China's government has developed its own search engines to ensure the flow of information on the internet filters out sensitive content, something regimes in North Africa have been unable to do. (File Photo/CFP)
A putative "Jasmine Revolution" in major cities in China last Sunday (Feb. 20) was swiftly quelled by the Chinese government's preemptive block on the internet and arrest of human right activists. The failed attempts to hold demonstrations reflects Beijing's powerful ability to stem the flow of information and break connections between activists.
Compared with other autocratic regimes like Egypt and Tunisia, China's measures and technology to filter messages are much more sophisticated. The Egyptian government had tried to disable Facebook during the recent uprising but failed, while China has successfully blocked Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as messages related to protests. Last Sunday, the day when the protests were scehduled to take place, most Chinese people were unaware of the plans.
Beijing not only blocked messages on microblogging websites but has also developed its own search engines in a bid to guarantee complete censorship and filter out any information that contains any threat to its authority, something of which other autocratic regimes have not been capable.
China's state-run People's Daily last June developed the Goso search engine, which filters out results which Beijing sees as dangerous, such as news on Tibet or the religous group Falun Gong.
On Feb. 22 the official Xinhua news agency and state-owned China Mobile unveiled a new search engine named Panguso. During the process of developing the search engine, Liu Yunshan, head of the Communist Party's Propaganda Department reportedly ordered that it must launch in a timely manner.
When news of the China Jasmine Revolution began to emerge, President Hu Jintao on Feb. 19 stressed the importance of information network management, urging an improved management of the "virtual society" and "better guidance" of public opinion on the internet.
China's state-owned telecom companies were also mobilized to fight the threat of unrest. Two state-run mobile companies, China Unicom and China Mobile, disabled message-sending functions to a group of users and filtered messages with keywords such as "jasmine."
With comprehensive control over information on the internet and mobile phones, Beijing can block or filter whatever it wants. Last weekend, even the words "tomorrow" and "today" were unavailable seacrh terms on some microblogs.
An article in Forbes.com said: "In the Middle East, social media has emerged as a tool in revolution. In China, by contrast, social media has emerged as both an investment opportunity for westerners and as a critical choke point for political control."
Chen I-hsin, professor of the Graduate Institute of the Americas at Taiwan's Tamkang University, said the call for revolution is not strong enough to threaten China's leadership given the government's robust internet control. He said, however, that the flow of messages and speech over the internet will be unstoppable over time given advances in technology.
Chen I-hsin 陳一新
Tamkang University 淡江大學