Are Revolutions Contagious? That’s what the Chinese government is fearing right now.
It’s been only a month since President Obama hosted the Chinese President in Washington. You remember — it was just days ago they were holding Best Friends Forever photo ops at the State Dinner and candid dialogue press conferences. A new era of honest conversation (namely about human rights and trade) amongst nations bridging East and West, friend and foe was beginning to emerge…or not.
Much has happened since then. Dictators of long-standing regimes have been forced out by ordinary citizens taking to the streets and to the squares of their countries and making their voices heard. But not in China. As my colleagues at Radio Free Asia report, there has been a clampdown by the Chinese government since protests erupted in Egypt. No one is shooting at protesters from helicopters in Shanghai, but China is in a state of alarm and scrambling to prevent their people from learning about or trying to replicate what has been happening in countries with repressive regimes.
The Chinese government blocked the term “Egypt” from search engines and blocked internet coverage related to the protests in Egypt. The only news about the events was from the Chinese state-run media which spun the story that the unrest was due to the protests. Honestly. It’s patronizing how stupid the Chinese government thinks its citizens are.
Now, after a speech given by President Hu Jintao on Saturday urging leaders to ”increase harmonious elements to the greatest extent, while reducing inharmonious factors to the minimum,” (i.e. allow no dissent), phone and internet services have been severely limited. Users cannot search ”protest” or ”revolution” nor can they send text messages to more than one number for fear of news spreading. Microblogs have been shut down. Those who showed up outside a McDonald’s in Beijing on Sunday for an organized protest were swiftly sent home by security officers. As was the case in cities across China.
Since this newest crackdown began, over 15 human rights activtists have been detained and dozens more political dissidents have been placed under house arrest. One is Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Anjun, who was detained on Saturday and has not been seen or heard from since.
All of this comes after a statement that Ma Zhaoxu, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, criticizing Secretary of State Clinton’s major speech on internet freedom that she gave last week at George Washington University. Ma said: “Internet freedom in China is guaranteed by law, and China wishes to step up and strengthen dialogue and communication with other countries about relevant matters concerning the Internet.” Hmmm.
Despite the limited access to information in China, Libya, and around the world in closed societies, people are finding a way to make their voices heard. As my colleague Luke Allnut from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty wrote last year, “Twitter Doesn’t Start A Revolution, People Do.” It’s just infinitely harder without tools of the modern age.