Possible Reality or Distant Illusion?The battle between search engine and multimedia giant Google and the People's Republic of China over the restriction of internet access is of enormous proportions. In terms of technology, the consequences are obvious, as Google would lose a potential client base of over 1 billion people while Chinese search engines would soar in popularity and profitability. The ramifications of the Google vs China battle on international relations are less obvious and unpredictable, given the recently building tension between the US and China. The tension can be attributed to many conflicts of interest, but no doubt has been aggravated by issues such as the hacking of Google servers traced to China and more recently,the meeting between President Obama and The Dalai Lama.
The battle between search engine and multimedia giant Google and the People's Republic of China over the restriction of internet access is of enormous proportions. In terms of technology, the consequences are obvious, as Google would lose a potential client base of over 1 billion people while Chinese search engines would soar in popularity and profitability. The ramifications of the Google vs China battle on international relations are less obvious and unpredictable, given the recently building tension between the US and China. The tension can be attributed to many conflicts of interest, but no doubt has been aggravated by issues such as the hacking of Google servers traced to China and more recently,the meeting between President Obama and The Dalai Lama.
The People's Republic of China and the Republic of Singapore are both authoritarian governments, although to widely varying degrees. China bases its core principles in Communism and sometimes socialism, while Singapore is a parliamentary democracy whose constitution is based on English common law and British Indian law. The authoritarian aspects of both governments are evident in their control over their citizens' freedom of expression. Specifically, both Singapore and China, despite the variance in the size of their populations, share similar positions in their policies toward internet use and access. One crucial determinant of the similar approaches used by both is the fact that they are relatively young nations, based on their independence from recent colonists. China only began political and economic reform in the 1980s after the death of Mao Zedong, and Singapore attained independence from Britain in 1963 and separation from Malaysia in 1965.
China and Singapore needed to determine the fastest and most effective methods of industrializing and advancing to the economic heights of countries such as the US and Europe. These decisions would've been more simple and straightforward for a democracy; build telecommunications infrastructure, and open up access freely to all citizens and enterprises alike, in accordance with the democratic right to freedom of speech. For authoritative governments however, balancing the introduction of far-reaching technology such as the internet, with the desired level of control over the people has proved to be less simple. This paper will examine the approaches taken by both China and Singapore, in their attempt to strike a balance between technological industrialization and limitation of civil liberty in regard to internet access and use. The purpose of this paper is to understand why these countries have chosen their respective policies, and to make note of the consequences.
China is a strictly authoritarian state, with a Communist Party backed by the Constitution, whose priorities include social order, public security and national security. Public opposition to the Communist People's Party (CPC) is disallowed, as well the expression of any other information that may be deemed subversive to the CPC (Hassid). The range of topics considered to be subversive is not exclusively defined, nonetheless scholar Jongpil Chung suggests as a guide, the Four Cardinal Principles. Introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 as a response to the 'Democracy Wall" erected in Beijing, these principles represent key stances of the Communist Party Doctrine. (Chung 732). It is noteworthy that while the CPC sets social order as one of its goals, its method of achieving this is by repressing political expression, and using the Four Cardinal Principles as a shield. The internet poses a challenge to the repression of political discourse, due to its unsurpassed collective and disseminating capabilities in regards to information. The potential benefits of advancing industrial and commercial development through the internet outweighed the threats perceived by the Chinese government nevertheless, and construction of an information infrastructure was begun in the 1990s.
Singapore has a unicameral parliamentary system of government, whereby there is only one level of government- federal. The simplicity of the Singaporean government system is considerably distinct from the Chinese government, which has 3 levels of government, and a notoriously large bureaucracy. Further on, we will see how the structure of a government system has an effect on the level of control wielded by it. The Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore is charged with regulation of the media industry and its development of global communications (mda.gov.sg). The priorities of MDA internet policies appear to be ethnic and religious harmony, as well as socio-political stability and national security. Singapore's Internet Code of Practice mostly focuses on harmful material like pornography, and defines relatively succinct boundaries on socio-political expression. Section 4(2) g of the
Singapore Internet Code of Conduct "prohibits material that ‘glorifies, incites or endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance'" (Gomez 135). With its uniquely diverse population, it is evident that Singapore aims for egalitarian treatment of all races, but the most liberal of scholars might argue that those who do not share in this value, are being silenced. Optimistically however, Singapore's focus on ethnic and religious harmony eases the pressure on political censorship, at least in comparison to China. In the 1990’s, Singapore was on its way to becoming an Asian Tiger, and began to build its own information infrastructure.
China's approach to entering the information age was to embark on a series of projects known as the Golden Projects. They included the Golden Bridge Project, Golden Card Project and the Golden Gate Project. The main goals of the latter two were e-banking and e-trade, while the Golden Bridge Project was intended to create a public network that would link the state ministries with state-owned enterprises (SOEs) across China ( Chung 732). As early as 1991, Singapore launched a project known as IT2000 with the goal of converting the state it into "the vision of an 'Intelligent Island' where information technology is further and better applied to enhance the quality of life of the population" (Hung 9). Both countries are bringing their projects into fruition, with Singapore receiving a No. 4 ranking in global IT from the World Economic Forum ,and China leading the world with 298 million internet users. While the plans for commercial development are becoming realities for these governments, the freedom of expression has been held back from progression.
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