This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, February 27, 2015:
At that moment in Star Wars when Princess Leia is threatened by Governor Tarkin, the following dialogue takes place:
Princess Leia: Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.
Governor Tarkin: Charming to the last. You don’t know how hard I found it, signing the order to terminate your life.
Princess Leia: I’m surprised that you had the courage to take the responsibility yourself.
Governor Tarkin: Princess Leia, before your execution, I’d like you to join me for a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.
Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his little tyrant, Lu Wei, really ought to get out more. Instead, they are issuing threats of censorship in a war they cannot win. Xi holds that the internet is a battleground. He starts off in a tone mild and gentle:
[We should] use Internet communication rules to advocate things wholesome and positive, and disseminate and put into practice the core socialist values….
[We should] properly handle timing, extent and efficiency to make our cyberspace wholesome and clean….
It is a long-term task to ensure that online public opinion is healthy and sound.
He added that it’s the government’s responsibility to protect “the safe flow of internet information and actively guide people to manage websites in accordance with the law and use the internet in a wholesome and correct way … [the government must then prevent people from] divulging state secrets, subverting state power, and jeopardizing national unification … damaging state honor [and] disrupting social order and stability.”
It’s a war, he said:
The Internet has become the main battlefield in the struggle for public opinion. On this battlefield of the Internet, whether we can stand up and gain victory relates directly to our country’s ideological security and regime security.
Last summer when Chinese surfers wanted to learn more about the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, they were temporarily thwarted. Almost immediately VPNs (virtual private networks) sprang up, providing that information through ghost and mirror sites like Astrill, StrongVPN, and Golden Frog. Wei, the head of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China, unleashed his army of two million cybersleuths to interrupt them, with pitifully little success. Within days each of them was back online, while others such as Psiphon, Lantern, and Tor weren’t even bothered. They had refined “obfuscation” techniques that successfully defended against Wei’s attackers.
These VPNs allow access to various websites deemed dangerous by the Chinese dictator, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Gmail, YouTube, and Instagram along with top news sites that often challenged or criticized him or his policies.
They also allow some 20 million Chinese to enjoy Netflix movies even though Netflix officially blocks Chinese computers.
Wei has an army of supporters behind him, including some titans of the Internet in Silicon Valley. Last fall Wei took a public relations tour of California, meeting with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, and eBay’s John Donahoe. They not only provided plenty of friendly photo ops with the Chinese tyrant, but provided him with counsel and advice.
For example, LinkedIn has already agreed to censor some of the content on its Chinese site, while Apple agreed to host some of its data inside China where Wei and his cyberarmy can access it and make “suggestions” to Cook and retrieve any data that might be helpful in their quest to neutralize any threats from bloggers. In fact, Apple just posted this help-wanted ad to assist Wei with that task:
The role will be directly responsible for the management, handling, and issuance of appropriate responses [emphasis added] to requests from law enforcement authorities, public prosecutors, and courts … throughout China.
Naturally, there is a cost to doing business with tyrants. Such support of Wei’s efforts have already cost more than 48 Chinese bloggers their freedom, including Chinese journalist Shi Tao who was arrested by Chinese censors after Yahoo provided information about his account to the government. Shi spent eight years in a filthy prison camp for his crimes, while Yahoo’s founder, Jerry Yang, expressed his regrets, saying “I did not like the outcome” and then calling Shi’s family to apologize. He admitted later that he would do it again, as a cost of doing business in China.
All of which serves to illustrate the commonality of purpose in cyberspace between totalitarians on one side and crony capitalists on the other.
In opposition are millions who decry the Chinese censors and their enablers, including Bill Xia, a Chinese-born software engineer living now in North Carolina. For years Xia and his company – Dynamic Internet Technology – have been waging cyberwar against the Chinese regime using Freegate, a free software program that finds holes in the Chinese firewall that allow Chinese internet users to gain undetected access to the banned websites. He sends millions of email messages into China for his customers like Voice of America and the activist group Human Rights in China, providing them with links to forbidden sites. It’s a constantly changing list of links as Wei’s people continue the game of cat and mouse.
He has a lot of help from those customers who inform him immediately when one of Wei’s cybersleuths start closing in. He’s already upgraded Freegate more than 20 times, but says “we’re gradually getting faster and faster” at keeping the software ahead of ahead of Wei’s cyberbullies.
Despite the fact that Wei has 2 million computer nerds tracking down cyberdissidents, Xia has more millions shutting the door on them. It’s a war that Wei, Xi, and his friends in Silicon Valley can’t win.
Princess Leia is right.
A graduate of an Ivy League school and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently at www.LightFromTheRight.com, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CSMonitor: China’s model for a censored Internet
Chicago Tribune: China’s losing battle with Internet censorship
New York Times: Warm West Coast Reception for China’s Web Czar