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Chinese authorities and media outlets have described John Kerry‘s call for more Internet freedom as “naive” and asked why the U.S. secretary of state’s weekend discussion with Chinese bloggers failed to mention National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
Kerry expressed support for greater Internet freedom during a 40-minute meeting with four leading dissenting Chinese journalists and bloggers over the weekend, as part of his trip to Beijing.
“If China’s Internet had not gone through enormous development in the past few years, then where would these bloggers have come from?” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
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She said outsiders had no right to pass judgment and misunderstood the real situation.
Among those with whom Kerry spoke on Saturday was the blogger Zhang Jialong, who asked Kerry if he would help “tear down the great Internet firewall” and help “those who aspire to freedom,” including the jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and dissident lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who was jailed for four years in January.
The Chinese government turned the spotlight back on to America’s own transgressions in the realm of Internet freedom by mentioning Snowden, whose leaks and subsequent flight to Moscow have embarrassed Washington.
“I think the topic of this discussion could have been even more open, for example discussing Snowden’s case and issues like that,” said Hua.
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China’s Communist Party enjoys the business opportunities offered by the Internet but is wary of the platform it offers for dissenting voices and any questioning of single-party rule.
The country operates a series of restrictions known as the “Great Firewall,” which bans Facebook, Twitter and other websites including news outlets. The government says the barriers are designed to ensure social stability and stop porn, but rights groups say they’re used to muzzle dissenting voices.
The Global Times newspaper ran an op-ed piece criticizing Kerry’s comments.
“Washington has neither the capacity to influence China’s political process, nor power to impede any departments concerned from sanctioning dissidents who engage in illegal activities. It has been fully demonstrated during the past several rounds of conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. The dissidents are too naive to count on the U.S. government to offer special support and assistance to them by criticizing China’s existing legal system,” the op-ed stated.
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Many responses by microbloggers on Sina Weibo were also critical of Kerry, although comments criticizing the government are often taken down quickly.
Last year, the ruling Communist Party rejuvenated its crackdown on online dissent, threatening legal action against people who spread “rumors” on platforms such as Sina Weibo that are then reposted more than 500 times or seen by more than 5,000 people.
Sina Weibo user Xicheng zhixing wrote that allowing Kerry to meet with big-name dissidents showed the confidence of the Chinese government in the system: “The masses and mainstream society has its own ability of identifying that America is afraid that our model of development is becoming successful.”
Fellow user Suowan jingrun wrote: “American’s only policy toward China is to suppress China, and they have been doing this for years. Today, however, America can’t control the rise of China anymore.”
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