China fights the Web 2.0 storm

China has made tremendous strides with its economy, particularly in the areas of manufacturing, technology and education. Yet China has resisted political change. The harsh efficiency of their system relies on suppressing dissent. Real debate is not tolerated.

Accordingly, Chinese officials are terrified by social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. They’ve seen what can happen in places like Iran, where resistance can spread exponentially with the power of Web 2.0 tools. , and there’s no end in sight.

Yet these repressive tactics will have a negative effect on China’s economic development. Twitter and Facebook are exploding in popularity in the U.S. and around the world. The collaborative nature of these tools presents incredible opportunities for businesses, entrepreneurs and educators. By blocking these tools, China is falling behind.

How long can this last? I suspect their finger in the damn strategy is doomed to failure.


China adopts some protectionist policies

Despite their rhetoric against protectionism, the Chinese government has implemented some policies that are receiving criticism.

China has begun a concerted effort to keep its export economy humming, even as demand for its goods has plummeted with the global downturn.

Risking the ire of the United States and other trading partners, the Chinese government has quietly started adopting policies aimed at encouraging exports while curbing imports, even though China, as one of the world’s largest exporters, has aggressively criticized protectionism in other countries.

The government has sharply expanded three programs to help exporters, giving them larger tax rebates, more generous loans from state-owned banks to finance trade, and more government-paid travel to promote themselves at trade shows around the world.

At the same time, Beijing has banned all local, provincial and national government agencies from buying imported goods except in cases where no local substitute exists.

The rule, issued as part of the country’s economic stimulus plan and enforcing a seldom honored Chinese law from 2003 favoring domestic suppliers, exploits China’s failure so far to sign a global agreement barring protectionism in government procurement.

And in an effort to strengthen its own exporters, it is limiting how much of certain key raw materials can leave the country.

The last thing we need is a trade war, and other countries have done things to support their local industries, but China is now a major player in the world economy. If they continue to push the envelope, they might hurt themselves in the long run.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, the economy is terrible and people are hurting, with many looking for emergency loans just to pay the bills.


How does the situation in Iran affect China?

Many are asking this question. More specifically, they are how Web 2.0 tools like Twitter and Facebook will affect China. Will it be harder for the regime in China to control their population?

In the past week or so, a meme has circulated on the Web: “Tiananmen + Twitter = Tehran.” But it’s not just about the so-called “Twitter Revolution.” That’s a nifty catch-phrase — the YouTube election, the Facebook effect, etc. — for many in the mainstream media who are still trying to understand how people live their lives in this social networking age. In this world, a tweet from Canada leads to a Facebook fan page created in the United States, which then leads to a YouTube video from Iran. But these platforms are merely tools that allow people to connect over ideas. A more accurate equation, said Ho, who teaches information technology at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), is “Tiananmen + Web = Tehran.”

Yet, what this online activity ultimately will amount to — inside and outside Iran — is an open question.

“The only thing I don’t like about that analogy,” Ho said of his take on the meme, is “that I hope Tehran ends better than Tiananmen did.”

Will online energy concentrated in various pockets of the Web translate to offline activism?

I suspect it will be harder for all regimes to put down their people in the future without resorting to levels of brutality seen in extraordinary cases like North Korea. Time will tell.


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