Academic journal article Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law

Will China Allow Itself to Enter the New Economy?

Academic journal article Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law

Will China Allow Itself to Enter the New Economy?

Article excerpt


The development of the Interact in China presents a direct conflict between two of the country's interests: its present desire to become a global economic power and its traditional desire to control access to information. Historically, China has been wary of outside influences. In many ways the Internet embodies everything that China has ever feared--a free flow of uncensored, uncontrolled, outside information, ideas, and news. However, China has also made a commitment to enter the world's stage as an economic power. The Internet and e-commerce are currently the most dynamic worldwide industry and the most popular pathway to wealth. On the other hand, development of this industry will require an influx of foreign capital that will inevitably cause tension with longstanding protectionist policies. Notwithstanding these fundamental conflicts, the potential for Internet growth everywhere, and particularly in a country as populous as China, is tremendous.


China is one of the oldest nation-states in the world. For thousands of years, China was ruled by successive dynasties.(1) Long closed off to the rest of the world, it was forced open by the British in the 1840 Opium War.(2) It became a republic for the first time in 1912.(3) In 1949, after years of fighting, communist forces ultimately defeated nationalist forces and took control of the country.(4) The new government, modeled after the Soviet Union's, was called the People's Republic of China.(5) Under the new government, China was once again closed off from the rest of the world.(6) China finally began to open up again with the implementation of its recent "open door" reforms.(7)

Development of the Internet began in 1969 when the U.S. Defense Department endeavored to create a computer network that would remain viable in the event of nuclear attack.(8) This secure network to support military research was entitled the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (hereinafter "ARPANet").(9) It was designed so that if any portion of the network were to become inoperable, a message could be rerouted, and thus could still be delivered.(10)

The network had spread to England and Norway by 1973, and it continued to spread further with the adoption of a standard communication protocol in 1983, eventually becoming known as the "Internet."(11)

The Internet in China has a comparatively short history. In 1995, the Chinese made their first real attempt to utilize Internet technology with the China Education Research Network, which connected approximately one hundred Chinese universities to a global Internet link.(12) As China came to realize the importance of modernization in this area, it embarked to strengthen its communication infrastructure.(13) Plans included nearly doubling the phone line switching capacity of its system and offering more specifically Internet-oriented services.(14) Over the past several years, the Chinese government has begun to take an active role in the development of the Chinese Internet industry and is even using advertising campaigns to encourage use of the Internet by its citizens.(15)

Despite this recent enthusiasm, there remains a deep concern for too free a flow of potentially corrupting information. China has traditionally strictly controlled free expression and dissemination of information.(16) To address these concerns, the government has enacted the use of a "firewall" system that effectively blocks access to parts of the Internet for Chinese users.(17) The system will allow Chinese users unlimited access to an internal network of other Chinese users, but they will have to obtain approval to access an outside service provider.(18) Internet Service Providers (hereinafter "ISPs") are charged with the task of using their router devices to filter out banned sites by blocking their IP addresses.(19) Outside commentators doubt the ability of the Chinese authorities effectively to control information on the Internet with this type of technology, and have suggested that China will only be able to achieve its desired level of control by frightening the people into silence and compliance. …

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