Foreign Policy and the Internet

The editorial article China’s Great Firewall: Fortune at the expense of freedom? published in 2015 fairly concludes the status quo of the internet development under harsh government surveillance, which exceeds expectation of some American critics. And Amnesty International fears that the mode of China will be explored to other places like Russia and Egypt, and Facebook would monitor its users to comply with local laws in China.

Shirky suggests taking the “environmental” view that positive social change follow instead of precede strong public sphere, so America should work on helping other countries building public sphere through social media to promote its democracy in a long run instead of taking measures that is short-run confrontations (2011). I think Shirky explains well of the reasons for Chinese restrictions on Internet. It is because the government afraid the outside information would alarm more citizens, so it directly restrict the access (2011).

Shirky also mentions that “a public sphere is more likely to emerge in a society as a result of people’s dissatisfaction with matters of economics or day-to-day governance than from their embrace of abstract political ideals”. In the special case of China, with heavy surveillance, the economy and internet technology still develop during the past two decades, which even makes the rest of the world worry about its model. So it attests to Shirky’s view from the converse side. Because of the economic development, the stable and peaceful situation, people’s satisfaction with the society is rather high, thus it’s hard to evoke large scale of discussion on democracy online. But the point was right on many other cases in Chinese society, like the famous milk powder events which raise lots of dissatisfaction and improve the food scrutiny in China. So I agree with him that even with a slow building of public sphere under so many restraints, the positive  change can finally come.

Like the many critics in the article, Shirky points out that internet shut down would jeopardize the country’s economy. However, the case in China contradicts with this view and shows that not only the economy develop, but the local companies also get chances to grow huge. China has a  whole different system and tools of communication from the rest of the world. And in many ways, like e-commerce and logistics, do better than any other countries. You can pay the restaurant, buy movie tickets, and find discount clothes and communicate with others on only one app (not only on Wechat, but Wechat is a major platform). 


People worry that Facebook would comply with Chinese surveillance in the article reflect American also have a hard time choosing between economy growth and freedom. As Comer and Bean concluded “Despite today’s engagement consensus, it seems clear that US foreign policy will remain largely determined by the country’s perceived political, economic, and military needs instead of the outcome of ethically structured modes of communication.”(2016, p.216). Although the freedom and human rights are always stressed by many critics and political leaders in America, it is no doubt that when facing economic interest, the consideration for democracy may give in to some extent. 


6 Comments Add yours

  1. matt says:

    It’s interesting how you point out that China has built a high-tech, web savvy community while still maintaining strict control over the way citizens use the web. China’s government smartly has invented their own entire Internet infrastructure, which might be why the lack of Internet freedom hasn’t hurt economic growth. Still, Shirky did acknowledge that public spheres develop slowest in authoritarian/one-party countries and like you said there is a growing sense that Internet users in China can fight back against injustices (at least the ones they know about). Maybe in another decade that sphere will be big enough to force changes on a larger scale in China.


  2. When you mentioned that the economy of China still develop during the past two decades, which even makes the rest of the world worry about its model, I agree with your opinion. However, I think we can have a different viewpoint about Internet technology. I believed that we could stand on a different view to look at what heavy surveillance bring to us. Although the Internet technology of China develop very well, people’s opinions and thoughts have been restricted for a long time due to the surveillance. They are not able to have a broader view toward the society and they are more likely to be instigated by other Internet users. Therefore, it is also one of the reasons that it’s hard to evoke large scale of reasonable discussion on democracy on the Internet.


  3. Lin'ao Li says:

    I partly agree with you that “because of the economic development, the stable and peaceful situation…thus it’s hard to evoke large scale of discussion on democracy online”. In my opinion, it is true that people always discuss democracy when they feel dissatisfaction, like economic problems. While sometimes even the situation is fine, people also like to discuss democracy online (if they can). Like in China, just as you say that China develops well in recent years, and we all know that China is not a so democratic country, thus people always think that the government is wrong no matter what the government does, the reason we could not usually find large scale of discussion online is because of surveillance. Chinese people want to talk about this certain issue, while the government will block, even delete these content or comments people post online, so the clam environment online is more like a false peace.


  4. oalbishri says:

    Hi Yi,
    Your post made me think of the way that China separates itself from the rest of the world by developing its communication tools. I feel like China lives on another planet, and wants to control the flow of information by its rules. I have no idea whether Chinese people are upset of Chinese government control of the Internet or not, but I have no doubt that any Chinese who has a chance to travel overseas will be upset by the situation in China. What I’m afraid of is that China might become a role model country for other nations in the developing world because they see how China has developed its economy as the result of separating itself from the rest of the world.


  5. The article is not LINKED to your post.
    So I had to search for it. It is not “mostly analysis and/or opinion,” as assigned.

    You did a good job of highlighting the points made in the CNN article, but there really is no foreign policy involved. You managed to relate some points from the assigned readings, but it would have been better if you had selected an opinion article instead.


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