UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Discussion of ‘Internet Freedom’ Constrained in China After Clinton Speech
Open Source Center Analysis 17 February 2010
While the Google incident and Secretary Clinton’s speech spurred online discussion on the subject of “Internet freedom” in China, reaction differed on two observed popular sites. Public comments in response to Secretary Clinton’s speech on a popular news website subject to state censorship were consistent with official media reaction, emphasizing nationalistic resistance to alleged US “Internet hegemony.” In contrast, discussion on a popular social networking site noted the irony in China’s official response to Clinton’s speech, questioning Beijing’s claims to have an “open” Internet.
The following report provides a sampling of comments observed by OSC on a selected set of websites frequented by Chinese-language users. The views detailed in this report should not be considered representative of public opinion in China generally or of Chinese Internet users in particular. OSC is generally unable to verify the identity or location of posters or readers of these online comments. Furthermore, OSC is unable to verify the extent of censorship or manipulation of this online discussion, including potential efforts to shape public opinion by commentators acting on behalf of party, government, or other organizations. Users based in the PRC may need to use circumvention tools to access blocked websites outside the PRC. Information is user-provided and may be false or incorrect.
Observed reaction to Secretary Clinton’s speech on the popular commercial portal Sina was critical of the concept of “Internet freedom” as a US construct, reflecting themes that official PRC media disseminated in the wake of the speech and Google’s announcement of a potential pull-out. An article quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu urging the United States to “stop using the issue of so-called Internet freedom to make unwarranted accusations against China” was the second-most read news item on Sina on 22 January and elicited a number of comments. 
A sampling of comments observed on Sina in response to the article as of 2 February follows.
- One of the most “recommended” comments argued that the United States is using “Internet freedom” as a “pretext” to further its “hegemonic intentions” and that the Google incident made this “quite clear.” Using a vivid metaphor, the commenter claimed that the United States is attempting to destroy any concept of “territorial waters” for the Internet and impose its control over the “high seas.”
- One commenter complained that the United States “forces its concept of freedom onto other countries,” while another questioned whether the United States “still has the qualifications to talk about freedom.”
- Other popular comments were strongly nationalistic, expressing support for the Chinese Government and criticizing the United States as “overbearing,” a “bully,” and “imperialist.” A number of comments called on the United States to refrain from “making unwarranted criticisms” and “meddling in others’ affairs.”
- Some commenters expressed support for the Chinese Government’s efforts to censor the Internet, noting that the United States also shuts down websites that violate the law.
In contrast, some users of the popular PRC social networking site Douban found irony in the Foreign Ministry spokesman’s reaction to Secretary Clinton’s speech, noting that Douban discussion threads about the article had been removed and that the comment function on news website Sohu was closed. A sampling of comments observed on Douban from 22 to 26 January follows.
- A group of YouTube enthusiasts poked fun at Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu’s comments, in particular his claim that the Internet is “open” in China. One user noted sarcastically: “We’re not allowed to discuss this news — we really are free.”
- In another thread, a user commented that “the Chinese Internet is open — but it depends on what the keyword is,” referring to the prevalent blocking in China of sensitive keywords. Another user responded to Ma Zhaoxu’s assertion that “the Chinese constitution protects citizens’ free speech” by saying that “it’s the Chinese Government that doesn’t protect” free speech online.
- A number of users were amused by Ma Zhaoxu’s response to Secretary Clinton’s speech, with one user saying that the article was “the funniest thing I’ve seen today.”
1 [OSC | | | 22 January 2010 | | PRC FM Spokesman on US State Secretary Clinton’s Speech on ‘Internet freedom’ | | (U) | (U) | Beijing Xinhua Domestic Service in Chinese — China’s official news service (New China News Agency)]