Policy Pragmatism Still Matters

By EO Editorial Board
Published: 2009-07-08

Cover Editorial - EO print edition no. 426
Translated by Pang Lei
Original article
: [Chinese]

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's decision to delay the mandatory installation of the Green Dam Internet filtering software on computers sold in mainland China, has been roundly welcomed and supported by the public.

According to a report posted to Caijing magazine's website on June 30, the news about MIIT delaying the forced introduction of the "Green Dam - Youth Escort" software was first announced in an English-language report published by the official Xinhua News Agency.

In the Chinese-language report that followed, "MIIT Press Spokesperson Responds to Reporters Questions about the Green Internet Filter", an MIIT spokesperson elaborated on the reason why the decision was made: "it had created too much work for some businesses, they didn't have enough time, and were not fully prepared, in acknowledgment of this situation, we've decided to delay the introduction of the filtering software."

The MIIT spokesperson went on to say, that the installation of the Green Dam software will still "adhere to the original intention and goals", "After July 1, the software will still be available for free download, and will continue to be used in primary and secondary schools, Internet bars and other other computers used in public areas. We also encourage those computing companies that have already installed the software on their products to begin to bring them on to the market."

As to how to have the software installed on other computers, MIIT have said that they will seek suggestions and opinions from various sources in an effort to improve the policy and adjust their method of introduction, they also made a point of "welcoming all levels of society to put forward constructive ideas, and to support, help and provide critical supervision of our work."

Although MIIT still maintains the prerogative to resume compelling companies to install the software at any time they choose, their move to delay the introduction still won praise from all sides.

According to an interview in Caijing magazine, the European Chamber of Commerce in China were "heartened" by the decision to delay the introduction of the software, they also went on to say that "it's a pragmatic settlement." The American Chamber of Commerce noted that it was a "positive development." While the Wall Street Journal  reported that America's Department of Commerce spokesperson had "welcomed MIIT's decision."

Meanwhile, people still remember the decision made by the authorities that monitor China's Internet to penalize Google China, for transmitting obscene pornography and vulgar content.

Following this decision, Google China's overseas and auto-suggest search functions were temporarily disabled. Despite Google China's open admission that they the problems raised by the authorities do indeed exist, but still, the news aroused a certain amount of interpretation and conjecture.

Up until now, only a few decisions made by the Chinese government have aroused as much controversy, including the Ministry of Commerce's decision to block Coca-Cola's attempts to merge with Huiyuan.

These controversial and unpopular decisions, are in some cases are raised to the level of having a bearing on the attitude with which China approaches the outside world. So, in all cases when these discussions take place, international public opinion also comes into play.

Both international media and the masses judge the Chinese government's policy direction, and even the direction of the country, based on these kinds of decisions.

For example, the introduction of the Green Dam software has been interpreted as the Chinese government's attempt to strengthen or intensify its control of the Internet; the decision to punish Google China has been interpreted as the Chinese government's attempt to apply pressure to international companies that hold different opinions; and the decision to block Coca-cola's attempted takeover of Huiyuan has been interpreted as the Chinese government's rejection of multinational companies making large purchases in China.

From the beginning of 2008, there were many voices calling for China to be more tough in its dealing with the rest of the world, and through this behaviour display the country's status as a great power.

As the western world bears the brunt of the international financial crisis, this idea has only received more encouragement and support.

Deng Xiaoping established the principle of applying more pragmatism to both domestic and international policy, but now doubts as to whether this policy will change are coming to a head, and only the next few years will tell what the outcome will be.

Even though MIIT retained the right to re-introduce the policy at any time, the common response of both the media and public opinion to MIIT making such a pragmatic decision was positive.

The decision allows outsiders to see that when the government is attempting to solve a problem it still adopts a practical attitude and won't merely - concerned with the "face" of the Chinese people and the authority of the government - maintain its original stance and ignore all other opinions.

Public opinion should welcome this decision, and have reason to hope that the relevant government departments will continue to be pragmatic, firm, stable and steady in their actions and attitude in approaching similar problems in the future.

Links and Sources
Economic Observer:
What Does the Green Dam Block