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  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 1:20pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 2:55am

Big Brothers of every shade are watching, in China and the US

Big Brother is watching. And his face can look either Chinese or American these days. What is fascinating is that the world's leading authoritarian state and its greatest democracy look increasingly like the two sides of the same awesome state power crushing the lone individual in their respective societies. The Winston Smiths of China and the US watch out - your time is up.

The latest news on the mainland is that anyone who spreads a rumour on the internet can earn themselves three years in the slammer. It appears the truth or falsity of the rumour is immaterial. What matters is its effect. The same rumour may land you in jail or not, depending on whether it has been forwarded more than 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 times. This runs counter to the very notion of the rule of law. An exemption, though, may be made if a legitimate allegation is made on the record against official corruption.

China's repression aims mainly at its own citizens. America's war in or on cyberspace has compromised the web's integrity for everyone, by deliberately weakening protocols on encryption standards and forcing US technology firms to create vulnerabilities for its cyberspies to snoop around. Of course, weakened protection on the internet also invites criminals.

But the Obama administration is also carrying out an unprecedented war on whistle-blowers at home. We are not talking about Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, just old-fashioned ones who stole nothing and only exposed government misdeeds. The US government has jailed the CIA officer who exposed the waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspects; prosecuted a National Security Agency worker for disclosing a US$1.2 billion contract for a data-stealing programme that could be done for US$3 million; ruined the career of the ex-chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo after he criticised the infamous prison in newspapers; and persecuted four employees of a US Air Force mortuary for revealing the mishandling of the remains of American service members. The list goes on and on.

Freedom in the 21st century is under threat everywhere. And "democracy" may be as much a threat as dictatorship.


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This article is now closed to comments

Here we go again. Alex's logic is: China does bad things. The U.S. does bad things. Therefore, the two are really the same, and dictatorship is the same as democracy, you see!

Never mind that China is blatantly and unapologetically engaging in denial of freedom of online speech, while the U.S. is prosecuting government employees who, while perhaps deserving of a pardon, have undeniably violated their obligations of employment. Do I even need to ask what happens to whistleblowers who reveal "state secrets" in China?

And never mind that there are dozens of democracies in the world besides the U.S.

Dictatorship and democracy are the same.
Actions speaks louder than words from our own increasingly moronic local democratic movement where the Pan dems turns out to be just as corrupted as gov't officials and the establishments to those "great" western democracy where in the name of democracy they are entitled to start meaningless wars and not be responsible for it, no matter how illegal and ironically "undemocratic" they are, aslong as they are under the Democratic banner they will be treated much more leniently.
Yeah, right, USA and PRC are just the same. We often see the Yanks dragging investors out of their houses for dubiously-defined crimes. We often see low-raking US government officials abuse their powers and arrest people they don't like on trumped-up charges. The US is forever dragging people off for forcible 're-education'.
Alex Lo, just another SCMP communist shill.
The problem with Alex Lo is that he seems not to understand what a democracy really is, what values stand behind it, and how it works - aberrations like the ones we see currently in the US included!
The only twisted logic I see are those who blindly think that as long you are a "democracy" you are entitled to do anything you want to anyone you want.
No one is saying that.
John Adams
I agree full with you Mr Lo !
The only difference is that an overwhelming proportion of US citizens seem to be happy with the internal spying and repression against whistle-blowers in the USA because they would rather be spied-on by the than fired-on by el qaeda.
And when it comes to official corruption it's so institutionalized that there's no longer any clear black and white: just darker and lighter shades of grey
That's why the US government gets away with it.
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the spied-on and the home of the brave whistle-blowers?
It seems so indeed..
Not if you have an powerful ally, who controlls all the media and the news coverage of those medias. You are so naiv. The NSA is not solely analysing the datas for terrorist networks. In Germany they even broke into the networks of big German enterprises and companys, particulary researches departments. So, now you can ask why. Looking for terrorists?
There's a significant distinction to be made between mass reading and censorship of communications that "undermine state power" and compiling a data-base that allows analysis of terrorist networks.
Alex Lo really deserves to live and work on the mainland.
Dear Alex, I am happy that you are enjoying yourself in legitimately pointing out the various flaws, contradictions, and failings of democratic regimes. I am concerned, however, that your logic goes astray when you imply there is no significant difference between political institutions in China and the US, for example. While I appreciate your critical perspective, I am worried about your intellectual honesty. And I fear that your relativistic arguments only legitimate illegitimate power in China and elsewhere.
Jonathan London, City University of Hong Kong




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