that those people are easy to find.

Why... in my day, the idea wasn't to have a comfortable sub[missive]...
[ Parent ]

Its not too hard (none / 0) (#46)
by squigly on Tue Feb 19, 2002 at 07:38:50 AM EST

The satellite stuff especially. This is not the sort of thing that can be easily made out of radio or TV components (at least as far as I know), so all they need to do is track where the hardware goes. Anything radio based will be a little easier, but there's a range limitation, and the ability to track people down once you have found the tranmission. if you set up a string of proxies, it's a matter of being able to trust everyone down the line.

Of course - The steganography thing might work. As long as you don't mind the incredibly low speeds, you encode it in semi random text. "Glorious" = 00, Chinese = "01", Government = "10" and Great = "11". Might get a bit supicious, and the bandwidth limitations are terrible, but at least it allows you to encode a subversive message in a comment about how much you like the chinese government.

What surpirses me is that the firewalls aren't a more desirable target for hack attempts.

[ Parent ]

I know where I won't be working (3.50 / 2) (#36)
by Wateshay on Mon Feb 18, 2002 at 10:41:53 PM EST

This is the first I've heard about Cisco and Yahoo doing this, but I don't like it. Trying to make a profit is one thing (I'm quite a strong supporter of capitalism), but it doesn't negate the responsibility to be a moral and ethical person. After hearing about this, I would not seek a job with either of these companies. Furthermore, if I ever work for a company and am asked to participate in a project that is going to develop something like these technologies, I would promptly quit. No job is ever worth compromising your principles.

"If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for everyone else."

Thin information (5.00 / 2) (#37)
by ghjm on Tue Feb 19, 2002 at 12:24:08 AM EST

Don't make such a big decision on such a small data point. Are you sure the article gets all its details right? How do you know that your other options are not equally or more guilty of this transgression? (e.g. maybe Cisco is mentioned in the article, but Nortel has been working in China for many more years...)

If you feel so strongly about this issue that you would base a decision to (not) work for a company on it, then you really must do some more digging and satisfy yourself that you really know the whole story here.

Also, even if Yahoo! and Cisco are the two most complicit firms, their moral position on this issue is still somewhat ambiguous. This is not dumping toxins into the local creek. This is, instead, developing systems to implement the legally enacted policy of a diplomatically recognized sovereign state.

And it is not a policy that the U.S. is all that strongly opposed to. Don't we censor things that can be displayed publicly? Wouldn't we throw people in jail, or at least fine them severely, if they were to broadcast (say) a bare breast on network television in prime time? Don't we harass and imprison people for discussing anti-government activities on the Internet?

One might well argue that, by creating a version of the Internet that the Chinese government is willing to permit, Cisco and Yahoo! have actually improved the informational freedom of the average Chinese citizen. Is this better than nothing? What would insisting on a totally uncensored Internet have achieved except to deny any form of Internet access to the Chinese?

This is really not that bad. If you'll refuse to work for these companies based on this moral question, then you'll have a great deal of difficulty finding any company that you can work for. Of course, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing...

[ Parent ]
Profit, the driven force (none / 0) (#50)
by darthaya on Tue Feb 19, 2002 at 05:55:12 PM EST

Profit Is the driven force behind capitalism society and without it, US wouldn't be the powerful nation as it is today. A corporation has to be responsible for its shareholder, enlarging the profit through every possible legitimate means.
Should Boeing be hold responsible if the planes they sell Chinese government are used in a military operation to suppress the freedom of Chinese people? I don't think so. Unless there are laws in US prohibiting sales of such "suppressive" items to certain authoratarian governments, I don't think it will fit in the "capitalism culture" to purposedly discriminate against different *customers*. After all, US is a nation governed by laws, not ethics.
Besides, US has the largest defense industry in the world anyway. Should US stop selling weapons to the world to prevent them killing each other?

[ Parent ]
da bi.zi (none / 0) (#52)
by bankind on Wed Feb 20, 2002 at 04:29:58 PM EST

Let the Chinese government waste their money protecting the fragile proletarian minds. Let dumb foreign companies blow profit margins in search of the Chinese market. The truth of the matter is that there are no working regulations of the Internet in China, as any savvy Beijing-Qinghua-Renmin-ect. University students will show you. They get all the worthless news the rest of the world receives (and more importantly the porn). The Right always talks of the Commie menace, the left cries of the Butchers of Beijing, and the media will say whatever sells papers--fear and a bleeding heart attract more campaign contributions, more votes, and more subscriptions than truth (which also requires the cost of labor). And if they start with the "Taiwan Invasion" garbage, just know the PLA will have to swim the straight. DONG FANG HONG

"Insurgents are blowing up pipelines and police stations, geysers of sewage are erupting from the streets, and the electricity is off most of the time -- but we've given Iraq the gift of supply-side economics." -Krugman

like, duuuuuuuuuuuuude! (5.00 / 2) (#53)
by concept on Sun Feb 24, 2002 at 02:06:04 AM EST

hi, i'm living in china now.

i can tell you, i was amazed to find a site i couldn't get to the other day (linked to from newstrolls). it's the first time it'd ever happened. of course, upon analysis i found out it was on faluninfo.net (the falun gong site ;).

really, no other site i've attempted to access has had problems... be it news, porn, k5, linux stuff, whatever.

the government really isnt doing much to stop the exchange of information.

  • DSL is cheap here (Y180 = ~USD20) per month for 2meg.
  • mobiles are cheap here (as much as <V>40min</V> for USD1).

the stereotypes i had of this place before coming here, mainly formed through the 'net (and i think quite similar to most users here) were simply wrong.

all in all, i think it's a really interesting place that's changing a lot at the moment. it's definately a unique time to be here and there's a lot of opportunities. the fears of the current government are that this time of potential change will topple their regime are probably well-founded. they're not really attempting to shield their people from foreign ideas, however - just to expose them slowly, and not to allow anyone to 'slip through the cracks' before capitalism/consumerism can create the same apathy that keeps undemocratic governments standing in the west.

China is cheap labor. (4.50 / 2) (#54)
by Desert Fox on Sun Feb 24, 2002 at 09:24:40 PM EST

China is a dictatorship, there has never been a "Communist" country. So that means that Beijing has absolute control in the country. This is how they can kick out Falun Gong and other "subversive" groups or ideas.

One of these unwanted ideas is the Internet, China does not want the free exchange of information going around. They realize that the Communist government is in slow decay and will eventually collapse in maybe 50 or so years. And unlike the regular paper media, they cannot simply censor certain groups if they plan to print anything unwanted by the government. Now, since China was reopened up to the West in the 1970s with Nixon many company's are able to find cheap labor. I mean, the Happy Meal toys are in China, your hubs and switches are most likely made in China because the people get paid less there. The Western economy thrives off this. As a result, they fear a trade embargo from China as it will, obviously, effect the economy very negatively. So they'll willing to negotiate with China on most issues. This unfortunately includes, the Internet.

Now, certainly it's idealistic for the U.S. to crack down on China and all that, but there's much more than that involved. It's politics, and in terms of the China-U.S. relationship a lot of it is unfortunately controlled by Big Business, and so it goes...*sigh*

"How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?" -- Charles De Gaulle

China's Golden Shield v1.2 (none / 0) (#55)
by jamyang on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 07:37:17 AM EST

Corporations and the Global Development of Surveillance Technology in China

Download and comment on the report: go.openflows.org : here

The original printed publication is (c)International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, 2001.

A new report released by Rights & Democracy reveals that the Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel Networks may be contributing to human rights violations in the People's Republic of China. The report points specifically to Nortel's OPTera technology to be launched in China this week at the APEC Leaders Meeting in Shanghai.

China's Golden Shield: Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People's Republic of China describes how technology developed for commercial purposes by transnational corporations, including Nortel, is being used by Chinese police and security forces to refine the targetting and repression of political dissidents. It also provides an overview of Nortel's long-standing involvement in the development of surveillance technology both at home and abroad.

Legal Deposit: Bibliotheque nationale du Qubec, fourth quarter 2001.
National Library of Canada, fourth quarter 2001. ISBN: 2-922084-42-6.

Greg Walton
Time to Hack for Human Rights

Who Lost China's Internet? | 55 comments (32 topical, 23 editorial, 0 hidden)
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