Friday, February 09, 2007

Online in Vietnam and China

Will Internet use transform the Communist governments in Vietnam and China or will those governments be able to harness its liberating effects? Consider these cases drawn from today's news:

Vietnam's prime minister hosted the country's highest-level online chat Friday, answering questions about everything from corruption to his personal life--a clear break from old-style communism in the rapidly changing country.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung answered questions preselected from more than 20,000 sent from across Vietnam and abroad. He also fielded a few live questions during the 2 1/2 hour chat, and did not shy away from thorny issues, including the lack of press freedom, the Vietnam War and government seizure of farmers' land for development. [The complete story is here.]

Here, Edward Cody reports for the Washington Post from China:

There was no sign, but Gedong's teenagers knew the way. Down a dusty alley just off Jicui Park and a few minutes' walk from local schools, the curtained door beckoned. Inside, in a dingy back room off the kitchen, a clutch of adolescent boys crowded around six computers and stared at the images flickering on their screens.

For the equivalent of 35 cents an hour, the youths were playing computer games in an underground Internet cafe, one of a half-dozen information-age speak-easies in this little farming and coal-mining town in Shanxi province 220 miles southwest of Beijing. For those unable to afford their own computers--the vast majority here--going online in a clandestine dive has become the only option; the local Communist Party leader banned Internet cafes nine months ago as a bad influence on minors.

For a detailed examination of Internet filtering in China, see this study conducted by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI). A similar, but more recent, study of Internet filtering in Vietnam, also conducted by ONI, is available here.