China, long known for internet censorship and control, is now following the USA’s lead and targeting offshore content that it deems offensive. Going a step further, it is now prosecuting individuals for posting content outside of China that is deemed to be critical of the Chinese party and government. It seems they too now believe they can be the police of the world and can reach anywhere across the globe to control what its citizens say. This is becoming more and more common as other countries copy the USA’s lead in shutting down content they deem offensive, regardless of that content’s physical location. It has become another way for countries to ‘show off’ their control.
A recent example of this is Chinese citizen, Mr. Liu Xiaobo, a proponent of democracy in China, who recently died in prison. Whether he was smart in trying to promote democracy in a communist country or not is beside the issue. The issue is that, aside from the censorship Chinese citizens have come to expect for years, China is now going many steps further, with government censors attempting to remove all references to Mr. Liu, and tracking those who mention him online and in various apps. Most content deemed illegal is blocked at the Chinese border, such as the Tianemen square massacre, the dalai lama, etc. What is unique here is that China is now pressuring companies and individuals outside of China to remove content located outside the country, similar to what the US has been doing by seizing domain names and websites located overseas. Companies known for years to assist and profit from helping China with its super restrictive censorship firewall include Cisco, the maker of routers and network equipment, among several others. Cisco has also built in similar backdoor spying capabilities for the US into their products for years, known as LI or ‘lawful intercept’. There is truly nothing lawful about it.
A recent example of this is Mr. Zhang, a Chinese citizen, who recently said something critical about China’s leader on WhatsApp, an encrypted foreign application based in the USA, saying he was ‘militaristic’. China somehow obtained this comment and has arrested Mr. Zhang for insulting the president. They claim to have somehow broken the program to collect the evidence, but this is most likely a trick to convince the masses not to do the same, and to scare them into believing that the government can now monitor all communications. A more likely scenario is that they had spyware installed or a spy in the WhatsApp group. It is not beyond reason however, that the WhatsApp company, run by Facebook, could have been bribed to provide a backdoor to the Chinese government, as most companies like Cisco, will do anything for money.
This is a dangerous precedent, and one that must be watched carefully. It makes it even more important to appreciate and support the few countries left that still value and protect internet-based freedom of speech.