China Responds to Unrest in Egypt

This piece originally appeared on  The Espresso Press.

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Xi Jinping, China’s vice president and successor to President Hu Jintao, is watching the violence and disorder unfold in Egypt with some trepidation.

The Chinese Communist Party has banned searches for “Egypt” and “Cairo” on the web, and has issued strict orders limiting Chinese press coverage of the unrest.

The New York Times drew comparisons between Egypt and China, suggesting that “challenges in recent years to authoritarian governments” have made Chinese officials nervous.

In Egypt, social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter are playing a key role in the protests, provoking President Mubarak’s government to cut off the Internet for nearly a week—from January 28 to February 2.

Similarly, in 2009, the CCP permanently blocked Facebook and Twitter to stymie the social media sites’ potential to rally support for causes such as Tibetan independence.

However, government controls have not deterred internet-savvy Chinese residents from routinely breaking through China’s “Great Firewall” by using proxy servers to browse the web and access their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

As internet access continues to rapidly expand in China, the future of protest during the next chapter of China’s emergence is unclear.

The CCP’s violent suppression of the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989 demonstrated the CCP’s intolerance of mass movements. But what might the Tienanmen massacre have looked like if protesters had access to modern communication technologies such as Twitter and smartphones?

In two years, Xi Jinping is slated to succeed Hu Jintao as president of the People’s Republic of China. With this impending shift in power, China watchers are debating whether there is potential for mass revolution in China.

International relations historian Steven Lee told the Espresso Press that “the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia should make the Chinese government realize that if they continue to obstruct freedom of expression, including on the Internet, they will have to face the same kind of unrest on their doorsteps in one way or another.”