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Date: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 21:16:42 -0800 (PST)
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Date: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 21:16:29 -0800

The BurmaNet News: Monday, January 23, 1995
Issue #99

China logs on to the Internet

The Economist, 7 January 1995

Beijing—It is hard to guess which attributes of the Internet China's government might find most terrifying: its anarchic management syle, its organic growth or its ability to foster cheap, instananeious communication between millions of computer users worldwide.

Yet China's first direct commercial links to the Internet have been approved by the government and are due to begin operation this month. Two dedicated lines, one from Beijing and the other from Shanghai, will allow anybody in China with a computer and a modem to tap directly into the full range of the Internet's resources. Jointly operated by Sprint, an American telecommunications company, and China's Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, teh new lines are expected to be wildly popular. Sprint says it will probably need to expand the lines' capacity within a few months to accomodate expected growth in demand.

The government's willingness to particpate seems to be a case of if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Attempts since the 1989 Tienanmen Square demonstrations to control channels of international communication have not been successful. Shortly after the demonstrations in 1989, the government tried to limit the spread of fax machines byregistering them. It failed. In 1993, Li Peng, the prime minister, announced a ban on the private use of satellite dishes capable of receiving foreign television broadcasts. Coming after hundreds of thousands of them had already been installed however, the bas was widely ignored. Small satellite dishes today remain a prominent feature of cityscapes throughout China.

The government seems to have concluded that any effort to stilfe electronic communication via the Internet would likewise fail. All across China, computer specialists have already managed to engineer their own forms of indirect or partial access to the Internet. By organising a commercial link-up, the government can at least keep a better eye on what is going on--and make a profit on the traffic at the same time.

But the Internet has the potential to nuetralise one of the government's more effective counter-dissident strategies: expulsion. Cut off from events in China, the exiled dissidents have tended to fade into irrelevance. In future, some of the fire-brands Beijing believed to be safely out of the way may use the Internet to spread the word back home.