Today’s China Readings June 2, 2012

Reuters reports in China arrests security official on suspicion of U.S. spying that “an aide to a vice minister in China’s security ministry was arrested and detained early this year on allegations that he had passed information to the United States for several years on China’s overseas espionage activities, said three sources, who all have direct knowledge of the matter.” A version of this story appeared May 27 in the overseas Chinese newspaper 世界日报– 国安部副部长秘书落入美人计 遭美策反. (The May 28th Daily Readings post included the World Journal story but did not give an English summary out of an excess of caution.)

Is it noteworthy that this story appears to have been transmitted into the overseas Chinese press before jumping the language barrier into a Reuters article? Call me cynical but I would be surprised if we are reading anything close to the real story of what happened…

The Reuters story raises a question about Western media coverage of China. Even though the spy story had appeared in the Chinese-language press several days earlier, Reuters labeled their story an “exclusive” with the “Exclusive – China arrests security official on suspicion of U.S. spying” headline. No doubt Reuters found its own sources, reported it out to its standards, and confirmed something, but is it fair to call this exclusive or a scoop? If a rival English-language outlet had first run this story would Reuters not have given it at least an acknowledgement? This happens occasionally in Western media coverage of China, but the days of language arbitrage in reporting may be coming to an end.

Google made some free speech noise with the Friday release of a tool that gives Google China searchers with more information on potential censorship. Google explains the new feature in its blog post Better search in mainland China. Rebecca MacKinnon provides good perspective in her Foreign Policy essay Google Confronts the Great Firewall. Google China still generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in advertising sales to Chinese firms targeting overseas customers. The company does not want to hurt that business. But with a China search market share at 10% or less, Google is increasingly irrelevant here and this move likely has more PR than substantive value. Chinese censors may agree, as so far discussion of Google’s new feature has not been totally censored on Sina Weibo.

I have a few (rhetorical, since Google PR will never reply with answers) questions for Google: 1. Did the company wait until PRC approval of the Motorola deal to launch this feature? 2. Why roll it out June 1 and not 3 days later on a much more meaningful day? 3. Will you provide public access to your continuously updated database of GFW blocked terms? 4. Are the real audiences for this move not Chinese netizens but internal constituencies and/or regulators in the US and Europe, with the goal of enhancing your “free speech” bona fides? 5. If Google is really serious about free speech and uncensored access why have you not rolled out robust, easy-to-use circumvention tools? 6. Since Google has shown it is willing to “stare down” the Chinese government, what do you have planned for this Monday?

James Fallows has continued the interesting discussion of the state of China’s Internet, posting notes from foreigners (including the CTO of what I guess is Evernote) who have had to deal with the messy Internet infrastructure here. Chinese firms have developed innovative solutions to engineer through the technical issues and several, like Tencent, have some of the most robust web infrastructures in the world, able to handle tens or hundreds of millions of concurrent users across various services. The bottom line? China’s Internet is not always pretty but it generally works, just like much (but not all) of China.

In Internet Broadband Bulls Edge toward National Strategy Caixin details some of the bureaucratic and commercial interests that are slowing upgrades of China’s Internet infrastructure.Yes censorship and information management play a big role in China’s web development, but do not forget to “follow the money” to get a more complete picture.

The New York Times discloses that the Stuxnet worm was developed by the US and Israel, as long-suspected. This is momentous and could have huge ramifications for China’s view of cyberwarfare. It makes me wonder what the US is already doing in China, and whether the steady flow of reports about Chinese cyberattacks are a combination of substance and smokescreens?

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Thanks for reading, and remember the best way to see this daily post is to subscribe by email, especially if you are in China, as Sinocism is still blocked here. You can also follow me on @niubi or Sina Weibo @billbishop. Feel free to recommend to friends or donate.

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