In an especially bold move, the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has decided to research and deploy a new technology that will permit Chinese internet users to bypass their own government’s internet firewalls.  As it stands today, a large number of pornographic and politically contentious websites are blocked in China.  Any searches related to Chinese protests, Tibetan or Taiwanese independence, or democracy return a “This page is not found.” screen.

The weird thing about this is that the BBG claims this testing is secret.  (Read article from Internet News here).  However, this was the headline yesterday on ChinaDaily:


We’re not very subtle, apparently.

Who is this “Broadcasting Board of Governors,” anyway?  Formerly the US Information Agency, they specialize in a fancy field called “public diplomacy.”  They are responsible for the popular “Voice of America” radio broadcasts around the world, and also own a number of  channels like “Radio Free Asia” and “Al-hurra” in the Middle East.  This programming has been criticized for being overly ideological (read the headlines for RFA, you’ll get the idea) rather than informative.  This is why Al-Jazzera is so popular but Al-Hurra is almost ignored in the Middle East.

So, in the 21st Century, should the United States still maintain a “Ministry of Propaganda?” It seems a little ham-handed.  The article on ChinaDaily acknowledged (surprisingly!) that many users looking for prohibited information can utilize web-based proxy servers anyway.  Also, the government only seems strict about blocking sensitive sites in Chinese.  With an English-speaking population growing so quickly, they are going to have access to both Chinese and American websites.  Unless China plans on blocking all information from America, some stuff will definitely leak out.  Even now they’re doing a crummy job.  I was able to look up “Taiwanese Independence” in Wikipedia from the comfort of my apartment last year.

The whole tone of the article was weird.  It wasn’t confrontational at all – more a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders.  I’m not sure we should be investing so much on subverting Chinese firewalls and ruining any good will we have between nations.  The firewall is really porous anyway, and Chinese commenters on the article look at this as much more as an imposition of Western might than a new channel for information.  Many Chinese genuinely support their government’s policies, so we our kicking ourselves if we think everyone is going to hop on board the freedom and democracy train overnight.