Cablegate: Secretary's Internet Freedom Speech: China Reaction

DE RUEHBJ #0183/01 0250728
O 250728Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/23/2030

Classified By: DCM Robert Goldberg fo Reasons: 1.4(B), (D).

1. (C) Secretary Clinton's January 21 speech on Internet
Freedom touched a nerve in China. Official reaction was
negative, with harsh criticism coming from the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs in an official statement and from other parts
of the Chinese system through critical articles and
editorials in the official press. Chinese Internet censors
were deployed in force to block online commentary and
coverage of the Secretary's speech, and as of January 24,
sites in the United States that carried transcripts of the
speech were inaccessible without VPN or other
firewall-evading software. The few Chinese netizens and
bloggers who did manage to access the speech and then dared
write about it were generally supportive of the Secretary's
message. Other Embassy contacts, including academic
USA-watchers and journalists, lamented that the Secretary's
speech would strengthen and embolden those in the Chinese
system who advocated greater control over the Internet in
China. They expressed concern that Internet freedom would be
made into an "us vs. them" issue rather than a "right vs.
wrong" issue. Contacts warned that Chinese officials see
U.S. efforts to promote Internet freedom as an attack,
repeatedly invoking the specter of "color revolution." Some
contacts in the tech industry praised the speech as being
"spot on" in its coverage of U.S. firms' difficulty with the
Chinese business environment. Contacts outside Beijing were
cautious with their comments. Embassy and consulate officers
will continue to follow the reaction to the Secretary's
remarks in the weeks ahead to assess their continuing impact
on government, think tank, media, blogger and business
actions with regard to the Internet. End Summary.

Official Reaction Negative
2. (C) In a January 22 statement in reaction to the
Secretary's Internet freedom speech, Chinese Ministry of
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu, said "we firmly
oppose such words and deeds, which are against the facts and
harmful to U.S.-China relations." Ma's remarks followed a
January 21 press conference by Vice Foreign Minister He
Yafei's in which he did not refer to the Secretary's speech,
but urged the United States to refrain from
"over-interpreting" the Google case, saying it should not be
allowed to impact bilateral relations. Ma's statement was
much more negative than initial unofficial comment from
working-level MFA officers the morning of January 22. Asked
about the speech, MFA North American and Oceanian Affairs
Department U.S.A. Division Director An Gang told poloff that
the MFA noticed that specific Chinese cases or individuals
were not mentioned in the speech, and that "we are very happy
about that." (Comment: the contrast between the "softer"
comments from the USA desk and the harder language from the
Spokesman several hours later suggests that the negative
reaction to the speech originated at higher levels in the
foreign policy hierarchy.)

Media Reaction Dutifully Echoes MFA Criticism
3. (SBU) Chinese media coverage of the Secretary's speech
widely quoted the MFA statement. January 22 coverage
included assertions that the Secretary's call for
unrestricted access to the Internet could be regarded "as a
disguised attempt to impose U.S. values in the name of
democracy." Articles in the nationalist daily Global Times
stated that the bulk of Internet comment originated in the
West, "loaded with aggressive rhetoric against other
countries," against which other countries cannot hope to
defend. Beijing University Professor of Communications Hu
Yong, quoted in the 21st Century Business Herald, said the
Secretary's discussion of sharing technology to allow users
to circumvent Internet censorship meant that the "Google
incident is only the beginning of a rolling snowball."

4. (SBU) Most regional reporting in China emphasized that
Internet freedom has now become embedded as a new diplomatic
tool the U.S. foreign policy. Shanghai's influential Wenhui
Daily ran a January 23 commentary calling Secretary Clinton's
remarks "arrogant, illogical, and full of political shows and
calculations," accusing her of having a "Cold War mentality."
Some Chinese outlets rebutted U.S. charges by praising
Chinese Internet practices. January 22 televised news
programming reported on the benefits for Chinese users of
Chinese governmental supervision of the Internet. Shanghai
TV January 22 broadcast programming which painted Chinese
online police in a positive light.

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Blogger Community: Those that Saw it, Liked it
--------------------------------------------- -
5. (SBU) Chinese netizens accessed the Secretary's speech and
shared reactions through rough real-time translations on
Twitter, blogs, and Google. The range of opinions among the
self-selecting demographic of Chinese netizens, who had
circumvented Chinese government blocks to blog and
participate in Twitter-based discussions, ranged from
supportive to skeptical, with the majority expressing
agreement with the principles outlined in the Secretary's
speech. In general, Chinese netizen comments focused on
speculation about linkages between the Secretary's speech and
Google's announcement that it was considering withdrawing
from China.

6. (SBU) Many netizen reactions echoed the statements by
XXXXXXXXXXXX who tweeted that Secretary Clinton's speech "clarified the relation between Internet freedom and business prosperity, which gave better guidance for American companies operating in China." A Chinese blogger named XXXXXXXXXXXX
wrote that the speech was "certain to have a positive effect and was welcomed by Chinese Internet users regarding the censorship problem in China." Others ommented that the speech was an indication that the United States was leading the U.S.-China relationship in the right direction.

7. (SBU) Some Chinese bloggers viewed the Secretary's speech
as "confrontational," but nonetheless inspiring to the
Chinese people.
- XXXXXXXXXXXX, depicted Secretary Clinton as Joan of Arc,
with a widely distributed graphic of "Hillary leads the people."
Another Chinese Twitter user wrote, "What a historic speech
it is the launching of an Internet war, the confrontation between
democracy and authoritarianism becoming public, and the
beginning of a new Cold War."

- XXXXXXXXXXXX, a blogger based in XXXXXXXXXXXX,
similarly characterized the speech as "a declaration of war fro
a free nation to an autocracy. It might be as important as
Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech... I will wait with hope. The
direct mention of China also calls for a frank and honest
discussion between Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao."
-XXXXXXXXXXXX, attending a Mission sponsored event
in Beijing (see para 21), said the Secretary's speech "showed
the power of the Internet to the world" and raised the U.S.
Internet strategy to a new level.
8. (SBU) Some bloggers expressed skepticism.
- XXXXXXXXXXXX tweeted, "the U.S. government
has been talking about supporting world-wide Internet
freedom for ages, but it hasn't done much yet."
- XXXXXXXXXXXX, doubted the sincerity of the United
States' commitment to the freedoms mentioned in Secretary
Clinton's speech due to competing commercial and national
security interests.
Chinese bloggers, regardless of their outlook, have widely
reported that Chinese web monitors have been aggressively
deleting posts and content related to the Secretary's speech.

China Watchers: Speech Will Provoke the Authorities
--------------------------------------------- ------
9. (C) Other contacts analyzed the Secretary's speech the way
bloggers did, but were pessimistic about the effect of the
speech on Chinese authorities. On January 22 XXXXXXXXXXXX
told poloff that following the controversy generated by
Google's announcement, the issue of Internet freedom had been
discussed several times within the Politburo Standing
Committee which had agreed that the issue of Internet freedom
had supplanted traditional human rights issues as a new
"battleground" between the United States and China. Although
he was not aware of any specific Standing Committee
decisions, XXXXXXXXXXXX said that President Hu Jintao
had provided general guidance that the issue should not be
allowed to cause major disruptions to U.S.-China relations.
10. (C) On January 21, speaking before the Secretary's
speech, XXXXXXXXXXXX, told poloff that the
Communist Party viewed Internet freedom initiatives as a
direct challenge to its ability to maintain social and
political stability and, therefore, its legitimacy. He said
that, in this context, the Party would resist international
pressure on the Google issue and would increase restrictions
on the Internet in the period leading up to the 18th Party
Congress in 2012. He predicted that the Secretary's speech

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would be viewed as directed at the Communist Party and would
therefore generate uncertainty about U.S. intentions towards
11. (C) On January 23, a prominent XXXXXXXXXXXX
University media and public opinion researcher pointed out
that most Chinese media reactions to the Secretary's speech
had simply republished the MFA statement and were not
printing any quotations from the speech itself. Given the
political sensitivity of the speech and the Google case, this
was the only safe thing to do, he said. Any perceived support
for the Secretary's speech in the press would "cross a red line"
with censors. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the Chinese public had
mixed feelings about the speech and the Google issue. While
many in China were dissatisfied with Internet censorship,
they also resented public criticism from U.S. officials, he
said, predicting that the speech would increase nationalist
sentiment in China. Another contact, XXXXXXXXXXXX
agreed that while it might cause a nationalist response,
the Secretary's message "needed to be said." He predicted that
the Chinese government would attempt to appeal to nationalism
to counter the Secretary's speech. However, he noted that most
current media commentary critical of the speech, and Google,
was not being written by well known journalists, intellectuals
or scholars whose silence could be read as a show of support
for the speech - and for Google.
12. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX, told poloff January 23 that he
had been "disappointed and depressed" when he read the
Secretary's speech. "Those who tried to control the Internet
more in China never had much support before," he said. "Most
people believe information should be open, and the Internet
should be open. The conservative, security people were the
minority and many people just laughed at them." The
Secretary's speech, however, gave great new energy to the
"controllers" who could now plausibly argue that the United
States was explicitly using the Internet as a tool for regime
change. "The Internet belongs to every country," he
complained; "we all can go there, we all can add to it, we
all can learn from it. We Chinese were free there. Now the
United States has claimed it for itself and so it will become
an ideological battlefield." He asserted that, in the past,
the Chinese authorities had paid relatively little attention
to controlling the Internet, focusing only on the issues that
were the most urgent and letting most netizens alone. "That
is finished now. The Secretary's 'information curtain'
remark will give the authorities what they need to
'harmonize' the Internet for all Chinese citizens."
(Comment: 'harmonize' is an acidly sarcastic term in Chinese
to describe official deletion or blockage of Internet
content. XXXXXXXXXXXX is nearly always laid back and
even-tempered. His commentary on this issue was more
emotional and bitter than poloff has seen from him in dozens
of encounters over three years, even on extremely sensitive
issues such as XXXXXXXXXXXX.
13. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX warned that Google's announcement
had become a new irritant to the bilateral relationship with the
potential to be even more dangerous than the Taiwan and Tibet issue.
XXXXXXXXXXXX said that many Chinese citizens believed that
Google's decision was part of a coordinated public/private effort by
the USG to impose U.S. values on China, what he referred to as an
"E-color revolution." As confirmation of this theory,
XXXXXXXXXXXX cited Secretary Clinton's January 7 "21st
Century Statecraft" dinner with several tech sector CEOs
(including Google), Google's donations to President Obama's
presidential campaign, and Secretary Clinton's January 21 speech
on Internet freedom.

14. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX warned that there were people
in China and other countries such as Iran who might see
the "shadow of color revolution" in recent USG policies
promoting Internet freedom and 21st century e-diplomacy. For
example, Iranians might perceive Washington's new initiatives
on Internet freedom or the advocacy of new technologies such
as Twitter to be "aggressive" or harboring ulterior motives,
such as promoting regime change, said XXXXXXXXXXXX
Informed Chinese netizens already know how to circumvent the
Great Firewall to access Facebook and Twitter, Guo said, including
by using commercially available software. He feared, however, tha
if the USG provided free software that helped Chinese netizens
overcome filters, this might politicize the issue of Internet
freedom and force the PRC government to react. One possible

BEIJING 00000183 004 OF 005

consequence, warned XXXXXXXXXXXX, was that China might
make it illegal to download either U.S.-provided or commercially
available software that helped Internet surfers circumvent the Great

15. (C) Professor XXXXXXXXXXXX said January 22 that
restricting the Internet access of Chinese netizens would
theoretically hamper development of cutting edge industries,
but was skeptical this had happened in reality. Professor
XXXXXXXXXXXX, said in the same meeting that the problem
was that China's leaders did not yet feel comfortable with thes
new communications technologies and thus preferred to proceed
cautiously. The Google issue and Secretary Clinton's speech
were likely to prompt them to shift from a low-profile to a
higher-profile response on Internet freedom.

IT Industry: Speech Accurately Portrayed Business Environment
--------------------------------------------- ----------------

16. (C) The president of XXXXXXXXXXXX, called the Secretary's
speech "spot on, "directly capturing industry concerns about a
business climate that is getting worse on a "day-to-day basis." He
applauded the Secretary's speech as a means of bringing the
Chinese to the table to address key concerns about the
business environment and said the decision taken by Google
was of enormous magnitude, indicating the depth of concern
over issues it is facing here. As a result, he believes, the
Chinese government's failure to respond to its people's
opposition to censorship would embolden the netizen community
in its efforts to evade government controls.

17. (C) Another high-tech industry consultant expressed
concern that the Secretary's speech would dampen the
U.S.-China business climate and drive it "to a new low." The
consultant observed that "China has noticed that the NSA and
the Pentagon have dominated cyberspace policy for over a
year." Key officials, academics, and military leaders,
according to this consultant, hold paranoid fears that the
U.S. would one day launch a "zero-day" attack on all of
China's critical infrastructure. The Secretary's speech and
Google's recent actions, would amplify this belief.

18. (C) Reaction in northern China, where Intel has a
multi-billion dollar manufacturing factory investment under
construction, however, has thus far been limited
the Secretary's speech had thus far not created a stir.
XXXXXXXXXXXX had in the past several days met with
several Dalian Vice Mayors, and reported Google and Internet
freedom issues had not been raised.

19. (C) South China-based Internet portal contacts were
reluctant to talk with ConGenoffs about ongoing media
coverage of Google or broader internet freedom issues. A
public relations manager from XXXXXXXXXXXX initially
refused to comment, saying it was not appropriate for her
to offer an opinion on policy matters, but then guardedly
reverted to official-sounding comments about why Internet
regulation is important for the well-being of Chinese users
and the maintenance of a positive online environment.

20. (C) A working-level official from the XXXXXXXXXXXX
went further in sharing pro-government comments with
ConGenoff, saying that Google is a business and should restrict itself
To business matters, rather than venturing into political territory. The
official said 2009 was a very strong year for internet companies in
China and that internet restrictions had not dampened individual
user's online experiences or companies' earnings.

Mission Outreach on the Secretary's Speech
21. (C) January 22, Embassy Beijing and Consulates General
Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenyang hosted a simultaneous
digital video conference viewing of the Secretary's speech
for dozens of local bloggers, with an additional 300 netizens
attending via the Internet. Mission estimates indicate
Twitter communications and blog entries will reach a combined
audience of millions of persons. Following the speech,
participating bloggers, who were generally supportive of the
Secretary's message, engaged in a lively discussion focused
on what specific measures the United States government could
take to promote Internet freedom in China and whether the
speech constituted a new direction for U.S. foreign policy on

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