Search

 

Cablegate: "Netizens" Have the Guangdong Government's Ear

VZCZCXRO1658
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHGZ #0292/01 1440854
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 230854Z MAY 08
FM AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7184
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 GUANGZHOU 000292

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM
STATE PASS USTR

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EINT ECON PGOV CH
SUBJECT: "NETIZENS" HAVE THE GUANGDONG GOVERNMENT'S EAR

(U) THIS DOCUMENT IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. IT SHOULD NOT BE
DISSEMINATED OUTSIDE U.S. GOVERNMENT CHANNELS OR IN ANY PUBLIC FORUM
WITHOUT THE WRITTEN CONCURRENCE OF THE ORIGINATOR. IT SHOULD NOT BE
POSTED ON THE INTERNET.

1. (SBU) Summary: If the Party Secretary can take the time to surf
the web for ideas and useful policy proposals, so can you. That's
the message from Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang to his
subordinates, following a recent highly publicized meeting with 26
prominent south China "netizens" (active writers and bloggers in
China's online community). The netizens themselves view this
injunction as long-awaited acknowledgment of the positive role they
and the Internet have to play. In their view, it also attests to
the seriousness of Wang's "thought liberation" campaign. Of course,
it is possible that the purpose of bringing the netizens into the
fold may be to co-opt a potential source of dissent. End Summary.

PARTY SECRETARY APPEARS TO EMBRACE "NETWORK DEMOCRACY"
--------------------------------------------- ---------

2. (SBU) Party Secretary Wang Yang is reportedly online in a very
public fashion, surfing the Internet for input on government policy
and to gauge public opinion. During a recent, highly publicized
meeting with 26 of south China's most prominent netizens, Wang said
he had discovered online that Guangdong netizens are "passionate
about social issues and conscientious in safeguarding social
justice." He said their voice had become an important force in
public discourse and a key reference in Party decision-making. But
he also cautioned that the Internet is "a double-edged sword," with
both constructive and destructive potential. When used with a
correct attitude and appropriately regulated, he said, it can play a
very positive role in society. Wang told the netizen group that new
"things" like "network democracy" must be embraced, not avoided.


3. (SBU) The meeting itself, organized by the Nanfang Metropolitan
Daily, south China's most fearless investigative paper (when it's
allowed to investigate), was organized after Wang posted a personal
Chinese New Year's greeting to Guangdong netizens in February,
thereby publicly disclosing his online presence. After Wang was
unable to cope with the more than 5,000 replies that flooded his
inbox, many of which focused on social issues and government policy,
a Nanfang journalist proposed the idea of a meeting with netizens to
him on the margins of the National People's Congress in March. He
agreed, and Nanfang's editors submitted a list of 26 candidates to
the Provincial Government; all were approved for the face-to-face
meeting held April 17 in Guangzhou.

4. (SBU) Wang told the press that the meeting fostered a new channel
through which the public voice can be heard. He also identified
several methods by which the interaction would continue: he would
invite the netizens to present "their brilliant ideas" once or twice
annually; he would encourage the Guangdong Party Committee and
Provincial Government offices to collect the most popular online
postings weekly and feed them to senior leaders for analysis and
reference in their decision-making; and he would suggest to the
Guangdong Party Committee Policy Research Office that they meet with
netizens on an ad hoc basis to explore promising ideas. In summary,
Wang told the press, "a good system is more important than a good
leader, and everyone is welcome to freely provide comments [to the
government]."


INNER CIRCLE OF YOUNG, TECH-SAVVY PROFESSIONALS
--------------------------------------------- --

5. (SBU) The netizens who have been granted this special access all
have day jobs: editor-in-chief of a magazine, general manager of an
IT firm, professor, entrepreneur. What appears to define their
group identity is a common concern over public policy. They are
also generally successful, young, tech-savvy professionals who hold
college or graduate degrees and who are in reasonably responsible
positions for their age. (Comment: Many have been online since they
were students, gradually shifting away from video games and chat
room romances to "serious" discussion forums and posting sites where
they publish their ideas. End Comment)

6. (SBU) The inner circle, the leaders by virtue of the popularity
of their online writing and ability to frame the online debate,
consists of three Shenzhen editors collectively known as the "Three
Musketeers": Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Shenzhen Youth Magazine,
Huang Donghe; Editor of the 21st Century Economic Herald, Jin Xinyi;
and Editor of Asia Weekly (Hong Kong), Guo Zhongxiao. In 2001, the
three pooled their private resources to establish a public policy
discussion website called Intehoo.com, which has been one of the

GUANGZHOU 00000292 002 OF 003


primary outlets for their articles and commentary.

7. (SBU) Huang describes Interhoo as a non-profit website aimed at
generating solutions to public policy problems, "not just
complaints." Local government officials, media professionals,
entrepreneurs, and intellectuals make up the bulk of Interhoo's
8,000 registered members. Registration is open and free (even to
foreigners), but applicants are required to provide their real
names, e-mail addresses, and contact numbers. Interhoo does not
fund itself through advertising; rather, the three founders split
the annual cost of hosting the site (about 20,000 RMB per year).

8. SBU) Frequently discussed issues on Interhoo fall into three
broad categories:

-- networking and career development;

-- local public policy issues, such as development projects, traffic
regulation, and migrant population rights; and

-- national issues that effect Shenzhen, including the stock market
and housing prices.

Huang said members vigorously discussed the SARS outbreak and
attempted government cover-up in 2003. Recent hot button topics
include the Olympic Games, the Tibetan riots (netizens by and large
supported the government position), and the Sichuan earthquake (the
debate centers on the relief effort and blame for shoddy
construction of buildings).

GOVERNMENT'S CHANGING VIEW OF THE INTERNET
------------------------------------------

9. (SBU) Huang and Guo told us that south China's government
officials in the late 1990's saw the Internet as a "children's
plaything" at best (online games), while many felt it had a negative
influence on society, useful only for spreading rumors, negative
propaganda, pornography, and false accusations about the government.
According to the two netizens, the first shift in thinking about
the Internet began in January 2003 when Guo posted his now famous
article "Shenzhen, Who Has Abandoned You?" on Interhoo. The
article, which discussed Shenzhen's fate as it appeared to be losing
its special status among other thriving mainland cities, seemed to
pop-up everywhere online, garnering considerable media attention.

10. (SBU) Guo's article attracted the interest of then Shenzhen
Mayor Yu Youjun (currently the Vice Minister of Culture in Beijing).
Yu and an inspection team from the State Council visited Interhoo
to discuss public policy with its founders. According to Huang, the
positive nature of those discussions convinced Yu and other local
officials to host regular "tea parties" with Interhoo to learn about
the policy proposals generated by its members (as edited and
presented by the Three Musketeers). Since then, Huang said,
government officials in south China have increasingly come to
recognize a positive role for the Internet.

11. (SBU) The Three Musketeers have continued in their
quasi-government advisory role ever since, and to a large extent,
they continue to frame the public policy debates in Guangdong and
much of the rest of south China. For example, the three have
published refined versions of their policy proposals in a series of
books subtitled "China's One and Only Non-Government Municipal Blue
Paper" (2004, 2006, and 2007), which has become essential reading
for every Shenzhen bureaucrat. The most recent article to gain wide
notoriety was Jin's "11 Questions for Guangdong, Each Pending an
Answer," published online in February 2008. In the article, Jin
attempted to pinpoint the most pressing public policy issues in
south China. It appears he was successful, given the article's
popularity and Wang's recent citation of it to the media as an
example of articles that netizens have written that have become
important references for Party decision-making.

12. (SBU) Huang and Guo both commented that nowadays, owing in part
to their roles and Interhoo, government officials take online
writers and commentators more seriously. Most recognize the
positive contributions they make. Guo said netizens also now have
much more freedom of speech, provided they stay away from "the three
T's" (Taiwan independence, Tibet independence, and Tiananmen
Square). They also asserted that Wang's agreement to meet with the
netizens is testament that this change of attitude concerning the
Internet has found support at the highest levels of government.

NETIZENS SAY WANG IS SERIOUS ABOUT THOUGHT LIBERATION
--------------------------------------------- --------


GUANGZHOU 00000292 003 OF 003


13. (SBU) Congenoff interviewed 4 out of 26 netizens who attended
the April 17 meeting with Wang, the theme of which was "Liberate
Thoughts and Brainstorm about Guangdong [Development]." All of them
agreed that Wang is an open-minded official who is extremely keen to
further develop Guangdong, and that this desire is the motivation
behind his Thought Liberation Campaign. Huang maintained that Wang
realizes that netizens often come up with better policy proposals
than his subordinate officials. Guo said that Wang was surprisingly
casual and easy-going, and his remarks reflected a deep
understanding of network development and other technology issues.
Their conclusion: the meeting was definitely "not just a show."

14. (SBU) Sunroom Information Industrial Company Deputy General
Manager, Hu Zhaohui, whose popular article "When Will Private
Companies Be Given National Treatment?" earned him a seat at the
table, compared thought liberation to major movements in Chinese
history, including the 1919 May Fourth Movement, the 1978 Reform and
Opening Up Policy, and Deng Xiaoping's famous trip to south China in
1992 when he called on people to be "more courageous" and "bolder"
in carrying out economic reform. According to Hu, thought
liberation "is not a hollow slogan; Wang is serious about it." If
there were a political motive hidden somewhere behind the netizen
meeting, Hu asserted, it would be to increase pressure on Wang's own
subordinate's, who are supposed to be implementing his proposals.


COMMENT - CIVIL SOCIETY OR GOVERNMENT COOPTATION?
--------------------------------------------- ----

15. (SBU) Each netizen we spoke with painted Wang as an open-minded
reformer, serious about further developing Guangdong. It also
became clear that they are all very happy the government finally
seems to be taking them seriously. Moreover, they are proud of
their newly sanctioned role as a quasi-government think tank, and
they clearly enjoy the media attention. However, now that they have
attained this elevated status, they may be more reluctant to risk
damaging their hard-earned access by publishing unfavorable opinions
about the man who granted it or his policies. Wang's motives in
meeting with them may have included precluding dissention by
elevating the potential dissenters. End comment.

RELATED LINKS AND ONLINE RESOURCES
----------------------------------

16. (SBU) Articles referenced above are viewable, in Chinese, at
the following url's:

--"Shenzhen, Who Has Abandoned You?" Go to:
http://home.donews.com/donews/article/3/36569 .html

--"11 Questions for Guangdong, Each Pending an
Answer" Go to:
http://www.nanfangdaily.com.cn/epaper/nfds/co ntent/2008
0229/ArticelT02002FM.htm

--"When Will Private Companies Be Given National
Treatment?" Go to:
http://epaper.nddaily.com/F/html/2008-02/29/c ontent_3
95899.htm

17. (SBU) Websites that the netizens highlighted as essential for
understanding political, economic, and social issues in south China
include the following: www.nanfangdaily.com.cn, www.interhoo.com,
www.oeeee.com, www.21cn.com, www.tianya.cn,
www.dayoo.com,www.southcn.com, and www.gznf.net.

GOLDBERG

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>

ALSO:

Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>

ALSO: