Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chinese influence on the Internet

'Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue,' said Voltaire.

Maybe this held up in the 18th century. But in today's interconnected world, where everybody has an idea of what everyone else is doing and saying, people begin accumulating tallies, and the feeling in China, as in much of the world, is that the US is starting to loose the battle.

Many of the recent actions taken by the Bush administration seem almost like plays read from a script written by a Chinese mole, whose purpose was to give Beijing a pass on some of its most offensive behavior by preemptively discrediting the United States.

Just count the ways: detention of prisoners without due process (Guantánamo Bay), the indictment of journalists, the subpoenas for Google's search engine records, the torture of prisoners, domestic surveillance and on and on.

Events like these have created a huge opening for China, which this country's leadership, as savvy and nimble as it can be cynical, has been quick to exploit.

When the State Department released its most recent annual human rights report last month, the Chinese were ready with an answer in the form of a counter-report on the United States that was more assertive than its replies in the past.

Qin Gang, pointedly said that the US should start to clean its own house. To quote,

The US should put an immediate end to its erroneous act of interfering with other countries' internal affairs and mind more of its own human rights issues. As a matter of fact, the US violations of human rights and its double standards have met increasingly stronger criticism by its domestic public and the international community.

The declining moral influence of the United States is bemoaned by intellectuals in China's burgeoning but fragile new civil society.

The problem with the United States is that there's such a big gap these days between the internal discourse and its international actions. In Iraq, for example, they kill 10,000 Iraqis, and nobody figures it's a big deal.

China is very aware of the role of civil society in supervising the government, and how this can play a big role in the future of the internet. And they have their own 'internet filtering' issues as well as other governments.

Any number of indicators point to an end of the US being the dominant player in how the internet is applied at the social-economical level. Put simply, American influence has peaked and has now enetered an era of long-term and perhaps accelerating decline.

Along with China's amazing quarter century of growth has come both a rise in power relative to the West, as well as increasing self-confidence and is the next big player.

But here's something interesting ...

Billed as the next generation of the Internet, a new technical standard enthusiastically embraced by China will allow greater traceability of Internet users, potentially endangering those expressing views counter to the government's.

The standard, known as IPv6, solves technical problems faced by the Internet around the world, but Internet freedom advocates outside China warn that the internationally developed norm would also allow Beijing authorities - or any government or company for that matter - to have a better idea of what individuals are doing on the Internet.

True, fighting Internet crime requires a more certain way of identifying people online and the IPv6 standard offers the best mechanism for establishing the identity of users online. Although the increased traceability does have a number of benefits for internet users and companies but it's still sharp on both sides of the knife.

By giving a unique identifier to every computer or device on the Internet, content can become more targeted - it's easier for a 3rd parties (marketers as well as governments) to know when you are visiting a site but the danger can come when users wish to conceal their identity.

Under IPv6 we make more information available about ourselves but can we decide for ourselves whether that is a good or a bad thing?

Backgrounder - IPv6 explained:

Adopted in the 1980s, the current IP system, IPv4 has only 4.3 billion possible addresses, and those could all be used up within the next five years. The United States controls 74 per cent of thes IP addresses, while the amount that China has is only equal to just the MIT campus. Many African countries have as few as 2,000 total addresses.

The implementation of the IPv6 standard will expands the number of potential addresses into the trillions. That means that not only computers will ba allocated an identifying number: all items will have one inclusing clothing, products, houses, doors, windows, shoes, etc - catch my drift?

Implementation of the detailed addressing system in China began in 2004 with the experimental introduction of a network called Cernet2 to link 200 universities and more than 100 research institutes. The networks using the new address system can run seamlessly alongside the current system.

Three more networks using the IPv6 standard started trial operations in the past year, and two more networks are expected to come online shortly. Many other networks around the world are also adopting IPv6, but China and some other Asian nations are particularly ahead.

A new book by Tim Wu (Columbia) and Jack Goldsmith (Harvard), 'Who Controls the Internet?' opens the window on China.

The vast majority of the Internet users in China are in their 20s and 30s with good education and incomes. Many Chinese intellectuals and opinion leaders now frequently surf the Web. Most Chinese Internet users use the Web from home (61%), while others log online at work (45.1%), at school (18.3%) or at Internet cafes (15.2%).

What does this mean? Not what one would think by listening to FOX or CNN.

American influence on China through the Internet is a broad topic. Via the Internet, American values can be seen and compared to every aspect of Chinese society. Americans have always tried to influence Chinese culture but now, many Chinese reformers favor American influence arguing learning from others is the best way to improve.

The growing of the internet in China and the Cinese influence over the internet is an unimpeded trend. China has a long history. Chinese cultural traditions have are deeply rooted in society.

The Internet makes Chinese people get information much faster than before and have a better view of the world. Chinese people also use the Internet to promote Chinese culture and traditions.

China is inherently strong and rejecting American influence of the internet is not necessary. What will become of the power struggle between the Utopian roots of the Internet and the hegemony of national governments is a timely discussion still very much in the works ... but my money is on China.

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