China hasn’t exactly got a sparkling track record as far as freedom of speech is concerned. It’s never been big on freedom of access to information either.
Numerous websites and social networks, including some of the biggies like Facebook and Twitter, have long been off the cards for the Chinese people.
I was surprised, then, when I spotted an article on the South China Morning Post’s website this morning reporting that the Chinese authorities have lifted restrictions on social networks.
I was less surprised when the article was deleted less than two hours later.
But the report had explained that access to such restricted websites has now actually been enabled, albeit only in select five star hotel popular with foreign business travellers.
Yet the Chinese Government has certainly made no announcement about this and the fact that the original article has been taken off the web suggests that it has no intention of ever doing so.
Business people, in general, understand the benefits of the Internet and social media. In fact, pretty much everyone does. But do the Chinese authorities think this doesn’t apply to Chinese people?
Well, of course they don’t. But the Chinese authorities cower from social media. They fear people sharing opinions and ideas. They fear the power of sites such as Facebook and Twitter – because they are simply vehicles to channel the power of the people.
They are right to be scared.
On Thursday this week, former senior official Bo Xilai stands trial for corruption and bribery.
The former Communist Party chief of Chongqing was expelled from the party after his alleged wrongdoings were exposed when his wife Gu Kailai was investigated over the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. She was jailed for that crime in August.
The authorities want the world to see them bring Xi to justice, without exposing the exact nature and scale of government-related corruption in China. How much more corruption could easily be exposed if the Chinese public had full, unlimited access to the Internet?
The Chinese Government is corrupt – that much is clear. It just hopes that if it can stop people chatting about it online then maybe the issue will be swept under the carpet.
It begs the question, though. Why has access to social media been allowed to anyone anywhere in China at all?