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Introduction: “China’s Internet”: Staking Digital Ground

July 9, 2010

This issue—“China’s Internet”: Staking Digital Ground—has been a particularly demanding volume to develop and produce. The diversity and sophistication of perspectives, technical, legal, and information security expertise of the various contributors, and fast-paced developments added to the linguistic and cultural translation challenges. The result is a volume that we hope will contribute to a better understanding of China’s strategic objectives in Internet development, as well as their implications for Chinese citizens and the future of an open global Internet, as China attempts to rewrite the rules of the game.

The first section—Internet Control and Information Access—opens with an introduction to the “three narratives” of the Chinese government’s strategic vision for Internet development: the June 2010 Internet White Paper’s made-for-export narrative; the April 29, 2010 internal narrative delivered in a report by Wang Chen, the head of the Information Office of the State Council (posted on its official website on May 4); and a subsequent edited version of this report (posted on May 5)—a sanitized official narrative for the Chinese people. HRIC is providing an English translation of the May 4 version, along with the full text in Chinese, identifying specific deletions made in the May 5 version. The Wang Chen report is followed by a selection of comments by Chinese netizens on the White Paper; an article by Bei Feng, one of China’s most noted and influential bloggers, about two key sets of regulations on the management of the Internet; and an article by Gao Wenqian about the ongoing battle of wits between the Chinese authorities and netizens over Internet censorship and, in his view, the futile efforts by government censors to control free speech on the Internet. This section concludes with an examination by Jamie Horsley of the implementation of China’s national Regulations on Open Government Information (OGI). While recognizing implementation problems and ongoing challenges for realizing the Chinese people’s “right to know,” she concludes that OGI initiatives are having an impact on Chinese society and on government policy.

The second section—Standing on the Right Side of History?—looks at business and human rights issues raised by foreign companies doing business or investing in China. Rebecca MacKinnon provides an overview of the Chinese government’s censorship mechanisms and pushback by Chinese netizens. An excerpt of testimony before the U.S. government from February 2010, by Alan Davidson, Google’s director of public policy, provides insights into Google’s approach in China, including its decision to redirect all searches from within China to its Hong Kong-based search engine. Google’s decision to make public sophisticated and targeted cyber attacks against Google and at least 20 other companies originating from computers in China underscores the challenges of ensuring a secure and open Internet environment not only for business, but also for all netizens and civil society groups. An HRIC interview with Adam Kanzer of Domini Social Investments focuses on the role of social investment funds and describes an example of one tool, a shareholder proposal to Cisco requesting adoption of a human rights policy to guide company decision-making.

China’s state-of-the art Internet and information control systems present complex challenges for ensuring access, security, and privacy. The third section—Online Risks and Resources for Netizens—opens with a Chinese activist’s assessment of how the Internet can promote the development of civil society in China. Li Dan examines ongoing obstacles such as self-censorship, inadequate funding and NGO capacity, and limited civil society space, and concludes with some suggestions for technology support and translation groups. He Qinglian looks at social networking in the Golden Shield environment and concludes that tools such as Twitter cannot really be controlled and therefore can contribute to boosting the development of civil society. Nart Villeneuve presents a forensics report on a malware attack involving HRIC and raises some questions about the growing sophistication of these attacks. Roger Dingledine provides suggestions for assessing different circumvention tools, and Seth Schoen examines encrypted online communications technology and explores security issues presented by the certificate authority model. Finally, this issue includes two resources compiled by HRIC: a bilingual glossary of technical terms and a list of selected organizations, government websites, books, reports, and articles related to the Internet, human rights, and China.

—The Editors