In the recent Republican Presidential debate Governor Jon Huntsman said that America should work with younger Chinese who use the Internet to bring about change in China:
“We should be reaching out to our allies and constituencies within China. They’re called the young people. They’re called the internet generation. There are 500 million internet users in China…And 80 million bloggers. And they are bringing about change, the likes of which is gonna take China down. “(See the full transcript at CBS News.)
His statement caused a bit of an uproar on the Chinese Internet (see the Ministry of Tofu’s Netizens claim US has hidden plot to subvert China, citing Jon Huntsman in a Republican Primary Debate for translated reactions) but has been dismissed by many outside China as a fairly meaningless quip in the heat of a political campaign.
I highly doubt that Beijing sees Huntsman’s comments as meaningless. Quite the opposite in fact, as Beijing would assume that Huntsman was involved in all aspects of US policymaking towards China for 21 months through April 30, 2011. His comments fit perfectly with the Chinese government’s belief that the US has an explicit strategy of using the Internet to undermine and ultimately overthrow the Communist Party. As I wrote last year in the essay China’s Internet: The Invisible Birdcage:
Writing in the Party journal Seeking Truth in December 2009, Meng Jianzhu, the Minister of Public Security, wrote: “The internet has become a primary method for the anti-China forces to infiltrate us and amplify destructive energy. This provides new challenges in maintaining state security and social stability.” Censorship of foreign content has shifted from news sites to Web 2.0 services with superior communication and organizing functions, such as Twitter and Facebook, which the government accuses of becoming a rallying point for dissidents and separatists. A report on new media published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in July bluntly states: “Foreign social networking sites have become a tool for political subversion used by Western nations.”
As I describe in a post today on Digicha, my blog about the Chinese Internet, on December 1 People’s Daily Online published 对网络造谣传谣者就应当“迎头痛击” Attack Creators And Spreaders Of Internet Rumors Head-On. The article raises the spectre of Internet-borne foreign plots, stating that:
“some foreign forces, who always want to play the role of “savior”…are using the Internet to disseminate rumors to smear the image of officials, to attack leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, use distortions to illustrate that China’s current political regime is lacking in legitimacy and stability”. (某些国外势力，总想扮演“救世主”的角色，总想解救中国人民生活于“水深火热”之中。他们借助网络散播谣言藉以丑化官员的形象，来攻击中国共产党的领导，歪曲说明中国现行的政治制度是多么的缺少合法性和稳固性.)
I think we can assume “savior” refers to America.
Did Jon Huntsman admit that the ultimate goal of the US government policy of using the Internet to bring about change in China is to “take China down”? Beijing likely believes so and Huntsman’s comments will further validate its concerns about foreign plots.
Given the current environment, expect greater regulation of the Internet and more power and resources for China’s cybercrats.