Google and China and the United States

Nicholas Kristoff, Pulitzer Prize winning author of China Wakes, blogs today the New York Times about China and Google. I believe it to be a largely correct analysis. The Chinese are very nationalistic, want and demand economic growth (which the Party also needs to stay in power), don’t get especially worked up about notions of democracy (though students believe it will come many generations from now), and nobody that I have met likes internet censorship.

I also should add that while it seems to be ‘Bash China Week’ in the NY Times and maybe on this blog, China, like any other country, has wonderful people and a fascinating culture. It’s often too easy to recognize the advantages of the United States without recognizing the benefits of other socio-political regimes and identifying our own American failures. If we are to constructively criticize China we must also do the same to the United States. Right now, I am very disappointed in my home country for allowing it to become polarized since the 2000 election and 9/11 over the politics of fear, hate, and misinformation, rather than engage in deliberative and reasonable discussion. The politics of fear, hate, and misinformation have been displayed in the decision to pursue an Iraq War, violent protests to the Health Care bill and Bush v. Gore, and the demonizing of two American presidents (both Bush 43 and Obama). Disagreement, and even very strong disagreement, does not merit being an obstructionist without offering a better ideas, throwing rocks at Congressional offices that voted for legislation that you dislike, and yelling and throwing things at citizens performing civic duties like counting ballots. Demonstrate peacefully, respectfully, and discuss the merits of different ways to run a country. Don’t throw eggs at President Bush (as happened on his inaugural walk) and don’t liken President Obama to Hitler or the Antichrist (as now one-third and one-quarter of Republicans believe him to be according to today’s Harris poll). And seek the truth for direct sources before reaching an opinion…read the 9/11 congressional report and read the actual health care bill instead of watching Fox News and MSNBC.

OK, now that some self-reflection has taken place, we can move back to China.

March 24, 2010, 3:57 pm

China and Google


Americans tend to think of China as this vast, unstoppable, titanic force. Some would add menacing. But the confrontation unfolding today between China and Google is a reminder that the Politburo sees the situation very differently. They see a fragile China besieged on all sides, challenged at home, desperately needing to churn out economic growth to sustain its political model. In short, they see vulnerability where we tend to see invincibility — and that’s one reason they took so tough a line on Google.

From the Politburo’s perspective, the regime is surrounded by hostile forces: the United States presence in the Pacific and Afghanistan, Russia, India, Japan. More than one-third of the country is occupied by Tibetans or Uighurs who are hostile to Beijing. Young Chinese are impatient for change, and their impatience is compounded by the siren song of the West. Meanwhile, the regime knows that people acquiesce in its political dictatorship only because it has delivered the economic goods extraordinarily well. If economic growth slows to 1 or 2 percent and tens of millions of workers lose their jobs or banks go bust — look out. That’s why Beijing so fiercely resists the idea of raising the value of its currency.

The battle with Google puts the Politburo in a particularly awkward position, however. In the case of many disputes between China and the West, the Chinese people and the Chinese government are aligned. Ordinary Chinese don’t like American trade pressure, and they resent American support for the Dalai Lama. The Chinese people are at least as nationalistic as the government. But the Internet is different. The Politburo doesn’t want a free Internet, and the people do.

I think we often exaggerate the politicization of ordinary Chinese. Most of my Chinese friends, especially those outside the intellectual class, don’t spend much time yearning for a free ballot. They don’t gripe a lot about the regime imprisoning dissidents, who mostly have a negligible following around the country. But what really irks ordinary people is the corruption, the arrogance of officials — and, increasingly, the hassles using the Web.

The truth is that many young Chinese can hop over the Great Firewall with proxy software or with a VPN, but it’s a nuisance. And in any case, news gets transmitted by email and text message and word of mouth. I can’t help thinking that the regime is going to make itself needlessly unpopular among young people when it takes away their Google. They may put up without an opposition political party, but life without an uncensored search engine — that’s tough!

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