- - Wednesday, February 8, 2012

PARTY DIRECTS CHINA’S TWITTER

The Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department issued an order two weeks ago establishing party control units for all of China’s booming microblogging Internet service providers. The committees were directed to exercise direct state and party control and censorship, the Taiwan-based United Daily News reported Jan. 6.

Similar to Twitter, which is banned in China, a major microblogging service called Weibo has gained widespread popularity. At the start of 2011, users numbered about 63 million. At present, Weibo boasts more than 300 million users across the country.

Yet such rapid growth spurred new government censorship. China’s Internet is among the world’s fastest-growing but also the most restricted. Government rules require everyone who wants to set up a website to meet state regulators in person and show identity documents. Methods of Internet policing are wide-ranging and far-reaching, including the notorious “great firewall” of China, which aims to separate Chinese cyberspace from the rest of the world through provider blocking, domain-name filtering, automatic redirecting, URL filtering, packet filtering and connection resets.

Violators of Chinese Internet censorship regulations face severe legal and extralegal punishment. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders stated in 2010 that “China is the world’s biggest prison for netizens.” London-based Amnesty International agreed, saying China “has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.”

Weibo, however, is relatively open, explaining in part its rapid growth. Internet policing is carried out mostly through Internet service providers’ self-censorship.

For example, Sina.weibo, the nation’s largest Weibo ISP, with a dominant 56 percent of the microblogging market, has its own 700 censors to implement compliance with the communist government’s Internet rules, according to Time magazine.

But self-censorship clearly is insufficient for the Party Central Committee’s Propaganda Department because Weibo is becoming a powerful social-media tool to spread banned news and ideologically incorrect commentaries, as in the case of public outrage expressed on Weibo after the 2010 Shanghai fire, the July 2011 Wenzhou train collision, the recent village uprising in Wukan and the satirical reaction expressed toward China’s veto of last weekend’s U.N. resolution on Syria.

The new directive will install Communist Party apparatchiks at all Weibo ISPs to guarantee that “unhealthy information” won’t be spread through this powerful social medium.

PLA urged to send commandos abroad

The Communist Party’s official propaganda organ, the People’s Daily, and its subsidiary Global Times both published major articles Tuesday by two leading international relations experts that called on the People’s Liberation Army to dispatch special-operations troops to foreign countries to protect Chinese nationals.

The authors, Yu Xiaofeng and Gan Junxian, both researchers at China’s elite Zhejiang University, argued that the commandos are needed because of China’s weak mechanisms in foreign countries to protect Chinese nationals from “nontraditional security threats,” including collateral damage suffered by Chinese nationals in foreign wars, natural disasters and kidnappings.

In recent weeks, scores of Chinese workers in Sudan and Egypt have been kidnapped by local radical groups. Unable and unwilling to take risky rescue actions such as those carried out by the U.S. Navy SEALs, the PLA is facing increasing domestic pressure from ultranationalists to act with more blunt force.

BEIJING CALLS WAR GAMES A THREAT

China criticized the largest multinational military exercise in the Asia-Pacific region, under way now, as unfriendly and anti-China, according to official state media reports from Beijing.

Code-named Cobra Gold 2012, the 10-day exercise, which began Jan. 7, is being hosted by Thailand. But more than half the 13,000 troops involved are from the Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.

Participants include forces from the United States, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia, while Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, France, India, Italy, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and Vietnam are joining the exercise as a planning augmentation team.

Begun during the height of the Cold War to counter the Soviet Union, this is the 31st, and the largest, Cobra Gold military exercise.

China views exercises as another of Washington’s strategies to contain China. The People’s Daily stated in an article Tuesday about Cobra Gold 2012 that “the U.S. dominated the largest joint military exercise in [the] Asia-Pacific with the purpose of threatening China.”

Sr. Col. Li Daguang of the Chinese National Defense University, a regular military spokesman for the PLA, was quoted by the official China Daily on Tuesday as saying, “[Washington’s] effort through the maneuvers is aimed at unifying countries [in the region] around itself [which] runs counter to China’s interests in the long term.”

China’s military has launched vocal public campaigns in recent months that have sought to limit U.S. Navy maneuvers and movements. The Pentagon has rejected Chinese military claims to large areas of international waters near China’s coasts.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.