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Online calls for protests put China on the defensive

Michael Kan | March 3, 2011
Recent online calls for mass protests have sent the Chinese government on the defensive, and while experts say the online activity probably won't lead to outright revolution, it could force China's leadership to be more responsive to social problems ailing the country.

"I would not be surprised that those calls and similar Internet-based messages could lead to tangible policy changes, even meaningful reforms in China," said Fei-Ling Wang, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

But some are questioning how long China can maintain strict control over the Internet without allowing for free speech. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said China and other countries with prevalent Internet censorship would face long-term costs like social unrest. Mention of the speech was immediately blocked on microblogs searches in China.

China is making a "gamble" by believing it can continue with its Internet censorship policies, said Phelim Kine, an Asia researcher also with Human Rights Watch.

"So far it's working for the Chinese government," he said. "It's a cat-and-mouse game of people trying to push the envelope through the Internet and into the public sphere."


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