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China-Tibet: Fear of Cyber Democracy Induces Move for De-escalation

Till now, analysts have been talking and writing only of the dangers of cyber-terrorism to States and civil societies.

2. China has, for the first time, experienced the lethal force of Cyber Democracy and has started showing signs of fears of its likely impact on the stability of the authoritarian Chinese State and its closely-controlled civil society.

3. The uprising of large sections of the Tibetans against what they perceive as the Han colonisation of their traditional homeland and suppression of their Buddhist religion, which started in Lhasa on March 10,2008, and has been continuing since then in various forms, has been planned and orchestrated by Tibetan youth located in different parts of the world. Hundreds of Tibetan youth living in different democratic countries, who had never met each other and who came to know each other only through Internet chat rooms and discussion groups, pooled their ideas together and decided to take advantage of the year of the Beijing Olympics to launch a movement for Tibetan independence and democracy under the leadership of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC).

4. Even if the movement is ultimately crushed after a few weeks by China’s Neo Red Guards, who are dictating the policy on Tibet, with the help of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the third Tibetan Uprising of 2008— the earlier two having taken place in the 1950s and the 1980s— will go down in history as the first people’s revolution made possible by the power of the Internet’s connectivity. This revolution might be crushed ultimately by the PLA, but neither the PLA nor the Chinese intelligence will be able to eradicate this power.

5. Not only the Chinese, but even His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his close advisers were taken totally by surprise by the manner in which young Tibetan boys and girls— with the help of their young non-Tibetan friends in different civil societies— planned this uprising sitting behind their personal computers and had their plans executed.

6. The Chinese as well as His Holiness and his advisers are worried over the dilution of their control over the youth and its implications for the future of Tibet. His Holiness was in favour of only a peaceful movement coinciding with the Olympics in support of the ethnic and religious rights of the Tibetans. He did not want an anti-Beijing Olympics movement, but young Tibetan boys and girls, wielding the power of the Internet, turned it into a global movement against the Beijing Olympics. His repeated appeals against any attempts to sabotage the Olympics have fallen on deaf ears till now.

7. The initial Chinese response was to close down all servers being used by the Tibetans and try to impose an iron curtain on the Internet. They found this very difficult to achieve. There were seepages through the Iron Curtain. They realised that the Iron Curtain, which served the purpose of the USSR, cannot serve the purpose of the Chinese State in this age of the Internet.

8. The Ministry of Public Security, which is China’s internal intelligence and security agency, then decided to counter-attack the Tibetan youth and their foreign supporters doing unto them what they were doing unto the Chinese. Young Internet-literate Chinese boys and girls, not only in the overseas Chinese diaspora,, but also in the Chinese civil society were mobilised to unleash a counter-campaign against the Tibetan youth and their foreign supporters.

9. Young Chinese boys and girls, who were indignant over what they saw as acts of anti-Han brutality of the Tibetans and the distorted projection of the events by the Western media and human rights organisations, joined in the Internet-based campaign against the Tibetans and their foreign supporters. The outpouring of their patriotism was as impressive as the outpouring of the patriotism of the American people after the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland by Al Qaeda.

10. The beginning of the patriotic campaign was state-inspired and directed, but after a few days, it assumed a momentum, direction and flavour of its own.There were indications of a xenophobia and all the controls, which the Chinese State had been exercising on the use of the Internet, started showing signs of melting away. The moderators nominated by the Ministry of Public Security to moderate this Internet-based campaign and to prevent it from taking directions which could be detrimental to the Chinese State, found themselves unable to moderate effectively.

11. Fears that the exercise in controlled Cyber Psywar launched by the Ministry could turn into an uncontrollable exercise in Cyber Democracy with criticism of not only the Tibetans and their foreign supporters, but also of the Chinese leadership itself for letting itself be taken by surprise have caused the Chinese authorities to try to apply brakes on the campaign. The Chinese are also worried that the mounting anti-foreigner feelings as a result of this Internet-based campaign might lead to unpleasant incidents against foreigners during the Olympics.

12. The Ministry of Public Security and the offices of the Communist Party in different parts of the country have reportedly been telling the young Chinese that they have achieved their patriotic purpose and that it is now time to cool it.

13. But will they be able to? (19-4-08)

(The writer,Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. )

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