Saturday, February 25, 2012

China: "Better to counter microblogs than to block them"

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According to Radio Free Asia, funded by the US State Department, Zhu Mingguo, deputy leader of the Guangdong provincial Government in China, which witnessed a people’s revolt in the village of Wukan towards the end of last year in protest against arbitrary land acquisitions,told a conference of the labour department of the Government on February 20,2012, that the provincial Government planned totrain 10,000 "public opinion guides" in the coming months to correct public misperceptions about Government and Party policies.

2. He stressed the need for Government and party officials to keep pace with the new generation of Chinese society, which is Web-savvy and is able to use the Net for propagating criticisms of Government and party policies.

3.According to the “Guangdong Daily”, as cited by RFA, Zhu told the participants in the conference that they should ensure that the voice of the Communist Party continued to be heard in an age of social networking.Theyshould take opinion formation and education to the next level, Zhu reportedly told the meeting, and "guide society to an ardent love of the Party and of socialism."

4. The RFA has reported as follows in a commentary on the conference: “Guangzhou-based Internet commentator Ye Du said the report had sparked considerable discussion in some quarters of the Chinese Internet, with posts announcing that "the 50-cent army is hiring again," in a reference to netizens' satirical name for the government's battalion of paid opinion-makers.The fact that the villagers of Wukan kept going with the struggle to protect their rights has set a huge example to rural communities and petitioners all over China," Ye said. "In recent days, there have been a number of demonstrations by large numbers of retired military personnel who have used the same methods in their petitioning."

5.The RFA commentary further quoted Ye as saying as follows: “Now that rural residents know how to use the Internet and microblogs as channels to release information, the authorities must boost their workforce by hiring even more people to curb them.They want to prevent negative news from getting out and circulating."

6.According to Ye, as cited by the RFA commentary, the Government's strategy is now focused on influencing public opinion rather than on the impossible task of censoring every microblog posting on the massively popular SinaWeibo service."News gets out on SinaWeibo very fast indeed," Ye said. "Within one or two minutes, your news can reach several million people, and the authorities can't keep up with blocking all of it." (25-2-12)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.