Academic journal article Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

Red Light, Green Light: Has China Achieved Its Goals through the 2000 Internet Regulations?

Academic journal article Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

Red Light, Green Light: Has China Achieved Its Goals through the 2000 Internet Regulations?

Article excerpt


In the mid-1990s, when the Internet began to burgeon in China, many thought that the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would finally come to an end. The combination of foreign capital and trans-border information exchange promised a potential influx of democratic ideas and ideals. The CCP responded with both physical and regulatory limits on the use of the Internet by the Chinese people. Some commentators characterized these limits as feeble attempts by the CCP to control a nebulous medium. Others viewed the limits as ineffective steps by the government to become a highly developed authoritarian state.

This Note posits that the CCP seeks to do neither. Instead, the CCP's goal is simple: to reap moderate economic benefits while retaining political power. By regulating how Chinese businesses and individuals use the Internet, the CCP retains political power despite the globalizing effect of the Internet. It does this by dominating the Internet economy and monitoring information exchanges to suppress political insurgency, while deriving economic gain from Internet development. Viewed in this light, economic and informational regulations are very much a success for the CCP.


Edward Tian wants to bring broadband Internet access to the People's Republic of China. (1) Tian is the CEO of China Netcom Communications (CNC), a state-owned enterprise. (2) At forty gigabytes per second and twenty thousand kilometers in length, his project will be one of the fastest and longest bandwidth networks in the world. (3)

In a nation where phone service is a luxury, how can entrepreneurs like Edward Tian sell bandwidth? The answer is simple: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) desperately wants to take advantage of the wealth offered by the Internet. Tian's motivation, however--"to give a voice to the Chinese people" (4)--is precisely what makes the CCP leery.

One central authority has always governed China. Today, the Chinese Communist Party rules China. In order to garner support, the CCP has historically used the media to communicate with the people. The CCP censors media opinions that dissent from the CCP message.

The CCP uses similar censorship tactics on the Internet. Like censorship of traditional media, the CCP uses physical means to block access to the Internet. The CCP has also instituted various regulations delineating permitted and forbidden uses of the Internet.

Most recently, the CCP issued a cluster of regulations in 2000. These regulations can be divided into two broad categories--economic and informational. The economic regulations place requirements on companies doing business online. The informational regulations restrict the type of information companies can transmit or permit their users to transmit via the Internet.

With a population of one billion, China represents one of the largest potential markets in the world. The regulations cost the Internet industry a considerable amount of revenue. Though the CCP embraces the Internet and its benefits, it is not willing to sacrifice control.

Most commentators view the current regulatory scheme as either a step towards high authoritarianism or as a futile attempt to control the Internet. However, these views presuppose that the CCP uses current regulations to achieve a grand predetermined goal--either a system of government that is similar to that of a highly authoritarian state or a totalitarian stranglehold on an intangible medium. This Note refutes both predictions. Analyzing the regulations within their political and historical context reveals that not only will the regulations prove to be effective, but also that the reason they will be effective is because the CCP's regulation of the Internet is consistent with its regulation of traditional forms of media. This consistency allows the CCP to enforce Internet regulations to the extent that punishment for disobeying regulations on traditional media serves as a deterrent. …

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