While Mao Zedong was the father of the Communist China, his successor Deng Xiaoping must be credited for the nation’s progress toward prosperity. Under his leadership, the party ratified and implemented the “Four Modernizations” program that would propel China onto the global stage, where it is fast approaching the leadership position. This ambitious program of sweeping economic reforms opened China to the outside world. Also during Xiaoping’s leadership,
“Three million intellectuals, who had been beaten and tortured during the Cultural Revolution, returned to public life. Eager for answers as to why China had fallen so far behind the capitalist world, the new leaders encouraged a debate about the nature of Chinese civilization and about its differences from the West. Between 1986 and 1989, historians wrote nearly 700 monographs about the core beliefs and values of Chinese culture and about whether these constituted a blockage to socio-economic modernization”. (Dickson, 2006)
There have been unsavoury aspects to the China story as well, the two most glaring examples being the issue of Tibet and citizen censorship. The issue of regulating internet content is highly significant, given the exponential growth in Asia, for both commercial and informational purposes. The case of Chinese government’s control over Internet content in the country has attracted much criticism from human rights advocates. All internal communication of Chinese citizens are monitored and filtered for content that could be potentially subversive. This meant that those indigenous Tibetans who still reside in Tibetan Autonomous Region, cannot voice their opinions on this contentious issue. This suppression of free speech is particularly odd, given that the Internet has served as an instrument for promoting civil liberties and progressive causes in the rest of the world. Such repressive tendencies in Asia’s most promising nation is highly relevant to the topic of this essay, since it betrays the lack of correlation between economic prosperity and international recognition on the one hand and harsh internal social realities on the other (Dickson, 2006).
It is a sign of progress for China’s Asian neighbours, that it is through the same medium of communication that exiled Tibetans have organized their protests and demonstrations against the authoritarianism of the Communist Party in China. In the lead up to the Olympic Games in Beijing earlier this year, the Chinese authorities had a tough time dealing with the Tibetan protesters. The power of new digital technology to facilitate legitimate political dissent is something that needs to be preserved and encouraged. Irrespective of the fact that Tibet had traditionally been a feudal society ridden with oppression and brutality, neutral political commentators across the world agree that the Tibetan fight for liberation from China is not unreasonable. If a small group of exiled Tibetans can make such valid political statements, the inclusion of Tibetans still residing in the plateau in this process might have led to substantial political changes, which goes on to suggest that progressive political transitions in Asia will find greater expression if technological advancement is used constructively. From this Tibetan example, one can clearly see how a free Internet will help social justice and democracy in Asia and beyond (Goldsmith & Wu, 2006).
Hence, it can be asserted that the disturbing trends in Asian politics, namely, the re-emergence of authoritarianism and the impotency of the judiciary to ensure a fair and just country for its citizens, warrants urgent attention. As Asia looks forward to a progressive future, the technologies of mass communication will play an important role. At this point in time, it is the Internet, with its various forms of information dispersal. But, as this medium becomes more common place, the wielders of power will attempt to put restrictions on its use. Empirical evidence shows that the Internet can be successfully controlled. A case in point is the drastic concessions that Yahoo Inc. was compelled to make to facilitate enforcement of local laws. If local laws are not enforced through the Internet, the service providers may be forced to adopt the most stringent among them in an effort to breach none. But, this is only hypothetical and it is equally likely that the most liberal (the least restrictive) among the set of national laws would be chosen. In fact, during the last few years of the twentieth century, when the Internet was growing and consolidating, it was at its most liberal and least regulated (Milton Mueller, 2007). This period saw the rise of several progressive movements for social change, predominantly in the continents of Latin America and Asia, which availed of the Internet’s potential to organize people at the grassroots and promulgate their cause. A classic example is the success of World Social Forum (WSF), an annual event organized by nations in the global south to discuss political reform and social progress. The Internet has had an important role in bringing these scattered communities across the Third World together. For most Asian countries, the WSF is more important than the World Economic Forum (WEF). While unregulated Internet has the potential to undermine governmental authority, they do provide other beneficial opportunities (Milton Mueller, 2007).