journalist – writer – traveler

Limited freedom of speech creates a fearful China

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By Joanna Wong

Thanks to the Open Door Policy in late 19th century, China’s economy has developed rapidly and gained a significant international position. This world power successfully attracts people’s eyeballs on its hard power of resources, economy, military and technology, but also its soft power of culture, livelihood and so on. The latter however is still backward in which the censorship on freedom of speech creates a fearful image of China. Ones have to be careful whenever talking about the Chinese politics, which is regarded as sensitive issue, in China. This has become a common concept, not excluding a foreigner.

On 24 September, Geoff Cutmore, anchor of CNBC, held a talk in the international media salon. He had reported in communist regimes, such as interviewing Russia’s leader Putin and former Chinese foreign minister Li Zhao-xing. Apart from global economy and international relations, he seems to be quite knowledgeable in the current situation of China and expressed his appreciation and worries.

One classmate asked him what questions he would ask if he got chance to interview Chinese President Xi Jin-ping. Hearing these questions, Mr Cutmore immediately asked the audience to turn off the camera for a moment to make sure his safe flight tomorrow. Although he said in a humorous tone, it is seen that Mr Cutmore recognized the danger of speech in China and believed the power of Chinese government in cracking down the dissent.

In fact, fearing people’s opposition towards the Communist Party of China, the Chinese government has spent much effort to avoid internal dissent and also foreign intervention, so freedom of speech is under control. On the Internet censorship, all popular websites from the West are blocked, such as Facebook in 2008, Youtube in 2009, Google Gmail and Instagram last year.

A noted example is the Nobel Peace prize winner Liu Xiao-bo, a human rights activist against communist one-party rule. He is still imprisoned due to offending the Chinese law of inciting subversion of state power. “I hope that I will be the last victim in China’s long record of treating words as crimes,” he said. His wife Liu Xia is also house arrested.

Although Mr Cutmore did not mean to bad mouth China, the reason he continued his answer may because of knowing the different system under “One country, Two systems” in Hong Kong. And that Hong Kong people has freedom of speech, which is protected by Basic Law Article 27, while Article 23 security law is not implemented. One statement in Article 23 is to “prohibit any act of subversion against the Central People’s Government”, which is similar to China’s Inciting subversion of state power.

Under single-party dictatorship, the party is the highest decision maker, and influences every aspect in the country. So, Mr Cutmore’s question is “does the current Chinese leadership believe there could be true economic reform in China without political reform?”

In order to clear its fearful image, China is still on a long road.


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