The Chinese government's reaction to Hillary Clinton's big "Internet freedom" speech has been strongly negative and fairly pitched. No real surprise there. She did directly call out Beijing for limiting their citizens' access to information. But the particular way in which they're going about their criticism is worth paying attention to -- it demonstrates that when Clinton talks about a "single Internet," she's offering more than just catchy rhetoric.
If "single Internet" is policy A, there's a policy B, and that's that the Internet is a useful infrastructure that countries and governments should be able to use the way they see fit -- kind of like the advent of managed electricity. Ben Franklin figured out how to harness it, but that doesn't mean that the U.S. got to tell the rest of the world what to do with it.
The emerging Chinese view (which has been longer established as the Castro government's view of the Internet in Cuba) is that while Internet protocol is a useful technological invention, the actual content on the Internet tends to be too heavily American and often incompatible with the type of society it seeks to create. China isn't prepared to crowdsource to the world the information its citizens take in. On that point, the Washington Post's Steven Mufson cites the pro-government Global Times as saying that "countries disadvantaged by the unequal and undemocratic information flow have to protect their national interest, and take steps toward this." (The Global Times also uses the term "the Google farce" as a descriptor in its reported pieces.) A Chinese blogger quoted by Mufson puts it more plainly, saying "The attitude of the U.S. is so arrogant. Clinton mentioned one Internet. Actually, it's the Internet of the United States."
All of which leads one to really hope that the State Department gets that a One Internet policy truly is a declaration of foreign policy, and not just some innocuous statement of generally accepted fact. Among the possibilities that foreign policy officials -- not to mention businesses hoping to do business in China -- need to consider is that one of China's options moving forward is to decide that it has an overwhelming interest in developing alternatives to what we think of as the Internet.
-- Nancy Scola
(Photo credit: Tim Yang)