The ferocity of the Communist Party’s latest crackdown on the internet and mobile phones has been shocking. Shocking enough for Google to threaten to leave the country.
Since last year, when it started, China has tried to blanket-install censorship software in the form of Green Dam, arrested over 5,000 people, started to scan billions of daily text messages and offered vast rewards to anyone reporting any internet pornography and gambling sites.
It is difficult to decipher Beijing’s motives, but there have been a number of interesting developments while the censors have been at work.
Earlier this month, Wen Jiabao said that the government is keen to create a new cable network system, through which customers can access television, the internet and phones. The "san wang he bing" policy is generally a good thing.
CCTV’s dominance in the television world may eventually be diluted by new cable companies, and the telecoms companies will likewise have to compete on the internet and phone packages they provide. Interestingly, CCTV has already begun a new video channel on the internet, and there are plenty of snipers who claim that the government has taken video-sharing websites off the web so that they can replace them with state content.
The integration of the internet and television gives the government plenty of reason to think carefully about content, of course. At the moment, China has 350 million internet users or so. But if people can get the web through their televisions, that number could rise dramatically, especially in rural regions.
Meanwhile, there appears to be a tussle between the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), which currently administers television, and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), which runs the internet and the telecoms industry.
MIIT allegedly wants SARFT to hand its network companies over, but SARFT is hoping to continue to run these small internet sites and for telecom companies to pay up for SARFT to build this new cable network.
The current crackdown is being run by SARFT, which is hoping to show that it is better than MIIT at running the internet network and to reduce MIIT’s grip on the technology sector.