China is hardly the only government concerned about the political instability unfettered internet access can generate. In fact, last month China joined 89 countries in supporting a United Nations telecommunications treaty that over 20 nations opposed over fears that it would open the door to greater government control over cyberspace. But while China’s suppression of information may resonate with political elites in authoritarian states, the world is living in the information age and attempts to restrict the flow of information for political reasons will not endear China to the global masses that soft power seeks to attract.
China’s internet policies also conflict with the stated goals of its soft power offensive in more concrete ways as well. For example, one of the primary goals of the CPDA is to increase the number of people-to-people exchanges with other countries. However, if the CCP is successful in preventing users from accessing popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and the New York Times, it is likely to discourage foreigners from living or studying abroad in China. Similarly, blocking access to these sites inhibits communication between Chinese and foreigners over cyberspace.
Along with tighter restrictions on the Internet, Chinese authorities have also increased their scrutiny on media outlets, both domestic and foreign. Domestically, the CCP ushered in the New Year by closing down the fiercely liberal magazine, Yanhuang Chunqiu, ostensibly because its registration had been invalid since August 2010. Then, on Friday, 51 prominent journalists issued an open letter demanding the resignation of Tuo Zhen, the Communist Party’s propaganda chief in Guangdong Province, who they accused of “raping” the Southern Weekly’s editorial page when he allegedly altered its annual New Year’s Greeting right as it went to press, and without the knowledge or consent of the editor. The journalists were later joined by over two dozen prominent academics from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan who published their own open letter calling for Tuo's resignation.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Southern Weekly (also referred to as Southern Weekend) is a highly regarded reform-minded Guangdong newspaper, and its annual New Year’s Greeting has traditionally pushed the bounds of acceptable political discussion in China. This year’s editorial originally parodied Xi Jinping’s "Chinese Dream" by calling for the realization of the “dream of constitutionalism in China” where civil rights and the rule-of-law are respected and upheld. After Tuo’s changes, the editorial expressed gratitude to the Communist Party for helping the country achieve the Chinese Dream. According to David Bandurski, editor of China Media Project,"This kind of direct hands-on interference is really something new” and extreme even by China's strict regulation of domestic media. Indeed, after the government tried to silence the growing outrage over Tuo's actions, including by shutting down Southern Weekly staff members' personal Weibo accounts, the entire editorial staff at the newspaper decided to stage a strike, marking the first time in over two decades that the editorial staff of a major Chinese newspaper has gone on strike over government censorship, according to the South China Morning Post.