China: Losing The War Against The Internet


July 25, 2011: China's surging economic, and military, power has a fatal flaw. Several decades of enforcing the  "one child" policy has prevented China's population from spiraling out of control over the last few decades. But it also means that there will be too many old people and too few workers in another decade, and for several decades after that. Meanwhile, the shortage of young workers is already here, as the first "one child" generation comes of age. These workers demand more money, and attention. Wages are moving up rapidly, and there's still a shortage of workers. There's also a shortage of skilled people in the armed forces. Plenty of low skilled or inept volunteers, but not the ones that are most needed, and in demand.

The "one child" program has not only halted rapid growth of the Chinese population, but has permanently changed perceptions of what the optimal family size should be. The enforcement of one child families (in urban areas, country folk could usually have two kids) forced parents to lavish more attention on fewer kids. As a result, the children were better educated, and accustomed to a higher standard of living. While chided as being "little princes", these kids were more economically successful than their parents, and brought a new verve to the economy and culture. Suddenly, most Chinese came to believe that this was one of the secrets of Western success (which was always something of a mystery to the Chinese, who feel inherently superior to those smelly apes with the round eyes and bad manners.) In fact, economists, and other social scientists (the Chinese ones as well) always understood the value of small families. But getting over a billion Chinese to agree took a shock, and the one-child policy provided the needed nudge. But the cost is several generations of labor shortages and the growing fiscal and political costs of supporting a huge (especially by Chinese standards) number of elderly.

Chinese government attempts to control Internet use continues to fail because of the ingenuity of Chinese Internet users. The most recent example is how people are getting around the government ban on Twitter in China. But blog, RSS and other Internet tools are used to do the same thing Twitter does. Not as well, but good enough, and the news the government wants to control spreads uncontrollably.

China is facing growing resistance from its neighbors over Chinese claims to all underwater resources (mainly oil and gas) in the South China Sea. Everyone is trying to keep negotiations going, and diplomatic. But the issue is causing unrest in neighboring nations. Vietnam recently has to call out the police to control mobs trying to attack the Chinese embassy. More worrisome for China is the fact that these smaller neighbors are uniting in their opposition to Chinese claims, and have U.S. support. This is appalling to the Chinese, because for thousands of years, the neighbors followed orders, or suffered the horrific consequences. The United States is interfering with these traditional relationships, and this is very unpopular inside China.

July 23, 2011: China's high-speed "bullet train" had a fatal accident, leaving over 30 dead and many more injured. The cause was inadequate safety and communications systems. In this case, one train was halted by a lighting strike and another came up from behind and there was the collision that sent four trains off the tracks, and a bridge. Many Chinese are not surprised about this accident. The government is in the process of spending nearly $200 billion (during the first two decades of this century) to expand and upgrade the national railroad system. For years, there have been complaints of corruption and mismanagement. There has been a lot of both, but more of it than the overworked anti-corruption officials can handle. Even though prosecutors regularly convict and punish (often with execution) corrupt officials, there is so much of it that the stealing and mismanagement continues. Often, this criminal behavior kills, as it did today.

July 18, 2011: In western China, at least twenty Uighurs (Turks from Xinjiang province) were killed when a Uighur mob attacked a police station. Such attacks are usually attempts to free other Uighurs (often kin or friends). The government tried hard to suppress the news (and has been doing so for a long time, constantly shutting down web sites that promoted Uighur autonomy, and other Uighur matters). The government accuses Uighur activists of endangering state security. This is part of an ongoing effort to suppress Uighur unhappiness with the growing number of Han Chinese moving to traditionally Uighur areas, and taking over the economy, and most of the good jobs.  Same thing is happening in Tibet, where the government is using the same tools to keep everyone under control.

The government efforts to curb unwanted use of the Internet (to spread news and ideas the police state government of China does not want made public) is having an impact. The number of web sites in China declined by over a third in the last year. It's not just news sites (or what the government considers new sites), but sites engaging in anything some bureaucrat does not approve of. Pornography is a popular target, but there are many others.






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