China Unblocks Controversial Websites, Despite Uncertainty over Tibet, Torch Relay
When mobile technology consultant, Benjamin Joffe arrived at his Beijing office last week, he was informed by a colleague that the "Great Firewall" was down. Joffe was incredulous. "We thought, 'come on. it's April 1st, it must be a joke."
However, Joffe and others around China found Youtube, Flickr, Blogger, Wordpress, Wikipedia, and, even the much maligned, BBC website working perfectly. "BBC even responded to a search on Tibet," writes Joffe on his blog.
Internet censorship in China tends to be fluid, so there is no telling how long the sites will remain unblocked. Many who focus on media in China, however, are surprised at the timing. With the situation in Tibet still tense, and anti-China protests greeting the Olympic torch at many legs of its "harmonious" journey, it seems an odd moment for such openness.
That said, the Chinese Internet has long been significantly more open than most Western observers realize. Even the term "Great Firewall" is itself very flawed. Far from keeping out the majority of information, typically only a very small percentage of websites (usually platforms for user-generated content) are blocked. Even those are easily accessed with the use of a proxy server. "The western perception of Internet censorship in China is far off the mark," said China digital media expert, Kaiser Kuo, at a conference in Sydney in March. "The really damaging censorship is not that which keeps information from the West from coming in. It's domestic censorship. It's Chinese content created by Chinese people."
For westerners in China, the recent unblockings are cause for celebration. The greater Issue of domestic censorship, however, appears unlikely to go away any time soon.
Jonathan Haagen is a writer for The Economist living in Beijing, China.
Tags: China , Tibet , Torch , Olympics , Beijing , Censorship , 2008 , Internet , 2.0
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