China: WikiLeaks, North Korea and Internet freedom

Out of the American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks relating to China, perhaps most revealing are cables telling of Chinese government views of the country's relationship with North Korea and the its leaders themselves. Even at the time of their release, following the Dandong shooting incident and shelling of Yeonpyeong island this year, some Chinese netizens had come to see North Korea as something of a negative asset.

As columnist Xin Lijian noted late last month [zh], the total import-export volume between China and South Korea in 2007 was USD 159.9 billion; trade between China and North Korea, on the other hand, totaled USD 27.9 billion in 2008 and showed signs of decreasing through most of 2009. Then there's the vast subsidies sent to North Korea each year, paid for by Chinese taxpayers. Sina blogger Yao Xiaoyuan asks, is this friendship still worth it?


Supposedly the latest news from WikiLeaks: China is preparing to abandon North Korea, and the new generation of leaders tend to support reunification of the two Koreas. If this is true, in my view, it's good news.
Since the end of the Korean War, China has foot the bill through all of North Korea's natural disasters, famine and arms expansions, without a peep. While they were developing nuclear weapons, stirring up trouble, playing rogue and thug, China kept footing the bill, still without complaint. If we don't stop letting them take advantage of us, then there's going to come a day when China will have to pay a bloody price for North Korea! […] China has enough problems of its own; paying for North Korea's is just stupid and needs to stop!

However, as Yan Shanxue notes, does North Korea remain just as useful an asset to China as it does to the United States and its East Asian allies?




Following the Yeonpyeong Island incident, at the same time that Japan, America and South Korea have been putting pressure on North Korea, they've also been unanimous in emphasizing that “China, with its strong influence over North Korea, must begin taking a more active role,” deftly throwing the pressure back over to China's side—”you've got Korea's back, so it's up to you to make the next move.”

Seemingly out of nowhere, China the unexpected move of calling for renewed six-party talks to discuss countermeasures.

In response to this, Asahi Shimbun wrote, “The plan was to force China to put pressure on North Korea, thus further isolating North Korea. China's proposal, however, kicks the ball back to the other side.”

The flip side to that, notes ‘Battlefield Blade’ at the nationalist-friendly Huanqiu blogging community, is how conveniently these cables set the tone for an escalation in measures against North Korea:


Scholars of international politics have pointed out that “When the Iraq war began, intelligence Americans had collected suggested that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, which misled the government in forming policy. Which is why we can't blindly believe what's in these “WikiLeaks” files, and ought to maintain a high degree of doubt. Especially given the situation today; with relations on the Korean peninsula so tense, the impact the West's gross exaggeration of a so-called secret pact between China and Korea will have on the situation cannot be underestimated. In particular, the leaks might even have the effect of stirring up relations between China and North Korea.”

Skipping the many conspiracies arising from the North Korea cables, if it's not in China's best interest, as one cable suggests it is, to see unification on the Korean peninsula, then in whose must it be? Answering that is Sina blogger Dao Feng:


Without getting into whether or not North Korea was defending itself and retaliating against South Korea, let's first look at in which sort of state would be a North Korea be in China's best interest. Faced with America's aggressive gunboat diplomacy offensive, it's hard to imagine that if North Korea were to enter a state of war and then be invaded by the United States, there would appear a North Korea in any better shape than the Iraq of today. With countless suicide bombers darkening the sky there day in and day out, do the countries neighboring Iraq feel at ease? If a country bordering China began teeming with suicide bombers, what options would China be left with? Or take how America declares North Korea to be one of the main drug producing nations in the world; if another drug-filled environment held by American forces like Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos were to appear, would China be safe?


It's worth further consideration: is North Korea America's biggest enemy? As everyone knows, China, a united China, thriving and prosperous under the leadership of the Communist Party, is the American government's true enemy. From the many opinions expressed by the American government, one thing we know for sure is that only a divided China, a China with no core leadership able to uphold China's national interests, a China ruled by a comprador class, would be in line with American interests. Americans are allowed to do what they see fit, but not us Chinese. But China has its own national interests, and China's national interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the American government.

Julian Assange, from Flickr user Jose Mesa

The American government's response to the leaking of the cables, as well as actions taken by Amazon, PayPal, EveryDNS and MasterCard, were not only widely reported upon by Chinese media, but they also call into question the validity of arguments made for broad freedoms across the global Internet. Launching into that is Sina blogger Liu Yang:


If the secrets that Assange has leaked are true, then countries who have had their secrets leaked and exposed should just be modest, deal with the scrutiny, and move on. Is there a need for all the aggressive posturing? Using “state secret” as an excuse to fight Assange, it makes no sense. Taking America as the primary example and Watergate, the reason Nixon stepped down is because someone leaked state secrets to the media. Further, people say that transparency and openness are one of the fundamental requirements of a democracy; so why does America want to keep so many secrets, and keep the public from learning of them?

The minute someone like Assange began revealing the truth, America and other “victim” nations, given that they are all share the same interests, started off not by discussing the right or wrong or what's truthful [in the leaks], but only seeking to shut the scrutinizer Assange's mouth. So we're back to that old question: if Assange does get shut up, how then will democratic supervision of and freedom of expression throughout the international community be realized? WikiLeaks’ actions are merely one aspect of democratic supervision and freedom of speech. If even this cannot be allowed, who then is capable of monitoring America's international activities? Can people now say that America needs no scrutiny of its presence overseas?

The Chinese government hasn't, as has been reported, cracked down this week on Wikileaks-related content, but with the measures taken by the US government to contain the spread of the cables normally reserved for Chinese Internet censors, has Internet censorship in the name of national security gained greater legitimacy? Writing on these new challenges to #netfreedom is Across the Great Wall blogger Steve365:


Now, with the American Congress branding WikiLeaks a “terrorist organization”, with Russia stating it wants to make WikiLeaks disappear, with China blocking [sic] the site like it has with Twitter and Facebook, in fact not many people have criticized the actions of these governments in curtailing Internet freedom. Perhaps, in the eyes of many staunch defenders of Internet freedom, WikiLeaks’ actions have exceeded the limits of “freedom” and it ought to be brought under control; if not, they fear, if situation worsens and leads to genuine political and economic disputes, the government will have significant grounds to censor the Internet.


But then, WikiLeaks has no plans to stop, and the group is apt to become even more “terrifying”: like bin Laden, the location of its founder, Assange, is unknown [sic]. In the near future, even more cables, with an even wider scope, will be released; unfortunately, this is unavoidable. But it also reminds us, that although the Internet has existed already for nearly twenty years [sic], it has always sought “autonomy”. At present however, it lacks capability to attain full autonomy, and in the real world, government intervention, particularly legal constraints, remain inseparable. Further, the failure of governments to match all their talk with action has shown us that even the American government, with all their experience in dealing with problems of this sort, is at a loss when faced with new circumstances. They still haven't settled upon appropriate means of governing the Internet. As for China, turning to “the wall” when faced with these kinds of problems, is not only self-deceiving, but also completely useless.


Thus, for those who hold the Internet as a realm of freedom, instead of turning to it to fight the government or the law, they'd be better off siding with the government and legislators in working toward defining the limits of the Internet world, and clearly defining both the rights and obligations of the government and the Internet, which would be guaranteed by law. Thereby, for either an Internet seeking autonomy or a government hoping to prevent the Internet from creating incidents in the real world, both would stand to benefit. Of course, this all presumes a society based on rule of law.

Again, asks Jay Chan, why should America's national security concerns trump China's?

奥巴马曾经说过:谁都不喜欢 别人说自己坏话,但开放的民主自由是发展的前提。(09年访华 演讲)

Obama once said (in his 2009 speech while visiting China) that while nobody likes to listen to criticism from others, openness and democratic freedoms are the prerequisite to growth. What's funny is that it was under pressure from the American government that Amazon discontinued offering WikiLeaks hosting service on its servers. Damn. Even America does things like that, I thought this only happened in China! Actually, America's not as great as you think; if information that threatens America gets blocked, then what about information that threatens China's security? Why shouldn't China block that too?

More discussion on Internet freedom is needed, writes Sina blogger Flaming Arrow, perhaps drawing upon the experience of a Chinese netizen, but concludes that in the meantime, American efforts to shut WikiLeaks down will mostly likely fail:



Many people are unhappy with seeing American companies, at their government's behest, distancing themselves from WikiLeaks. From their reaction to WikiLeaks, in what calls itself the most democratic nation in the West, we can see that: first, one cannot wholly trust or rely on web service-providing companies; second: what these incidents show us is that Internet censorship comes much easier than one would imagine.

That even US government attorneys remain conservative regarding the likelihood of success in a lawsuit against WikiLeaks shows us that while the government might not be able to challenge “freedom of speech” through the law, it can still hurt WikiLeaks financially. But I believe that in the near future, the American government is guaranteed to change its approach to Internet management as a result of these cables, and might even step up attacks against those who leak secrets. It's hard to say, though, what WikiLeaks’ response then will be.


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