Tuesday, April 1, 2008

China's enemy not in Dharamsala

China’s enemy in cyberspace

ND Batra

The ongoing struggle in Tibet shows how new Web technologies — cell phones, digital photography, texting and e-mail — are making it harder for the Chinese Communist authorities to control the struggle for self-rule and freedom. Wireless global networks are shrinking space and time, turning geographic space into cyberspace, and bringing people together for collaboration in the international political space. Since the renewed struggle began in early March with the Buddhist monks’ demonstrations in Lhasa, the whole world has been experiencing the agony of Tibet in a virtual environment created by global networked communications. As China dreams of Olympic glory, Tibetans don’t want to be left behind and they dream of the Dalai Lama returning to his homeland.

Telepresence technologies help us improve our awareness and responsiveness to the human condition in remote corners of the world. Every human activity — from Tibetan monks crying in public, “We have no freedom, we have no freedom”, to the most complex mathematical problem — is nothing but information. Every human activity that takes place in the real world can be turned into a digital stream and instantly distributed globally through networks, thus extending the reach of humans. Digital images can be stored, retrieved and replayed anywhere, as you see today in all major US and European newspapers which not only archive printed stories but also videos of the ongoing struggle in Tibet.

Of course, the same information can also be transformed into intelligence about human behaviour regarding commerce, national security or any other social or political activities. Political discourse, slogans, chants and cries for freedom become indistinguishable as they converge in a digital flow and surge through cyberspace. The Chinese may be prevented from seeing Tibet on YouTube but the rest of the world will be playing it again and again. If a picture is worth 10,000 words, video is forever.

Convergence, instantaneity and feedback make the Internet the most powerful medium of communication and resistance ever developed. Since the traditional media, including books, television, newspapers, magazines, radio, music and interpersonal communication (instant messaging), are converging on the Internet as a multimedia stream into which anyone can plug in, their power increases manifold and in ways whose implications the Chinese authorities still don’t understand. YouTube, for example, has given Tibet a constant state of telepresence in the European and American political and public discourse.

Normally we talk of offshoring manufacture and outsourcing research and development and other forms of intellectual and professional work to other countries; but China, because of its paranoid nationalism, has been offshoring the Tibetan people’s struggle and Buddhism to Europe and the USA, thus globalising Tibet. The Internet, thus, is revolutionary in the sense that it is lowering barriers for cross-border convergence of cultures.

Although ancient people tried to abridge space and time by sending messages, especially in wartime, through drums and smoke signals, not until the invention of the telegraph was it possible to think about communication in terms other than transportation. Like goods, messages were communicated from place to place at a speed that the best transportation system of the time — for example, the pony express or the railroad — made possible. The telegraph altered the geography-based metaphor of communication, which ceased to be synonymous with transportation. As the telegraph triggered the development of new technologies in the early part of the 20th century, as the telephone, radio, and television became ubiquitous, communication became increasingly liberated from the constraints of space and time. Computer networks and the Internet have further altered our view of space and time. A networked organisation or an individual with texting and instant messaging has a different feel of space and time than those of the pre-digital era. The mobile phone is the door to cyberspace and once you are there, you are simultaneously in a synchronous and asynchronous world, a world that gives a a greater sense of freedom and control than the real world. That’s how international organisations in the forefront of Tibetan liberation are helping the Tibetan people to continue their resistance.

The Chinese dilemma is that as more and more people experience Tibetan resistance in cyber media, the authorities don’t know what to do about it. Under the advice of public relations firms, China conducted a controlled tour for journalists but that would not help to “re-educate” the untamed minds and hearts of the Tibetan people.The enemy of China is not in Dharamsala but in cyberspace.

Canadian scholar Herald Innis said in The Bias of Communication that a new medium of communication created a specific cultural shift and changed our concept of space and time, with tremendous cultural consequences. “A medium of communication has an important influence on the dissemination of knowledge over space and time and it becomes necessary to study its characteristics in order to appraise its influence in its cultural setting.”

The Chinese public relations offensive included inviting a handful of selected diplomats on an officially-controlled trip, a visit that came after foreign journalists on a tour of Lhasa encountered a group of 30 Buddhist monks shouting that there was no freedom in Tibet. The Han Chinese “demographic aggression” into Tibet, which the Dalai Lama referred to last Saturday, was glaringly apparent during the monks-led anti-Chinese demonstration that began on 10 March, on the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation.

Besides its crude public relations propaganda and diplomatic intimidations, China is also fighting a cyber campaign with its Operation Golden Shield, the so-called Great Firewall of China. Of course, technologies of freedom can also be used for repression, especially inside China. But there is a cyber-world beyond China, over which no one has any control.

(ND Batra teaches communication and diplomacy at Norwich University and can be reached at narainbatra@gmail.com)

1 comment:

  1. China is a big winner in cyberspace this time. Lies from western and Indian writers aincluding you, were caught and diclosed before the world.

    Chinese are politically united in the first time before the lies. That's a great achievement we made in recent years. A lot of Chinese went to the street all over the world to protest western media and express their support for Chinese government. This sititation is what Chinese communist party has been looking for for long, but peoples like you make it come true.

    Thank you!