Contextual Content

China security tech supplied by US companies

Naomi Klein: " if we look at when the government gets involved, it’s when there’s the threat of a tipping point. It’s such a large country, it’s such a populous country, that the fear is not a protest or a strike here or there—that can be handled. It is the fear of that tipping point when it turns into a mass movement, because in a country the size of China, when there is a mass movement, it will overwhelm the regime."

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: The Western media and politicians focus on, well, recently, of course, the killing of a Chinese policeman, purportedly by Uighur Muslims in eastern China. They focus on issues on democracy movements from students. But there isn’t a heck of a lot of focus on the tens of thousands of strikes every year, the tens of thousands of protests in villages across rural China, and how many of these workers that are working under labor discipline are working in western-owned factories and western-owned plants. And that’s not much part of the story that we hear on western media.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. Well, and I think that all of this technology, once again, is in the name of building "a harmonious society." This phrase comes up again and again. But, yeah, it is directed at rural protesters. It is directed at wildcat strikes. And I even have a report from The South China Morning Post about a meeting that took place of provincial police chiefs talking about how they have been able to lower what they call "mass incidents"—and that means protests or riots—by significant percentages, 20 percent, 30 percent, after they install these cameras, which are part of what they call the Safe City Program. And there are 660 cities across China that have been designated "safe cities," which means that they get the extra technology, and they’re measuring the effect that this technology has on the number of protests, and finding that they are reduced significantly. So what’s so significant about this is that if we think back to the ’90s and the rhetoric of the ’90s, even someone like Rupert Murdoch, who very famously said that when he brought satellite television to China, democracy would follow, because no authoritarian regime could withstand this amount of information.

JAY: There was an excellent article by his son, who ran the satellite operation in China in Hong Kong right around that moment. And the son, I think, wrote the truth of it. He says, in fact, democracy’s not our problem. Our problem’s making money. If the Chinese people want democracy, let them worry about it.

KLEIN: Well, you know, they’ve certainly learned to play by the rules in China. But there was that moment when it was, like, you know, cell phones, fax machines, and satellite television were going to spread freedom throughout China and every authoritarian regime. Now what we’re seeing is high-tech companies, companies like General Electric, Honeywell, the really big players. Cisco has played a really crucial role, also Google, building the infrastructure of this surveillance state, the search engines that won’t let you search on democracy in Tienanmen Square, or tell you that no objects have been found. Cisco has really built—has built the great firewall that is the censored Internet, and also allows the state to do remote monitoring. So this is very much a collaboration. This can’t just be dismissed as Red China’s work. This is very much in collaboration of these Western global brands working with the Chinese government, to do the opposite, not by spreading freedom and democracy, but to actively suppress these emergent movements. And what’s interesting about it is it’s not that the protests aren’t happening, ’cause we can’t be absolutist about this, there are many, many protests. But if we look at when the government gets involved, it’s when there’s the threat of a tipping point. It’s such a large country, it’s such a populous country, that the fear is not a protest or a strike here or there—that can be handled. It is the fear of that tipping point when it turns into a mass movement, because in a country the size of China, when there is a mass movement, it will overwhelm the regime. So it’s monitoring and looking at a point where something just is starting to get too popular, when people in different areas are networking with each other, and there’s the threat of a national movement. And, frankly, that’s why Falun Gong—. You know, people, I think, are quite mystified by how this sort of weird sect could present such a threat to the state, and I think it probably is just because it is national and networked, and surprised them, and this is a regime that doesn’t want to be taken by surprise. So it’s using the technology to get in there before the tipping point of these sort of nodes and protests turning into a network and potentially being a real movement and a real threat to the regime. So that’s why I think it’s very important. You know, I was talking to some students at Shenzhen University about this, and they were saying, well, you know, people can post critical things on their blogs. They’ll only take your blog down if it’s popular, if a lot of people are reading it. So that’s why it’s, I think, from a journalistic perspective, a little hard to cover, because—.

JAY: Sounds very familiar. It’s kind of the difference here between you can say anything you want in North America on the Internet, but it’s quite different from what you can say on television. If it’s a mass medium, it’s quite a different set of rules from when it’s a leech medium.

KLEIN: But, also, I think this is the fear at the Olympics and why this is a special moment is I think the regime is keenly aware that anybody with a gripe gets a megaphone. And that’s why we’re seeing such an intense level of repression right now.

JAY: Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Naomi Klein.