By Willis Sparks
A few days ago, Google introduced a tool that warns its users inside China about the hundreds of sensitive words and phrases that can produce an error message or even freeze the site, at least for a moment. China Digital Times (CDT) has since compiled a list of the most interesting (sometimes surprising) search terms. Taken together, they offer a glimpse of the wide range of things that China's Internet monitors don't want Chinese citizens reading and talking about. Translations are provided by CDT.
All the terms you see below in bold are apparently considered sensitive subjects.
Why are Chinese authorities worried about truth, benevolence, and forbearance? Because these words are associated with the outlawed spiritual movement Falun Gong. Watch out for the phrase snow lion; it's a reference to the flag of Tibet. Not surprisingly, searches for Taiwan Political Talk, Xinjiang + independence, and the Tibetan government-in-exile produce similar reactions. References to dissidents like Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei can get you bounced. So can entering the words Liu Xiaobo or the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 2010. In fact, you might want to avoid the word dissident.
Nor do China's Internet monitors want citizens thinking about Chinese people eating babies or baby soup. That goes double for pornography, Playboy, and boobs.
Other words and phrases are dangerously suggestive for different reasons. The expression blood house, which refers to forced evictions, is a problem. Perhaps that's because it can encourage curiosity about assembly, a student strike and a people's movement. As these kinds of events take on a life of their own, it can lead young people to explore the so-called three leaves -- leave the Party, leave the Youth League, leave the Young Pioneers -- the 21st century Chinese equivalent of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. It can also lead students into the public square, trigger a rebellion, a coup d'état or even a revolution. These kinds of things can provoke martial law.
It has happened before, though you won't learn much about that simply by searching for Tiananmen, tankman, block tank, or by entering 89 + student movement, Beijing + something happened, or what happened to Beijing. Lately, these sorts of spontaneous insurrections have been popping up in places like Egypt and Tunisia, stoking fears in Beijing of Jasmine + revolution, a Beijing spring or a China spring.
Insurrections aside, mere political embarrassments ring alarms, as well. Searches for Governor Bo Xilai or Chongqing, the province he governed before scandal charges brought him down, make the list -- as does Heywood, the family name of the British businessman his wife is suspected of having murdered. Add Chen Jian, victim of an earthquake who gave a live interview before dying beneath the wreckage and Zengcheng, a city in Guangzhou with the misfortune to have hosted a riot among migrant workers last summer.
Then there is Twitter and Facebook. Expect problems if you hunt for Wikileaks + China. China Digital Times is on the list along with traditional foreign troublemakers like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Expect glitches if you investigate the country's great firewall, the web brigade of Internet censors who help hold it in place, and freegate, dynapass or ultrasurf, tools for those who want to climb over the wall.
It's a bit more surprising that searches for Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin raise red flags. Even the names of today's leaders (Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao) and tomorrow's (Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang) can create a disruption. Same for searches of the nine elders who operate behind the scenes in the Politburo Standing Committee. Simply entering Chinese Communist Party can create a problem, to say nothing of its less flattering nicknames the Common Disabled Party, Common Tragic Party, or the more colorful red bandits.
It's clear that Chinese authorities don't want citizens reading Mein Kampf. It's less clear why they appear to frown on the Coen Brother's film Burn After Reading. It's easier to understand sensitivity about the phrase best actor when you learn that's it a derisive nickname for Premier Wen Jiabao. But one mustn't get too curious about another of his popular nicknames: teletubbies.
Taken together, these and hundreds more words and phrases demonstrate just how hard it is to "manage" communications in a country of 1.4 billion people, more than half of whom have already found their way online.
Unfortunately for all concerned, this list of words and phrases is only getting longer.
Willis Sparks is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Global Macro practice.
China Photos/Getty Images
By Ian Bremmer and David Gordon
Individual hackers and organized crime organizations have targeted businesses for years, but cyberattacks have rarely created political risk. They do now. The centralization of data networks -- both in energy distribution (the move to the smart grid) and information technology more broadly (the shift to cloud computing) -- is increasing the vulnerability of states to potentially debilitating cyberattacks. As governments become more directly and actively involved in cyberspace, geopolitics and cybersecurity will collide in three major ways.
First, new cyber capacity allows governments to project power in a world where direct military strikes are much more costly and dangerous. There have been plenty of stories about well-funded efforts from inside China to manipulate access to the Internet, but it's the almost-certainly state-sponsored Stuxnet attacks on Iran's industrial infrastructure that provide the clearest early glimpse of what tomorrow's carefully targeted state-sponsored attack might look like. When a missile is launched, everyone knows where it came from. Cyberattacks are a very different story.
Second, we'll see more cyber conflicts between state-owned companies and multinational corporations, providing state capitalists with tools that give them a competitive commercial advantage. China and Chinese companies are by far the biggest concern here. Throw in Beijing's indigenous innovation plans, which are designed to ensure that China develops its own advanced technology, and this is probably the world's most important source of direct conflict between states and corporations.
Third, there is the increasing fallout from the WikiLeaks problem, as those sympathetic to Julian Assange unleash attacks on governments and the corporations that support them in targeting WikiLeaks and its founder. In fact, the principal cybersecurity concern of governments has shifted from potential attacks by al Qaeda or Chinese security forces to radicalized info -- anarchists undertaking a debilitating attack against critical infrastructure, a key government agency, or a pillar of the financial system. Whether attacks are waged for power (state versus state), profit (particularly among state capitalists), or for 'the people,' (as in the WikiLeaks case), this will be a wildcard to watch in 2011.
On Friday, we'll talk about Top Risk no. 4: China -- and why its policymakers will frustrate much of the international community this year.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group. David Gordon is the firm's head of research.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
By Hani Sabra and Willis Sparks
The friction between the United Arab Emirates and Research in Motion (RIM), isn't new. Since at least 2007, security officials in the UAE have complained that the Canada-based company that makes BlackBerry devices uses encryption technology that makes it impossible to monitor the content of BlackBerry-generated messages within the country -- creating opportunities for spies, terrorists, and other anti-government militants to communicate within the emirates without fear of detection. RIM exports its data offshore, denying authorities access to its systems.
weekend, the UAE announced
that on October 11 it would suspend BlackBerry services to the country's
subscribers and visitors. A few hours later, Saudi officials followed suit. Emirati
authorities say that unless RIM lifts the veil on its messaging encryption,
allowing security officials to track threats to national security, there will
be no service inside the country. Beyond perceived threats from Iran, al
Qaeda-related groups, or other militants, Abu Dhabi would like to avoid any
repeat of the embarrassment that followed the assassination
of a Hamas leader in Dubai in January, an attack that Emirati officials blame
But the UAE will probably compromise with RIM before the deadline. The emirates have real security concerns, but they also want to build on their role as the Arab world's primary commercial and tourism hub. There are half a million BlackBerry users in the UAE, about ten percent of the total population, and blocking BlackBerry is bad for business. The UAE announced the ban to signal RIM that it's serious about security, but it gave a ten-week heads-up to allow time for a workable compromise.
The UAE will probably do most of the compromising, since RIM, which operates in more than 170 countries, won't live or die based on access to the Emirates. The UAE simply doesn't represent a large enough piece of RIM's business to persuade the company to set a precedent which other governments will insist on following. RIM can make modest concessions without altering the company's security model, and that's probably what it will do.
also possible, though much less likely, that several other countries will
follow the UAE's lead, forcing RIM to either fundamentally alter its security
model or surrender access to some especially lucrative markets.
The Saudis, who say they will flip the switch later this month, will face much less pressure to compromise. Saudi Arabia remains an oil-based economy, and its leaders have no ambition to compete with the UAE for the chance to host more corporate or financial leaders -- or foreign tourists. And though its population is four times larger than the UAE's, Saudi Arabia has fewer BlackBerry users. Closing the door on RIM will have little impact on the country's business and generate little if any domestic opposition.
But this is not simply a story of authoritarian governments and their drive for control. The world's leading democracies have their own communications-related security concerns. In July, India threatened to ban Blackberry use unless RIM provided Indian security officials with access to data transferred by its secured messaging system. RIM reportedly promised to work toward compromise, and talks continue.
And what would happen if militants coordinated a successful terrorist attack inside the United States using BlackBerry's encrypted technology? Remember the phrase "warrantless wiretapping?" If American media reported that the U.S. government had no access to the communications that terrorists use to kill Americans on U.S. soil, how fast would lawmakers of both parties rush to force open BlackBerry's coded communications?
There are many forms of government, but fear is universal. This is a conflict that political officials and technology companies will be fighting on many fronts and for many years to come.
Hani Sabra is an analyst in Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice. Willis Sparks is an analyst in the firm’s Global Macro practice.
The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.