Foreign residents and visitors complain about “The Great Firewall of China” after experiencing the slowness of the internet and the complete blocking of certain websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in China. The Chinese government seems determined to try to prevent the use of new on-line media to organize popular anti-government opposition after seeing governments in Tunisia and Egypt overthrown, and other repressive and undemocratic governments challenged as in Iran, Syria, and Libya.
Confident, popular and democratic governments encourage their citizens to communicate with each other and the world by the fastest means, which makes their economies competitive and efficient. South Korea, Japan, and other free societies have encouraged as government policy the development of the highest speeds of internet access, significantly exceeding even what is available in the U.S. Repressive governments slow down or even deliberately interrupt the internet to restrict internal communications, despite the resulting harm to their economies.
The U.S. government has adopted policies favoring free and fast communications as a human right throughout the world. Its active technical intervention in support of firewall circumvention and internet access maintenance is another factor, along with technical innovation, increasing the likelihood that efforts of repressive governments to control the new media will fail.
Americans in the midst of the economic downturn sometimes feel that we are losing the future to the expanding economy of China. But we overlook the problems China is facing which make China’s eventual domination of the world improbable.
China’s efforts to restrict the internet are a manifestation of the internal opposition the Chinese government faces to its repressive policies. Tens of thousands of “mass incidents” of protest have been reported by the Chinese authorities themselves every year.
China is severely challenged to provide adequate food and energy resources for its growing population. This challenge is aggravated by environmental degradation and climate change. Air pollution, water pollution and shortages, and food safety are every day concerns now for the Chinese people and government.
Major state construction projects like the Three Gorges Dams on the Yangtze River have encountered such severe engineering and environmental challenges that their projected return on investment now seems impossible.
The supposedly high achieving Chinese educational system is actually an underfunded and fragile house of cards. Millions of young people receive little or no formal education because of inability to pay school fees. Those who manage to complete high school are subjected to the “gao kao” or “big test”, a three-day ordeal that determines whether and where they will be allowed to continue their studies, and what subject they will be allowed to study. Unhappiness with educational opportunities in China is widespread.
And because China lacks a free press, it is plagued with corruption at all levels which cannot be corrected, and which makes the whole economy inefficient.
If we only contemplate America’s problems, they seem overwhelming, and induce fear of being surpassed by China. But if we also contemplate China’s problems, we should realize that the actual chances of China’s eventually dominating the U.S. are not as great as we fear, or as some in China hope.