Hacked by China
By Tom Plate
Former Professor at University of California, Los Angeles,
Director of Asia Pacific Media Network
Caring about China can be hard to do. Many Chinese, for starters, resent the caring of others as an intrusion, especially when the outside care-givers don't agree with something China has done. That happens more than occasionally.
Recently I wrote about the China versus Google fight in a way that sort of tilted in favor of supporting Google's decision not to accept Chinese hacking into the email accounts of some of its customers. But it hardly nominated the Google people for the Nobel Peace Prize. Even so, soon after this column, syndicated in such major world papers as The Korea Times and The Japan Times, I was told my email account had been hacked. The hacking, said Google Gmail security, originated with some computers or computer networks on the mainland of China.
One can only speculate as to the cause of the hack. But it must have had something to do with the column asking China's leadership to exercise a bit more tender care when it tries to roll over people, whether protestors, dissidents or American corporations. It is true that ``How Google Got Too Hot for China's Kitchen" did praise the northern Californian web giant for more or less boldly objecting to unauthorized intrusions into some of its mainland customers' accounts. Google now looks to be downsizing or even eliminating that mainland business in the face of little compromise from Beijing.
China's sovereign right to protect its internal security and stability, sometimes even in ways that are alien to the American norm, has to be accepted. The point is simply that not all American entrepreneurial thrusts into the mainland are going to come up easy winners, especially media ones. In China, as in other political cultures, the media is not permitted to be an independent player. Even amateur media ― such as social networks ― are viewed as potentially subversive. Just recently, the Chinese government expanded its notorious ``bureau five" to monitor interactive websites and other social networks.
Despite all this, we need to work with China and its government as positively as we can and avoid as much immaterial nonsense as possible. The world is a better and more stable place if China rises not only peacefully but develops healthily and soundly as well. An American policy of passive hostility or active disruption would be counterproductive. A half a billion underemployed, furious Chinese running around the mainland looking to cause trouble is not going to do anybody any good, including China's neighbors. A disintegrated China would be a geopolitical tsunami like nothing the world has ever seen.
America needs to work with China in a respectful but careful way, while safe-guarding its national interests and not let its military guard down. All we can do as Americans who care about China is to try to offer sensible alternative perspectives to official policy when we think such policy is taking its people in a bad direction. Indeed, by endorsing what we know to be China's mistakes, we would only be aiming to undermine it.
My sense is that China's top leaders understand this quite well. One of them is clearly Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The government's number two (behind President Hu Jintao) recently penned a moving and lengthy tribute to a controversial reformist figure by the name of Hu Yaobang. Long exiled to a political Siberia (pardon the Soviet allusion), Hu became a black sheep in Communist Chinese political yore because his death became a rallying cry for the protest demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
So for someone of Wen's stature and standing to flat-out praise this pro-market, liberal-tendency political figure is extraordinary. Of course Hu is safely dead and buried: He died in 1989, only two years after being forced out of the Chinese Communist Party by hardliners. But he has evolved into an incandescent icon of potential political opening and reform ever since. Reportedly, tens of thousands of email comments were posted in response to the Premier's unexpected essay, which appeared in the Communist Party's official newspaper, People's Daily.
My guess is that my hacker or hackers did not come from the crowd applauding Wen's positive comments on Hu Yaobang. More probably, they originated from the hard core of Stalinist-style fundamentalists who regard all thoughtful criticism of China as treasonable, not to mention hack-able. But it is these Neanderthals who are the true enemies of China. It is they who will bring down the country by bottling up all reasonable opinion and debate and creating the kind of gigantic pressure cooker that someday can only blow up in their faces.
By contrast, it is all those Chinese who brave being hacked by supporting the unorthodox commentary of Premier Wen who are on the right side of history. And I'm with them ― and all future hackers of my email can count on that.
Veteran U.S journalist Tom Plate's latest book will be out late next month. It is titled ``Conversations With Lee Kuan Yew," published by Marshall Cavendish. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.